“Drenched in Light” #tbt

Words can’t suffice what she put me through. Or better yet, what she took me out of. But this is my first attempt. If you’re reading this and it resonates, set intentions to begin the journey of finding her as she’s already called you. Mama Aya asks for nothing but submission. You have to let her ride you or you’ll drown. Once you drink her and you sit you will go some place completely new. Everyone’s experience of her is different.

I’m a young black woman from West Baltimore who thought she knew the gauntlet of human suffering. Drug addicted father dies leaving an aspiring actress of a mom single and stuck with two kids, is how the synopsis of my childhood could read, but it is beautiful despite its challenges. And I believe in the respectability politics that were spoon-fed to my generation through Cosby show reruns and Saturday morning cartoons. I go hard in high school, avoiding the cute blacks boys cause pregnancy means I’m stuck in the ghetto, doomed to live out my life like a hood novel. I apply to all out of state colleges; because there is just no way I can be who I want to be in Baltimore. But money is funny and I end up in Baltimore County, at an University of Maryland School, that is NOT College Park. I fall in love, a few times. I lose my mind, often. I take anti depressants and laugh when a good friend of mine tells me their Mom has cancer. I stop taking anti depressants. I lose my virginity and a bit of my self-esteem to someone whose life would end on a corner in Park Heights, police sirens and running feet would have been the accompanying soundtrack, I imagine.  I try to shrink myself. I cut off my dreadlocks, and mourn in a Bikram Yoga studio where sweat substitutes for tears. I continue my acupuncture treatments and my friends put me on suicide watch. I study abroad in Ecuador. This accelerates my experimentation with long-term travel into a full blown addiction. I come back home in one piece physically but I can see the scars of my time in the University system beginning to keloid.

After graduating college this May, I saved my money made at my summer job teaching literacy to elementary students, booked a cheap round trip and woke up in Salvador, Bahia, Brasil. Time has always been a hard concept for me to grasp, but here, it doesn’t seem to exist. Everything here comes and goes in waves ,like Yemaya.

Anyway, I make friends here. I sit on the beach. I smoke. I meditate. I pontificate. I sleep. “I’m doing nothing,” my ego says. As usual my ego is wrong. A month into my journey here, she finally calls me. My dear friend, a black woman studying shamanism is ready to be my guide. My midwife, if you will. She and another kind soul I know led the ceremony. We are in a soft space, in a favela, right on the beach. The ocean waves crash in and slide out. To prepare myself for this, I’ve only eaten one Brazilian white flesh sweet potato. The day before I cut out off my all my hair, again. I’ve discovered that these things are apart of my ritual. No one told me this was necessary, it just felt so. Mama Aya is like that. Nothing makes sense until it does. We sit in a circle and talk. I’ve asked a million questions by now like a good college grad. I even watched a cheesy documentary about rich white people going to Peru to get “cleansed”. Side eyes aside, I knew this was something I had to experience for myself. We sit in a circle. Meditate. Set intentions. My intentions are set to heal. Heal and release all the pain and trauma that was put on me like a birthright. I’m a dark girl, and I’m not just talking about my melanin.

We gather in a circle and pray. “Our father who art in heaven…” I think about what my Christian grandmother, daughter to a mother who built her church from the ground up would say if she knew what I was doing. “hallowed be thy name…”I think about the series of prayers I wrote to my body, my heart, my intuition, myvagina and my mind. I closed those prayers in my name. I’m surprised that I can recite the Lord’s Prayer without a second thought, forgetting that things you learn in childhood are often the hardest to forget. We say the Ava Maria in Portuguese. We cleanse ourselves in sage. There are three women, including myself and two men. We all drink from the same cup. She is brown and tastes like prune juice. She smells like patchouli and breath. We sit and wait. After what feels like an hour passes I feel nothing but tired and decide that this was all hype and nothing will happen. I won’t throw up my darkness and purge like I was told. I’ll probably just fall asleep. I do just that.

Moments later, I wake up to feel the formation of tears in my eyes. I can literally feel iodine traveling to my tear ducts. Tears stretch across my eyelashes; they feel hot and sticky but fall so gently onto my face. I am not sad. I search inside my mind for some reason to cry. I know a reason exists, but I cannot find any. This makes me cry even more. I realize I don’t know who I am and that freaks me the fuck out. You could have told me my whole life story right there and I would have stared blankly. My ability to think logically and linearly is totally gone. I am a ball of sensation. I can feel everything. And it’s terrifying. I feel nausea. I want to stand up and go puke in the toilet, but I lose myself along the way. I look up and I’m kneeling in front of a toilet, dry heaving, whatever it is that’s in me, is not ready to let go. I cry and plead, but to no avail. I sit on the steps that lead into the bathroom and cry. I’m confused and in pain. I feel the depths of my solitude, like the entire universe has swallowed me up and I never even existed. I cry more hot tears. I look up to see a black figure reaching for me, it looks like death. I cry, “No!” But what looks like death turns out to be my friend. She holds my hand and leads me back to the peaceful circle. Embarrassed, but a little more grounded in reality, I realize that I am in a safe space experiencing what I wanted so badly. I laugh at my own naivety. I actually looked forward to this. There is music playing and with each song I am in a new space physically. Some songs make me nauseous and I dry heavy and belch, vomiting spirits that have been inhabiting my body for far too long. Some songs are too harsh for my skin and I cringe as my pores open wide and swallow notes. The third woman in the circle, a youngish person of Indigenous Argentinean descent is good at coaxing out my darkness. She lures them out with a whistle and cleanses me with sage once they’re gone. I run my hands down my face and body, it grounds me as the spirits escape through my mouth and skull. As they leave, I feel…lighter.

“Eu sou Indigena…” a new song begins to play. I feel my legs and hands become roots and soil and then matter. Eventually I can feel every molecule in my body and I am no longer afraid of the vastness of this fact. I accept my body. It feels amazing. I am heavy and strong. I see stardust in my shoulders and the sun in my irises. I look at myself in the mirror and smile, running my hands over my head, relishing in the sensation of my palms on my hair and scalp. I laugh and twirl and dance and sway and cry and sing. Realizing that everything is okay. Life is death like pain is joy and all apart of me like I’m all apart of it. It being the experience of life, because life is nothing more than an experience. The intergenerational trauma that I inherited has been thrown back into the universe who I trust to take care of it. It’s smaller than a period in the story that I am writing right now. The sun began to rise over the ocean. I had to lean on the window sill to keep from being pushed over with the revelation that me and my perception of this experience (some people would call them problems) are so small, they cease to exist in the blink of an eye. I blink my eyes.

“Scar Tissue” #TBT

*Every Thursday, I will post a blog post from my tumblr about the beginning of my year in Brazil*

Originally published here September 2014. 

Keloids are scars that don’t know they’ve healed, therefore they keep growing and growing. Producing skin until the original wound is covered in a thick protruding smooth to the touch layer of skin. Keloids are usually found in people with a lot of melanin in their skin, it’s genetic. How your mom healed is how you heal. How your family copes is usually related to how you cope. I have come to Bahia to cope/heal. Hopefully end the healing process mentally and emotionally so that my body can catch up and stop producing keloids.

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My scars are along the top of my chest and some reach my navel. They started out as shaving bumps or pimples, generally gross but manageable bodily functions. They morphed into sources of shame and deep physical discomfort. The ones on my chest have actually grown more because I’ve had them “treated”. Halter tops are my go to top not only because they show of my shoulders but because I’m tired of watching people’s eyes dart between my eyes and my scars. I’m starting to think I will never be able to get rid of them. My last resort is to make peace with my body, the way it is, now. This is why I came to Bahia. 

About 4 months ago I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Media and Communication Studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.Throughout those years I…

considered suicide seriously but choose anti depressants/fell in love and dealt with it being unreciprocated/began therapy/experienced the death of the person I gave my virginity to/continued acupuncture/cut off my dreadlocs/studied abroad/had a pregnancy scare/lost valuable friendships to acts I considered unforgivable

Luckily, I spent most of my time in college utilizing the free mental health services as well as continuing the acupuncture that I began in high school. College was the beginning of my commitment to healing. It was in college that I realized how I…

use “work” as a drug/am afraid of being abandoned so I never commit/do not have a strong spiritual foundation/view my art as a tool for attention and love/used my poetry as a means of distancing myself from romantic options/don’t trust 

It wasn’t until my last semester in college after I had studied abroad in Ecuador that I even realized the aforementioned about myself. I was seeing my acupuncturist weekly and we were doing really good work and I realized my own mind was the source of a lot of my pain. Sure things had happened to me, people lied and left but I made the choice everyday to ruminate and rehash those emotions. I was addicted to the drama of it all and it cost me time and energy. I was over it. I am over it. I’m ready to let go.

Brazil is a country I’ve been obsessed with since I saw the film “City of God” in middle school. My love grew as I learned how it’s home to the largest population of African descended people in the Americas but you could never tell that from mainstream media.  The “Black Power” movement here, just started in 1980. With a new rising middle class, primarily of black people and a booming film industry Brazil made sense as a my post college move.

Salvador, Bahia appealed to my budding spirituality. I’m looking for something a little less colonized to believe in. (No shade to Jesus) and Bahia is home to various practices like Orisha and Candomble. I know of many black folk who came to Bahia to get a healing. Maybe someone here can tell me what I need to do to accept myself scars and all.  

photo credit: Asia Jones

Reckless, Helpless Anger

Here’s what you need to know about what’s happening in Baltimore.

The brutal and unnecessary death of Freddie Gray has left my city in mourning. Freddie, a West Baltimore native was believed to have been in his neighborhood when he made eye contact with a police eye officer. EYE CONTACT. Freddie was then chased and beat. 80% of his spinal cord was severed. He died in the hospital a week later. This video goes into detail.

There were many peaceful protests this past week. One peaceful protest was interrupted when drunk white Orioles fans began shouting “Niggers!” at the protesters as well as throwing objects. Thus began the “riots”. Oh no, thus began the small damage to a few cars, and a 7-11. White people have done worse damage when their favorite sports team win championships. Things got out of hand and people were arrested. But the city calmed down.

Then.

A “flyer” was allegedly circulated claiming that gangs were pulling together to “take out” cops. LOL I imagine an old white cop writing this “flyer” and recalling “jive talk” he saw in an old blaxsplotation film. Needless to say, this was not true. No such initiative was created but that didn’t stop the city from closing most major universities and business early in prep for an “attack”. They closed most of downtown and let people home early. Most people except high school students. black high school students. Police in full SWAT gear surrounded the major bus station on the West Side of Baltimore leaving hundreds of teenagers stranded in the area. They then began to antagonize them, and through rocks. The media will only show the handful of students who fought back. But when you’re getting tear gassed and told to go home AND they city has shut the busses down, what do you do?

When your city has taken money out of the public education system FOR DECADES…when your city has given all oppurtunity and grants to mostly white transplants, when your own BLACK mayor calls her youth thugs on Television.

What’s left?

What to do with all this anger?

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still/ainda

Still love my city.

Still honored to say I’m from Baltimore.

Still screaming fuck the cops.

Still sick and tired of being sick and tired.

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Ainda amo minha cidade.

Ainda assim a honra de dizer que eu sou de Baltimore.

Ainda gritando foda a polícia.

Ainda doente e cansado de estar doente e cansado.

The Black Female Domestic Worker; Part 1

It’s not uncommon to see worn wrinkled hands wiping the butts of small smooth skinned babies. Often the small smooth skinned backside is white. And the wrinkled hands? Well they’re black of course.

Cause that’s just how things are here.

It’s hard to watch honestly. At the job I was fired from about a month ago, I was one of the few noticeably black teachers. Dark brown skin, nappy hair type black. The hierarchy was as follows, the white or nearly white women were teachers, they wore blue collared shirts. The lighter skinned mixed looking black women wore pink shirts, which means they were teaching assistants. But the majority of women that really looked like me wore blue smocks and were maids, assistants and teachers all at once. They took children to the bathroom, they kept the classroom sparkling clean, they organized work, they fed kids, they did all the work. I’m sure they were paid way less than everyone else. I’m sure there feet hurt everyday.  They appeared happy and were always cordial but it was still very strange. I couldn’t help but wonder who was taking care of their kids and grandkids. Who takes care of these women when they are tired or sick or can’t give care any longer? No one.domestic-worker-jan10

(photo courtesy of radiolabour.net)

Hippy Life, no really.

Capão is a very special place where time doesn’t exist and the internet is so slow it might as well not exist. It is the perfect place to go and decompress, grow your hair out, not shave, not wash, be one with nature. I found myself almost falling over at times because I was star gazing and it’s possible to see other galaxies in Capão. The town is small and hard to get to. You have to take a bus from Salvador to Palmeires then a van or car to Capão. It’s all very dusty and cowboy-ishFullSizeRender (1).

The town of Capão consists of normal black/indigenous Brazilians with clean houses and ipods, hippies and tourists passing through for the vibes, weed, energy, mountain trails and general lax atmosphere. Within the first day of Capão I was naked in two different rivers. I had an insightful conversation with a black Colombian woman. She was the only black hippies I encountered in my time there. Her son was blond and white, she was brown.  She told me how his dad was Argentinean and how they travel a lot. They lead a nomadic life. She told me she thought I was Brasilian or maybe even Colombian. She was surprised that I was from the states, (which will be the topic of a much longer post in the future). She kept trying to get her son to come to me, she would say, “ella e sua Tia, mira mira a ella.” He cried. I guess he didn’t see family in me.

Later in the day I found myself sitting in the town square at the super market reflecting on how a place like Capão could even exist. FullSizeRender (3) The locals seemed like they weren’t interested in the lifestyle that many came from all over to get a piece of. Many of the hippies were musicians,  Cagıl the friend I was staying with is a bad ass singer and flute player. She took me to a sauna and drum circle and I was coaxed into singing praises to Jah all night. It was as strange as it was exhilarating. I was in the woods with a bunch of different types of white people, my black American distrust kicked in, but then I looked up at the stars and remembered that I was safe. These were good white people. Seriously. But I also remembered how the woods or nature can be seen as refuge. When people are looking for freedom they run to the woods. In the game of “Tag” base is usually a tree. I don’t think I’ve ever been safer than I was that night in the woods.  Although I may have came of as stand offish to the people I met because I was extremely high and I’m usually quiet in new environments, eventually I warmed up. I plan on going back to there for a few weeks before I leave Brazil in August. There are things I need to discover.

Cachoeira da Fumaça

I think I’ve found a place I can continue to come back to.  Capão, a small town over run with hippies located in Palmeiras, Bahia is my new favorite place in the world. It’s a part of the huge mountainous region they call Chapada Diamintina.  3After getting fired from my job on a random Wednesday afternoon, I decided to take the money that I was paid and go to Capão. I had heard that it was a special place, and it turned out to be true.  Being blessed with awesome friends, I was able to stay with one of the most interesting people I’ve encountered in a long time. Her name is Cagıl Cokan, she’s a gypsy and a very talented musician. IMG_2434

After about 6 hours of travel by bus (one of my favorite ways to explore) I finally got to her house. We went to a belly dance class, which was my first but won’t be my last. The 4 days and 3 nights spent in Capão were mystical and frightening and I’m still thinking about it. It was a high that I’m not ready to let go off. While there I hiked the cachoeira da fumaça a trail that leads to a waterfall so high that the water doesn’t touch the bottom before it evaporates.

9It was dry when I went, so my hike was relatively fast and easy (as easy as a two hour hike can be). The hike was really awesome. It was cool to experience how moving my feet and breathing could  change my surroundings.13

I spent the whole day there in the mountains. I would have stayed longer but I had to get down before it got dark, as I had no flashlight and ran out of water. The journey back down was when I realized how far I traveled and how dangerous the trail could have been if the waterfall had been wet. 4I would later see this as a metaphor for my time in Salvador. I felt blessed. And surprisingly not tired.

In those mountains I didn’t have any great revelations or visions. But I was very impressed with the fact that I was able to complete the hike and actually enjoy it. It was so simple. Just walking up a hill, climbing some rocks, siting by water. 5

I walk a trail in my city, it’s nothing like the cachoeira da fumaça but it’s a part of my self care ritual. I need to go outside in nature sometimes, because my brain is over active. And after losing my job here in Salvador, (something I’ll write about more in another post) I had been feeling fearful and confused and alone. That hike reminded me that there was nothing for me to fear.