Last month I had the opportunity to catch up with Abdu Ali on his new podcast drumBOOTY radio on maskfm. It’s an incredibly insightful chat about my experiences in South America, most notably Brazil and Abdu’s time spent touring in Europe.
I’m still pretty high from my week at VONA.
I feel like Celie after Shug Avery kissed her.
Who knew that writing about dystopia, environmental racism, immersion therapy, death and leeches that make you suicidal would make me so happy? Tananarive Due, our fearless leader knew, that’s who. I like to think of her as the Beyonce of Speculative Fiction. I know- I know, big shoes to fill. And if Tananarive is Beyonce, who is Octavia Butler?
OCTAVIA BUTLER IS GOD.
At least she is to me when it comes to this speculative fiction book writing thing. So Tananarive Due is Beyonce, aka Jesus. And me and my SPECCC FICCC (rocketship) group, well-we are the disciples. A ragtag group of queerish nerds who dream of worlds without whiteness, the male gaze and dragons, (except the occasional neccesary one). We loved on each other, made each other feel seen and ate really well together. I’ve never felt safer. And that’s saying a lot considering what the past 6 months have been like for me.
I spent most of June in California experiencing my own surreal reality as a nomadic black girl tryna make it home while traversing rapidly gentrifying terrains. I got called a nigger in Santa Jose and was pick pocketed in San Fran and oh wee it’s a jungle over there. The homeless population in LA are aggressively ignored and white people don’t make eye contact and I think most black people are in prison. At least, that’s how it felt to me, over there. So coming home to the East Coast and being at VONA with all it’s radical-ness really reset me in the best ways. I can’t stop telling all my creative friends about the community I found. I feel so in love with the people at my writing workshop. In my dreams we’re writing the next season of Black Mirror and working on the next major Marvel film. We’re publishing all the books and getting all the coins and changing the current reality one spec fic story at a time.
Some journeys happen by accident.
I thought I was moving to Salvador. Like moving moving. I packed art to hang in my new place. Bought an inventory of vintage clothes to sell (because that would be my second hustle). Packed ALL the hair supplies. This time around I was going to really establish myself in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Teach english and sell clothes and continue to freelance. Pay my rent on my freelancing. Date a lot and travel and live my dreams. Make more videos! I even got a new credit card. It was a glorious 6 months in a place that is really a second home, but I came to find that the common expression about comfort and growth not being friends is true. As much I love Salvador, I found myself stagnate there. Unfocused. Barely getting my artistic endeavors done. Chasing the wrong people. Having too much fun. And so when the opportunity to go the Ecuadorian Amazon and help Bani Amor shoot some B roll travel footage for their documentary arose, I took it.
It came at a really interesting moment in my life too. I had recently gotten a reading done by my good friend Jasmine Cain, and some repressed sexual trauma came up. It put me in a bad place. A place that I’m still processing and will probably spend most of the year trying to writing about. Suddenly, a trip to Ecuador looked like an escape. For a long time traveling has been my primary method of self medicating. If I was feeling anxious or bored or even uncomfortable, I’d start planning a trip somewhere. A change of scenery always did the trick, until it didn’t. I spent most of January alone in my apartment, crying non stop and feeling worthless. Friends took care of me and helped wean of the small suicidal thoughts but I saw a trip to Ecuador as a potential life saver. In it’s own way it turned out to be just that. I drank ayahuasca in the Ecuadorian amazon with Teresa an indigenous healer and environmental activist who also dealt with sexual trauma in her own life. My decision to leave yet again, seemed like a step in the right direction.
From Ecuador I decided to go Colombia, as I heard of it’s high percentage of African descendant people. I was very close geographically to the country so I felt I had to see it. Cali, Colombia turned out to be harder for me. It’s really developed so I couldn’t rely on “magical” architecture to make feel like I was some place “foreign”. A lot of the Spanish I had before living in Brazil became Portuguese, so I was anxious about talking. On top of that I knew no one. In the past, I’d see it as a challenge to reinvent myself and dive fully into a new place. But I was and still am mentally exhausted. The trauma I’m holding is no longer suppressed. It’s actually on the tip of my tongue at all times. The deep realization that I can’t travel my trauma away emerged and cemented itself in Colombia.
Today, I’m getting on a bus that will take me to Quito, Ecuador and from there I’ll get on a plane and land in San Francisco, California by Wednesday afternoon. I’m in the last leg of my accidental journey. After a month on the West Coast dealing with the same problems that have followed me across continents I’ll make my way back to where they all started; home. And then the real adventure will begin.
I recently published an Op-Ed with the Baltimore City Paper. It’s called “I’m From West Baltimore- I can literally live Anywhere.” The Baltimore City Paper was where I started my career as a freelance journalist about 3 years ago now. I wrote an Op-Ed about how it felt to write about the Baltimore Uprising from Brazil. I made $100 dollars, which at the time felt like a $1000. That’s because I was/ still perpetually broke. As a writer who travels (I’m starting to question if I’m a travel writer or just a writer that travels and will write about that at another time) I’m living a life that is hand to mouth. This term “Hand to Mouth” I straight up stole from a writing buddy/mentor Bani Amor. To me, it means when I make money I spend it just as fast. There is no saving or budgeting really, cause I usually know exactly how much I have in my bank account down the cent at all times. There a great gif. of a train with a magnetic crane, lifting the track it just went over and placing it in front of itself to go forward. Basically making it’s track up as it goes along. This also makes it impossible for the train to go backwards because that track it was just on, is now the same track it’s edging over. Because of the way the crane is set up, its reach is only but so long and this train ends up going in a circle. That’s me in a nutshell. That’s what I’ve been on since graduating college in 2015.
Someone asked me how I empower myself to travel. I get a lot of inquiries like this. How do I afford it? To be quite honest, I can’t afford it. I’m actually in debt. And not just student loan debt, no, no, I got my first credit card last summer. And all I’ll say about that is, thank God, I didn’t get one sooner. But I digress. My empowerment to travel is pretty simple, and I’l share it in a listcle below.
DISCLAIMER: This is MY experience, I’m not advising anyone to follow my lead. Results will truly vary.
1. I live with my mom.
Yep. That’s the biggest way I’ve managed to travel. My mother claims me on her taxes and allows me to sleep in her home (when I’m in Baltimore) rent free. I help out when I can, but in honestly, I’m more emotionally supportive than financial. My mother is an artist herself and has always pushed me to explore. From sending me away to sleep away camps or conferences or even to stay at her friends place, my mother has always encouraged my wanderlust, sometimes even facilitating it. She’s my number source of empowerment. My family is the second major source of empowerment. If it weren’t for the support of my family, specifically my sister and my grandmother I would not be the well traveled writer that I am today. Also, friends! I have really great friends that take care of me and vice versa.
2. I’m from West Baltimore.
Not to be redundant, but read the article. Something I didn’t mention in that Op-Ed(the word count was 1000 words) was the 90’s campaign to “get out of the hood”. From books to TVs shows, growing up all I was taught was to grow up and GET OUT. I was smart (read: well behaved) so if I didn’t want to end up pregnant or underemployed, if I wanted to truly be “successful” I had to “make it out of the hood”. Many of my peers did this. And now we’re all considering moving back because gentrification has made Baltimore one of the last affordable places to live on the NorthEast. And growing up in a majority black city and then moving to a none majority black city can be…challenging.
3. I’m introverted and nosy at the same time.
I like to quietly mind my business, or quietly observe people. I listen like my life depends on it, cause usually it does. I meet a lot of people and end up living with them very quickly for weeks at a time, and so far I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a few tight situations and plenty of awkward moments but my need for solitude means I could live in a closet and be content. It also means people project a lot on to me. I’ve played therapist to many and enjoyed it honestly. As a writer these are moments I’d actually pay for. And to a certain extent I do, as a guest I usually pay rent to live with a stranger and over the course of a few days I not only learn about a new place, I also learn about them, and then I move on. Some places/people are harder to move on from others but luckily for me the introversion makes the emotional de-attachment easier.
4. I’m not hard to please.
I’m kinda lame and I’ve always been old. Last weekend I spent my Saturday night in the supermarket getting excited at the avaliabilty and low cost of Pringles and Aunt Jemimas pancake mix in Cali, Colombia. Most of my my fondest travel memories abroad have been cooking with friends or hanging out at a park or beach and trading stories. I’m not vacationing. I’m not chasing luxury abroad, (no shade, I just can’t afford it) if anything I’m looking for something that probably doesn’t even exist (but that’s another blog post for another day). In general, I do the same cheap things abroad that I’d do at home. Cook my food, read, write, take a dance class if I have time/money, be depressed, be anxious, sleep. Two months ago, I spent most of my time in Ecuador indoors reading books and it was a highlight of my year. When I’m at home and preparing for travel, I’m very frugal and saving up as much money as I can. I’m working ALL the jobs and hustling like crazy. I’m rarely indulging in brunch or clothes (all though as I get older this gets harder) And when I’m traveling? I’m hustling, selling stories, clothes, photos, teaching english and doing whatever I have to in order to survive.
5. I ain’t too proud to beg.
Growing up my friends would make fun of me for always asking for some of their food. It wasn’t like my mother didn’t feed me, but if they had something that I wanted I would always ask if they’d give it to me. I’m not ashamed to ask for what I want or need. I actually didn’t know this was a weird trait to have as a black women until I got to college and began reading about gender dynamics and race and learned that most people are used to black women providing and not the other way around. Thank God I never had to internalize that bullshit. There is an art to asking. One that as a community organizer I’ve mastered because I’ve always been in positions where I had to ask for what I needed. Seriously, I stayed with a fellowship or scholarship in school. I’ve had quite a few successful funding campaigns online. As a matter of fact, I’m currently raising funds to pay for tuition to attend the VONA/Voices writing workshop this summer. Click here to read more and donate. Being without makes me go after what I want and need, it also makes me a very giving person, because you can’t ask or receive with a closed fist.
So that’s about it. Aside from my blue passport which gives me privilege to go virtually anywhere, these are the things that empower me to travel.
thanks for reading.
In honor of the end of an era, I compiled a playlist to help mourn the end of having a black president. I wrote about my complex emotions in depth, at AllthePrettyBirds.com. I’m still dealing with my own shame around being sad at the loss of the Obama’s in the White House. I’m not supposed to be emotionally attached to the government. I’m supposed to know better. But fuck it, I’m sad. He was a good president. I had free healthcare. Even more people will get deported and the World will suffer greatly under El Cheeto. And so goes on the legacy of the United States of America.
So I’m pouring some liquor out for the Obamas, and drinking a bit myself.