You May Not See Me, but I am Here.

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I’ve decided to be honest. I’ve gained some clarity that has allowed me to express what I’ve felt for many years. It took leaving the US three times to find the words and it’s taken seeing the photo and caption below to find the courage and clarity to express what you are about to read. I feel unsettled here in the US. I feel anxious. I contemplate leaving often. The more I travel the more I feel compelled to leave for good. For now, I plan to live and work abroad by the start of 2018. This is lengthy and there isn’t a short summation at the end or bullet points to recap, but this is quite possibly the most honest reflection I’ve been able to share. The more I discover about myself, the better I am at articulating who I am.

To begin, I want to acknowledge that I don’t hate the United States, nor its people. I’m often frustrated and angered by it, but I don’t hate it. The words you will read hold some generalizations and may or may not apply to you. Whether it does or does not is not for me to say. That is something you must discover for yourself through experience and reflection. As a country, my existence as a black person has been contextualized by violence, oppression, poverty, systemic and interpersonal racism and injustice, self-hate that extended beyond self and into my community, and so many other things. All of which occur at varying degrees of severity. I’m saying this is what has contextualized black experience. I am black, thus making the aforementioned part of my lived experience.

Constantly trying to explain to yourself and people who look like you that you have value, significance, and are a contributor to your community and country while daily messages, physical surroundings, and broken systems communicate otherwise is painfully exhausting. It’s like habitually lying to yourself and those you love to give some peace of mind or paint a less grim picture. The pervasive barrage of messages influences everyone in some capacity. This place… this country taught me to hate myself and my people, while causing me to see them as less valuable or significant. It taught me to see context rather than person and I believe much of our society sees the same thing. The caption says, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… When they approach me they see only my surrounds, themselves, or a figment of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.”

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Damn if that ain’t a sad reality. Even as part of this community, I see us that way. I’m not speaking about friends, family, or colleagues who have taken time to build strong, interpersonal relationships, but maybe they see other black people that way. Either way, it’s the reality of my lived experience. I’m talking about immediate misconceptions and assumptions, preconceived notions, and avoidance. I’m talking about inherent fear, distrust and mistrust, hate, and distance that has been instilled in generations, in friends, and in me.

In American society, I am invisible. In every instance during my time abroad, I have felt seen, heard, validated, and valued. I was able to be deeply authentic, embracing all of my identity. Black, Native American, Scottish, and many other parts of my identity that aren’t confined to ethnicity.  I’m stifled here. Something is keeping me from being open to learning and I believe it has to do with what I’ve held inside for so long. So I’ll leave for some time to learn, change, and find ways to create change. For several years now, I’ve been undoing the damage from how I’ve felt and what I’ve experienced. As an institution and country, this place never loved me and most of all it made me hate myself and people like me. Coming to these realizations enraged me. As my anger subsided, I found awareness and understanding. I am now searching for my place in the world while learning new ways to give back to others. One day it will help me give back here in the US. I am reconciling past transgressions against myself and others, while restoring my wholeness.

What’s next? I’ll be finishing up my grad program in May 2017, traveling around the world for three months to advocate and fundraise for those with multiple sclerosis, and then I’ll try to find a job in South Africa, Italy, or with the Peace Corps/an NGO. I understand the responsibility and urgency to rally for and fight alongside minority communities. Some may even say that I am shirking these responsibilities by moving away. Whatever criticisms and critiques you may have of my thoughts and decisions are perfectly acceptable. I’m sure they are informed by your lived experiences, which I will not question, but seek to understand. I invite you to send me a personal message so we can create understanding for one another.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. You’ve honored me by trying to understand me more and for that I will always be grateful.

*Photos Taken at the Art Institute of Chicago – The Invisible Man exhibit

Food and Life – Final Trip Reflection

Until today, I couldn’t find a way to really bring my trip to a close. Writing a final reflection on such a tremendous journey seemed to be a daunting task. So much happened in three short weeks. New friendships were formed. I saw beautiful, natural places. I slowly explored cities and towns. I ate, drank, laughed, talked, woke up early and stayed up late into the night with strangers and friends. I realized that every decision was intentional. I made decisions about what my life would be like each day, but I remained open to how the experiences would unfold.

Today, I used a skill I learned in Certaldo, Italy. I made my own pasta. Luckily, I stayed in at Fattoria Bassetto and they offered a cooking class. It is definitely one of the highlights of my stay. The entire process took about four hours between the preparation and cooking. After that, seven or eight of us (myself, other guests, the owner of the guesthouse and the chef) shared a meal together during dusk. We talked and laughed during the entire meal and enjoyed one another’s company. We worked to prepare something that all of us would share together. What an interesting way to live?

Traveling has helped reveal the best parts of who I am. It’s given me clarity and insight that I could not get in any other way. Together, consistently and patiently, we worked together to achieve something that would benefit the entire group. These subtle, but deeply important, lessons revealed themselves day after day during my travels. Food and cooking was the avenue through which I was able to recognize the importance of working collectively and methodically, but also with heart and care for others in mind.

My trip has shown me the value of intentionally caring for and working alongside others. I’ve known this inherently, but by intentionally embracing this mindset, I will be better able to help others draw out the best in themselves like others did for me. Like a chef who must draw out complex flavors and marry them together in a way that reveals the food’s best features, I will work to bring together people of differing cultures, backgrounds, lifestyles, and histories in order to create a more beautiful, caring, and just world. It is with much gratitude, happiness, and peace that I’ve written this reflection.

Many moments were shared with beautiful, interesting people and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world.

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The Four Stages of Travel Grief

After a long trip, you may experience the four stages of travel grief. I arrived home yesterday from a three week backpacking trip in Europe and I’m definitely in stage one. Enjoy!

Stage One: Home Happiness. Duration: 4-48 Hours. Your journey home has ended (Yesterday, I was traveling for 16 hours. It was exhausting). You’ve arrived tired, excited to see loved ones, and get into some sort of routine. You also don’t need to think about where you’ll stay next or carry your pack around wherever you go. Your brain and your body gets some much needed rest.Sleepy

Stage Two: Bitterness. Duration: 1-2 weeks. “Why did I come back to this place?!!” “There’s so much to see and so much to do!” “I could be anywhere else in the world, why am I here?” Ever looked up flights the day after you landed to see if you can get a cheap ticket to literally anywhere in the world tomorrow? Yeah, me too.

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Stage Three: Sadness: Duration: Varies per person. This is when you realize how good you really had it and wonder if you’ll ever go back. “How could I leave my new friends so quickly?” “I just want to go back?” We’ve all been there.

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Stage Four: Acceptance and Planning: Duration: Until your next trip. This is the final stage during which you accept that you had an amazing experience, met awesome people, and saw some beautiful places. It is also the stage at which you begin planning your next adventure.

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Cheers to getting through the stages of travel grief and getting on to your next adventure.

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Review: Bassetto Guesthouse

I’ve never reviewed a hostel before. I’ve never really felt compelled to write a review on a place. Overall, I’ve had great luck finding good hostels partly because Hostelworld.com is great at keeping up to date reviews available. However, I’ve picked a few placed that seemed great online and turned out to be just a basic place to sleep for the night. Neither is good or bad, especially for a traveling on a budget. So why have I decided to write a review now now? Two words: Bassetto Guesthouse. The Guesthouse is more of a home than a hostel, especially for travelers who’ve been on the go in big cities for a while.

To any travelers in Italy, I highly recommend you make your way to Certaldo in the Tuscany countryside for a retreat at the Bassetto Guesthouse from busy cities, crowed hostels and unruly train stations. Here you’ll find cooking classes, day trips to San Gimignano, a wine cellar in which you can have dinner (and purchase amazing wine), hammocks, flexibility in check-in and extending your stay, and also a top notch staff. Olivia, Zoe, and Kyle were amazing. They also have other staff who are great, but we saw them sparingly because they were doing other things to make sure our stay was perfect.

If you are in Tuscany and don’t go to Bassetto, you have taken an incomplete trip to Italy. Nearly every previous visitor would echo this sentiment. Visit Hostelworld.com to checkout the reviews; it stands at a strong 9.5 and nearly all visitors decide to extend their stay at least one day. The atmosphere is reminiscent of the Italian Culture. Things happen when they happen. The days roll by slowly, the guests are more like family than other travelers, and you can’t beat the nearly panoramic views of the countryside. It is a beautiful place filled with so much history.

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So what are the accommodations like? No bunk beds, hot showers,comfortable beds, a communal kitchen, an actually living room, three hammocks, a pool, a countryside kitchen for pasta making classes, and a wonderful garden. If you like dogs, they have two friendly dogs who love to lounge in the sun and play for a while. This place is like a home. For example, I participated in the pasta making class on my last night. We made three types of pasta from scratched, learned to make fresh (and delicious) pesto, and sat in the garden for dinner. In the middle of dinner, the owner decided to join us to discuss our stay and the future of Bassetto.

If you’re looking for a place to rest or recover from weeks or months of traveling, this is the place to do it. If you’re looking for an authentic experience in the countryside, go to the Guesthouse. Every aspect of my stay was perfect because of the people, the culture, the location, and deep commitment from the staff to making the Guesthouse feel like home. I’ve mentioned that I would return to Italy once a year if I couldn’t move there in previous blogs and in conversations with friends. The Bassetto Guesthouse is the place I will go when I take my yearly trip. To the staff, fellow travelers, and everyone that made my stay amazing, thank you and I look forward to my next visit. 10 out of 10.

The Best Place in the World – Italy.

A country filled with history, art, culture, food, life, and so much more. Imagine how lucky I’ve been to meet wonderful people and stay in amazing places. Most people don’t get to do this in their entire lives and here I’m sitting at a communal table in a guesthouse waiting to learn how to make pasta in a picturesque, quintessential Italian kitchen. But Italy, oh man, Italy has stolen my heart in a way that is just down right wrong. After two short romances, one for a week and the other for two weeks, here I am head over heels in love with this place.

To describe Italy is to describe home. The people, the food, the interactions, the places, the simplicity, and the commitment to mastery. Even making pasta sauce takes 8 hours to be made properly. I think of the holidays as a child when I, along with my brother, cousins, and friends, would run in and out of the kitchen to taste whatever my mom, grandma, and aunts were making only to sneak out the back door to snag a piece of barbeque that my dad and uncles had made on the grill. This place is deeply reminiscent of those feelings and experiences. It’s the place that reminds me of a simpler time and an all encompassing lifestyle. Something that I crave deeply for myself.

Family, culture, music, food, art, work, balance, happiness, contentment. These are all of the things I feel with each passing day in Italy. From the busy cities to the countryside and small towns, Italy feels like home. So I’m making plans to move here in a few years. Being able to stay in the countryside for three days has given me time to find clarity in what seems to be a storm of figuring out what to do with my life (if you know me this changes quite frequently) – not what I should do or could do, but determining what I actually want for myself and my life.

Ultimately, I am young enough to pursue one passion, while diving into another with bit more direction and after more preparation. To do everything all at once is to do nothing well, and if I’ve learned anything from the Old Masters (great Italian Artists), it is that mastering your craft takes a lifetime. To build the life I want will take years, not months, of working, planning, changing, and discovering even more about myself than I know now. But I’m on the right path and being here as helped me see that. So Italy, thank you for a short introduction to what will be a lifelong romance.

(Ps. I thought about adding photos, but I couldn’t find the ones to fit this bests. I may add some later).

I made it to Italy, but I may never leave.

I love Italy. It is my favorite place in the world. It’s the people, the pace of life, the history, the culture, and so much more. I want to move here. Honestly, I probably will at some point in my life. I fall in love with it more and more with each visit. If I can’t move here, I’ll come here once a year for the rest of my life. I digress.

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Today was especially awe inspiring. I stood in history, appreciating that these places were built by people with little technology and a great deal of genius. Massive structures towered over me as I walked through never ending corridors. I stood on plateaus overlooking the entire Roman Forum. I had panoramic views of the city from atop the Altare della Patria. I sat quietly on a stone bench, journaling in a small corner of the one of the gardens hidden away from everyone. I roamed for hours amazed by beautiful places filled with history I’ve read in books.

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In quiet reflection, I walked around Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica taking in what this place means to people around the world. Max Ehrmann, an american author, writes “Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.” In quiet moments and on the overcrowded metro, in solitude or in the company of others, I have found peace here in Italy.

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Geneva: Two Sides of the Same Coin

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The United Nations had an omnipresent air of diversity. There was a deep sense of pride, collaboration, and development. All parties maintained an obvious professionalism, but there was also a great feeling of appreciation and respect for all cultures that were represented. Even the physical space held a commanding presence with its walls. Rich in diversity, the United Nations is filled with rooms, hallways, and cultural artifacts that were gifts from a variety of countries. In the new wings, a room was designed by Arabic artists from the United Arab Emirates to reflect the geography of the desert. The carpet is a sand color paired with ripple patterns to reflect the wind blowing and the ceiling painted a light, sky-colored blue to reflect the cloudless, never ending sky. Another room donated by the Spanish government included a ceiling designed and modeled after the ocean floor with stalagmites and an array of colors created to display a different scene from every perspective in the room. The Spanish artist modeled this to remind delegates that different perspectives are valuable, beautiful, and worth sharing. The United Nations has helped me develop a larger perspective on how the world operates and what is required to truly make a global impact. It is this visionary-like perspectives that allow widespread change to occur.

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Now for the hostel, which felt like being involved in a grassroots UN-project. Upon entering the hostel, you could feel a buzzing energy created by nearly twenty small conversations – guests checking into their rooms, travelers making plans on how to spend their time, teenagers getting the wifi passcode, and a variety of other background conversations. It was energizing and overwhelming at times. There was so much stimulation that demanded attention and to focus on one task was difficult. How exciting, messy, and inviting! I knew this would be an adventure to say the least. I arrive in my six-bed room and realize that four of the six beds are taken and mine would be the fifth. What happened that evening is something I could have never expected. Five people speaking in five different languages only knowing just enough of another language to translate for another person, who could then translate for another. For three hours, we had a rich dialogue about language, countries, politics, sports, dance, music, where we’ve traveled, why we were in Geneva, and where we were going after our stay. All of this happened in five languages! This may seem messy, overwhelming, time consuming, and possibly even painful. But to all of us, it was exciting, energizing, informative and just good fun. Geneva is filled with people from all over the world. In fact, my hostel held six floors of people from the North America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America – people were literally from half way around the world. It was the most diverse community of which I’ve ever been part. Humility, curiosity, dignity, respect, authenticity, and vulnerability helped cultivate this environment and it took all of us to embody those values for this experience to be what it was. I will forever be thankful to my new friends who helped reveal parts of myself that I had not yet discovered.

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PS: Geneva is a cool city bustling with people, traffic, and ideas. I highly recommend visiting if you have the time, resources, and desire to go. It is well worth it!