Looking back. Looking forward

It’s that time of year when we traditionally reflect on the year past and resolve what we will accomplish in the upcoming year.

2013 was a year of big changes

In January I resolved to embark on an adventure. The planning began.

In February I submitted my  application to graduate school and was accepted two weeks later.

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In March I had my last day of work and spent the month selling a ton of my belongings and packing up my Baltimore apartment. And having a series of going away parties. I’ll always love you, Baltimore.


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In April I moved my remaining stuff to my mom’s house and flew to Mexico. Tulum reawakened my spirit.

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From April to May I traveled around Belize. Life was a beach.

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In June I traveled around Guatemala and a little bit more of Mexico. Every day was an adventure.

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I met amazing people and and made connections and memories that I think about (and laugh about) nearly everyday.  I left a small piece of my heart on that trip.

In July I moved to New Orleans and celebrated my 30th birthday.

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In August I got settled into my new home. I moved into a new one in November. It has a pool, and a balcony on the parade route.  What can I say, I like to upgrade.

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In September I began graduate school – in pursuit of a masters in social work.

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From September to December I was submerged  in the world of social work. I learned so much about the world and about myself. I was challenged and rewarded. I learned to advocate for myself and others. I also made new friends and  entertained many guests from near and far who reminded me that some bonds can not be broken through time or distance.


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In December I began Winter break. I decompressed, regrouped and I celebrated. Oh boy did I celebrate.

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And now, in January, I am preparing to return to school in 2 days.  A part of me wants break to continue indefinitely. I’m so relaxed, I’m having so much fun, I haven’t witnessed a heated debate about sexism in a while. But a large part of me is excited to go back. I start an awesome internship, classes will be more focused on (my biggest interest) counseling. And I have a thirst for knowledge that can’t be quenched by Facebook and Buzzfeed. (But how I will miss these lazy days).

Every January when I look back, I am amazed by how much I’ve grown and expanded my mind. When I was a kid, I thought that you became an adult and suddenly you were wise and evolved. It never occurred to me that it was a process. It also never occurred to me that not everyone becomes the best version of themselves as they age.  I now see that it’s something you have to actively invest in.

For me, the  major milestones of my life aren’t marriage or children or my first mortgage. My milestones are the moments I experience that expand me:  when I took the plunge off that 20 foot cliff, when I traveled alone for the first time, when I moved to a(nother) new city, when I read that book that changed my life, when I fostered a litter of kittens, when I formed an instant connection with that person, when I graduate from this program.  In 2014, I resolve to collect even more of those moments, and to write about them here, for posterity’s sake.

I also resolve to exercise my body as much as I’ve been exercising my mind. I’m not after a flat stomach (although, I’m certainly not against it). When I travel, I am constantly active outdoors: trekking, diving, swimming, climbing.  I want my body to feel how it does when I return from a trip: strong, healthy and connected to the planet.  With a shiny new bike, winter temps generally in the 60s, and a park like this so close, I have no excuses.

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I resolve to continue to pursue the best version of myself. And have a whole lot of fun along the way.

(Come visit!)

 

 

First semester of Graduate School: A Reflection

Hey y’all (I say that now)

It’s been a long time since I’ve last written on this blog. It hasn’t been a long time since I’ve written – throughout the semester I’ve written papers. essays, analyses, short answers etc. But, I haven’t used this blog of mine.  I’ve thought about it on occasion, but everything else seemed so much more important. I realize now (and probably subconsciously at the time) that that was not true.

This blog is my creative outlet. It allows me to process the stories of my life and present them in a way that is reader friendly.  That processing is what keeps me an optimist – even the worst stories, when analyzed, have their silver lining.  Whenever I hear someone telling a hilarious story about a day, week, or time when all kinds of crazy things transpired, I think, “I bet this was the opposite of funny when it was happening”. Life is up, life is down, perception is everything.  This blog keeps my perception positive.

My first semester of graduate school posed a challenge to that positivity. I moved to a new city where I knew only a couple people. Right before school started, a close friendship abruptly and inexplicably ended.  Throughout the semester we learned about terrible things that make up the fabric of American society: racism, sexism, the big business of incarceration, poverty, oppression, inequality, crime, the broken education system, under treatment of mental illness, political corruption, the list goes on and on. This new knowledge opened my eyes to the injustice inherent in American society. This knowledge also became a heavy burden.

I felt all of the following things during this semester: helpless, inspired, lonely, connected, oppressed, empowered, angry, energized, unwanted (by society), instrumental (to society), completely lost, and found.

The world that I view now is different than the one than I viewed in September, fresh off an amazing trip through Central America.

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First day of school

But, it’s also a different world than the one I viewed during the semester, while being filled to the brim with social work knowledge.  The world I saw then made me question my identity and my place in the world. It made me, as a black woman, hyper aware about issues of race and gender.  It took away my carefree optimism and replaced it with seriousness and over analysis.  On the surface, I seemed similar to the person who gallavanted through Central America, perhaps an exhausted version. But inside, I was undergoing an identity crisis.

It went a little something like this: So, this is how America feels about black people. So this is how America treats women. America considers me double inferior. Have I internalized this inferiority? Where do I fit in in this society? Is everyone racist? Can I continue my friendships now that I clearly see the micro aggressions and unconscious biases people make about race, gender, sexuality etc? What do I do with all of this knowledge? *walking down the street* Does that person think I’m going to rob them?  Why am I now nervous when I see this person walking towards me? Have I developed prejudices? Can I live in a state with so many problems?

And so on and so forth.

Add in a hearty dose of meeting dozens of new people, two moves, a shady landlord, and trying to learn a new city.

My brain got the exercise of it’s lifetime. (I wish I could say the same for my body)

Now that I’ve been on Christmas break for a few weeks, with a healthy mix of socialization and alone time, and with no social work books in sight, I’m feeling like myself again. A wiser, more socially informed version of myself. I know about the injustices and the suffering out there, but I’m not taking it on as my own.  I see the biases and oppression, but I also see the tolerance and connectivity.  I am hopeful but aware. I know I can only do so much during my tenure on this planet.  But that is enough. I am enough. We all are enough.

So, like I said, it’s been a challenging few months. It’s also been full of rewards. I love this new city of mine. I love being in school. I love my apartment. I love my new friends. I really love my cat. (I just bought her a toy called da bird and it’s incredible – first review I’ve ever written on Amazon). I’ve had friends from afar who have, during their brief visits, made this city really feel like home. Thank you Sammy, DJ Killa, Marsalalala, Sarapatweaver, Slarcks, Benny, Krysten, Dodobird, Momzie, Khary and Drewpy.  It was so SO good to see you all. In those times, I felt most like myself. And while I was constantly exhausted, I also made some amazing memories.  I am exactly where I want and need to be.

You know that old cliche’ parents always say about parenthood: “it’s hard, but it’s the best thing I ever did”?

That’s how I feel about my life.

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Happy 2014, y’all.

It has begun

This weekend was pretty wild.  It was one last crazy hurrah before school began. That’s not too difficult in this city, especially when there’s a sporting event (LSU game). I spent all of Sunday recuperating from not being 22 anymore.

(Hi Mom!  By “wild” I mean “mild” and by “crazy” I mean “lazy, K?)

On Monday, we had a casual social gathering for full-time MSW students at the gorgeous home of one of the faculty members. Everyone was so friendly and just eager to meet their fellow classmates and dive into the program. It was an optional event, but I was so glad I went because today…

Was orientation. I hitched a ride from one of the girls I met (and instantly clicked with) at the social. It was great to be able to walk in with someone. No awkwardness or wandering around lost and panicky. Orientation was awesome. I met faculty and lots of friendly, like-minded classmates, learned about the program, and attended an information session about the certificate program I’m applying to. I’m now even more excited about the certificate program, it feels like it was made for me.  I’ll get into more detail if/when I’m officially accepted.  We took ID pics and mine was pretty unsexy because the flash made it look like I had a spotlight on my forehead. I was also glistening from the NOLA sun. And it was raining. While sunny. Regardless, I now feel like a real student! As we left campus, I realized I should probably purchase some school supplies before classes began tomorrow? Like maybe a notebook? Some pens?

So, a fellow classmate/new friend and I embarked on a 5 hour, multi-store, highly comical journey that should’ve taken 30 minutes. At one point, after pacing up and down the aisles of Office Depot, I looked at her and said “These notebooks just aren’t…sexy enough, y’know?” and she nodded in agreement. I think we’ll get along just fine.

5 hours later, we still didn’t have backpacks but our notebooks and pens were really turning heads.

Tomorrow is the first day of classes. I’m excited but at the same time it doesn’t seem real.  It felt like this day was never going to come. But, after 6 months of blissful “retirement”, it’s finally here. I never thought I could be so excited about school but I guess that’s what happens when you pursue your passions.

(Talk to me again during midterms)

That’s all for now. I have to go pick out my first day outfit. I just hope I can still pull off something as timeless and fabulous as this get-up.

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Forrealz, Mom?

Incredible New Orleans: Audubon Park

Last week I realized that I’d lived in Uptown NOLA for 2 months and really hadn’t explored the neighborhood. I knew my way around pretty well, but there were so many places on my to-see list. I’d been putting it off for weeks, admittedly hoping I’d get someone to do it with me. Like many other mid-sized cities, New Orleans can be neighborhood-centric. You live in the quarter, you go out in or near the quarter. None of my old or new friends lived in the neighborhood so I’d end up hanging out with them elsewhere. Still I longed to get to know my neighborhood. ‘Tomorrow’, I’d tell myself.

Then tomorrow came.

Last Monday, I received a Facebook message from my close friend, Dorothy inquiring, “How would you feel if I showed up on your doorstep tomorrow night?”. I replied, “um, that would be AMAZING”. And the next night, there she was, standing outside MSY. It’s awesome to have spontaneous friends with airline points. Aside from my excitement to see her, I was extremely excited that I would finally have someone to join me in exploring the neighborhood. I’d recommended she bring workout clothes so we could go for a few walks in this park I’d heard about. So, the next morning, we chugged water (it was a late night), laced up our sneakers and headed to Audubon park.

I’ve been to a lot of beautiful city parks but what we found when we arrived was a tranquil urban dreamscape.

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Majestic live oaks, centuries old and blanketed with Spanish moss, cast shade on the 2 mile jogging path.

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The path loops around a lagoon, in the center of which is Ochsner Island aka Bird Island, where hundreds of birds nest, including various species of Herons, Ducks, Egrets and Swans.

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As we walked the path, marveling at the beauty of the park, Dorothy spotted something other than birds wading in the Lagoon.

Turtles.

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You may not know this but I am a little bit obsessed with turtles. I chose the hotel for the last day of my Central America trip based almost entirely on the fact that there was a turtle pond. Discovering that there were turtles at Audubon Park was way more exciting than I’d like to admit.

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REALLY excited

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The lush green oasis also includes a rolling golf course, soccer fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, a pool, and a zoo. It’s the perfect place to go for a run, have a picnic, read a book, or just sit on a bench and reconnect with nature.

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The beauty of Audubon Park has motivated me to exercise everyday since just so I can bask in it (and visit my turtle friends). I feel so at peace when I am there. My thoughts slow down, I am mindful of each precious moment. It is my free meditation retreat.

And guys, there are turtles.

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Dear New Orleans: A Love Letter

Dear New Orleans,

First let me say, Happy Belated Anniversary. It’s been a year and 3 days since I first laid eyes on you. I still remember how my eyes widened and my heart pounded as I took you in. I knew immediately that we were meant to be.


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Once I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. Or talking about you. Or plotting how we could be together again. Admittedly It took a lot of hard work. There were times I got frustrated, or second guessed our love. But I always came back around. When your heart knows, it just knows. The day that I got accepted to Tulane was one of the best days of my life. Not only did it mean that I’d finally be able to achieve one of my professional dreams. It also meant that we’d finally be together.

I had the time of my life during my 81 days in Central America. I met amazing people, made incredible memories and grew in countless, priceless ways. But, when I thought about the end of the trip, I wasn’t sad. Because I knew that although I was leaving behind such a great experience, I was coming home to you. 
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The past two months together have only strengthened my dedication to you as I’ve gotten to know the real you. Not the you that drunk tourists want to be with. Not the you that parties in the streets night after night. No, the you that is so beautiful, I sometimes lose my words.

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There are so many adjectives I could use to try to describe you. Warm. Welcoming. Confident. Funky. Sexy.

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But words don’t do you justice. You’ve been through so much, I wouldn’t blame you for being a little bitter or resentful. But your heart is open and your spirit is resilient.  Your past has made you wiser. Your weaknesses have made you stronger.

I’m far from perfect and so are you. There are things about you that can sometimes make life a little more difficult. Yet, given the chance, I probably wouldn’t change them. Your flaws give you even more character.

Plus, I’ve already learned to drive slow when the road gets bumpy.

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nola.com

 

Love always,

Me

 

 

 

 

Days 49-51: Livingston, Guatemala

This is the 4th time I’ve sat down, determined to finish a blog post. New Orleans (and it’s wonderful inhabitants) have a way of offering up enticing distractions. But I will keep trying. I’m going to attempt to finish up my travel posts, considering I got back over a month ago. So, without further adieu…

After a crazy speedboat ride from Belize, we arrived in Livingston, Guatemala drenched but grateful to be unharmed. A fellow passenger remarked that he made the trip regularly but that that ride was “the craziest it’s ever been”. Lucky us.

We began our way up the hill to immigration, eager dock boys lapping at our feet.

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dock boy, far left

For the uninitiated, dock boys are the boys (and in this case, men) who wait at entry ports for tourists then try to lead them towards hotels that will give them a commission for new guests. They followed us all the way to immigration, hounding us the entire time. “What’s your name?” “Where you from?” “Stay at [hotel] it’s real nice. Good price.

I take you there!”

It’s annoying and exhausting, especially after a long day of travel.  And they don’t even help you carry your bags.

(Not that you should ever give your bag to a stranger. Don’t)

After a lightning quick immigration process, we made our way back down the hill, dock boy lapping at our heels. I already knew where I would be staying if they had vacancies, and I informed him of this. Still he marched in front us and as we approached hotels, acted as a marketing representative for each one. “Real cheap!” “This place is brand new” “Lots of backpackers there”

Our intended destination was a bit of a walk from the town but he stuck with us like a shadow. At one point, as we trudged along, I asked him if he was our bodyguard. He grunted in response.

We finally made it to Casa Rosada, the highest rated Livinston hotel on Trip Advisor at the time. Luckily they had several rooms available. After an exhausting journey, I was eager to check in and drop my heavy bags. But first, I had to get rid of our shadow.

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The dock boy/man had followed us all the way to the reception, yammering on nervously about the perks of the hotel. Once cash was exchanged for the room, he began muttering about his “services”, not so subtly implying that I owed him money. Tired and annoyed I inquired what exactly I owed him for. For following us to the hotel? The hotel that I had already been planning to check into? For making the long trek to the hotel even more tiresome with his creepy nervous energy? Much appreciated, bro. Safely on hotel grounds, I declined his offer and he slinked away. While I understand that these men live in deep poverty and are trying to make money, I’m not going to support harrassment. During the trip there were dock boys who were genuinely useful in finding a hotel and who were compensated by that hotel (and by me). Following tourists who repeatedly tell you they don’t need your help is not behavior that should be encouraged. :End of rant:.

There isn’t much to say about the two days in Livingston. I walked into town a couple times but it was mostly just your standard tourist shops and a couple restaurants. The population was a mix of Garifuna, afro-caribbean, mayan and latin residents. I didn’t find them to be particularly friendly, as in some tourist towns, mostly they just went about their business. The parts of town I saw weren’t particularly charming or interesting. In fact, since Livingston was my first taste of Guatemala, I was nervous that the rest of the country was going to be a disappointment.

One thing in Livingston that was not a disappointment was Casa Rosada. It had lush, well appointed grounds, adorable rooms and a beautiful view of the Rio Dulce.  It was such a calming, almost dreamy location. I spent much of the two days there lounging on the outdoor sofas with my cat friend, admiring the view.


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The days were warm and sunny until around 3:00 when the skies would darken and the drizzle would begin. It rained off and on for the remainder of the evenings, sometimes a light mist, sometimes a roof pounding downpour. I was completely unprepared for this change in weather, clothing-wise. But after a hot, sticky, rainless month in Belize, I wasn’t complaining. I also made a new friend at a local restaurant. This is Erica.

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Don’t let the smiling picture fool you. Shortly after this was taken,  I glanced down and noticed she’d shat on my thigh. Thanks, amiga. Then, after attempting to eat my hair, she climbed onto my head and could not be persuaded to get down. I began to panic slightly as a bird with loose bowels is not my preference for a hat. I calmly attempted to extract her without disturbing the group of Israeli tourists dining beside me. She simply squawked and threatened to peck my hand. Finally I walked into the kitchen and had the owner remove her from my head before her next anal explosion.

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So to review, there was a parrot in a dining establishment, defecating on diners which I then brought into the kitchen where meals were being prepared. Health and safety codes are a little more lax in Guatemala. (And the pizza was damn good.)

Livingston isn’t somewhere I’d recommend for more than a few days but if you’re passing through, Casa Rosada is definitely worth checking out. Please send my best to Erica.

Wi-finally

I’ve been in NOLA for a month and, without home wi-fi access,  I’ve been burning through my cell phone data plan like a forest fire. Today finally, Wifi was installed and I can start to release the blog posts that have  knocking around in my head.

Right after I finish this margarita…

 

Back to the Adult Hood

The funny thing about living at home is you immediately revert to a 14 year old. I’ve lived away from home for nearly ten years and yet the instant I returned I was transformed into a lazy, complaining, moody teenager.

After two weeks of mostly laying around, whining about doing any semblance of chores, going to the mall incessantly and getting all of my meals cooked for me, it’s time to return to Adulthood.  

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47th trip to the mall

Tomorrow I will be driving down to New Orleans to start the next chapter of my life. I will find an apartment in the Big Easy, celebrate my 30th birthday with close friends (and drunk strangers) and, in September, begin graduate school to pursue my dreams of getting paid to help people deal with their problems.  I don’t like to pick favorites but 2013 is pretty high up on my list of best years ever.

I still have lots to blog about regarding the Central America trip and I hope to take many more  blog-worthy trips in the future. I do apologize for the inconsistent posting, and the fact that that will likely not change. 

Regardless, I’m very excited for this next chapter and I hope you’ll tag along.

Speaking of me and you, as soon as I get that apartment, consider my couch open for visitors. I’ll have a fridge full of buzz balls waiting for you. 

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Day 49: Middle school flashbacks and Flying boats

After a month-and-a-half in Belize, it was time to move on. As much as I was enjoying Placencia, Belize only grants 30 day visas for visitors and mine was about to expire. Plus, I was eager to check out Guatemala.

On the morning of Day 49, we headed to the boat dock in Placencia, next to Barefoot Bar and purchased tickets ($10 BZ). The 10:00 “Hokey Pokey” Boat arrived on schedule and we all piled on. After a 15 minute boat ride on calm waters we arrived in Independence, Belize. A bunch of us then hopped in a mini-van cab and headed to the bus station. [Traveler tip: You don’t need to do this, the bus stops at the boat dock]

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The public bus arrived only slightly behind schedule, around 11:00 (scheduled for 10:45). The bus was packed and only a couple people got off. Yet, no one seemed all that concerned about fitting in this influx of 8-10 additional passengers. And their bags. Somehow we all fit. Of course, that required most of the new passengers to stand in the aisle, trying not to topple over into someone’s lap as the bus peeled around winding roads. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience. Then, 20 minutes into the ride/balance exercise, the ticket taker announced that there was a police check-point coming up and everyone needed to get in a seat. At the behest of the ticket taker, the two adults seated in the two-seater next to me begrudgingly slid over approximately one inch to accommodate me.

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When I was in 8th grade, my mom and I moved and I had to start taking the bus to school. One winter morning, I sat in an aisle seat in the front of the bus. The “cool kids” all sat at the back of the bus. My backpack was full of books that day, so bulky that it protruded out into the aisle. I don’t remember what I held in my lap but it prevented me from taking off my heavy back pack. I can still feel the weight of that backpack when I recall what happened next. The bus made a sharp right turn that I was not prepared for. Panic overtook me as I began tipping over into the aisle. Time slowed to a crawl as I tried in vain to subvert gravity. Slowly but surely I landed, like an overturned turtle, in the aisle in full view of the entire bus. For a 13 year old, “humiliated” is an understatement. I disliked school buses before then. For a while after that, riding on them filled me with dread.
That memory came rushing back as I perched on a tiny piece of pleather cushion, backpack in my lap, most of my body leaning into the aisle, my thighs burning with effort to keep me from flying forward as the bus lurched around curves. Thankfully, a seat opened after nearly 45 minutes where I spent the remainder of the two hour bus ride resting my aching lower half.

We arrived in Punta Gorda, Belize around 1:00 pm and purchased tickets for the ferry to Livingston through Memo’s Boat Service. [Traveler tip: Make sure you have enough cash  for the boat ticket ($25 US, I think) AND pricey exit fee ($39 US). Both fees can be paid at the immigration office].

IMG_7870IMG_7874The boat arrived around 3:00. No drug sniffing dogs this time. Once we were all boarded, one of the workers handed me and the girl sitting next to me a large tarp to place over us. I didn’t think it was really necessary, I’m not worried about my hair getting wet (advantage: Braids). But they were pretty insistent. Strangely, no one else was offered a tarp. (I’m going to assume it’s because both of us were black and he had been taking notes during Good Hair)

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As we set off towards Livingston it soon became clear why the tarp had been provided. It had stormed the day before and the sea was dark and rough. Large waves crashed against the boat, drenching us as we sped through the Amatique bay. The boat bounced wildly against the ocean, often going airborne before crashing down again. The looks on me and my fellow passengers faces went from bemused to slightly concerned to fear stricken

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During the hour long boat ride, there were several times in which I began wondering how my death would be reported in the newspaper. “Local hero flung from boat during 3 month heroic journey through Central America. Dies a hero”. Just guessing at headlines. But accurate guesses aside, it was a very scary ride. We were all relieved to hoist our soaking wet bodies onto the dock in Livingston.

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It was a day of very uncomfortable rides but we made it to Guatemala safe and mostly sound.

Traveling while judgey

On Wednesday, standing in line to board my plane to Atlanta, I overheard a conversation amongst the group behind me in line. They had been vacationing in Playa Del Carmen and were talking about their plans upon returning home (Alabama). A tall older man with a distinct southern drawl declared, “First thing I’m doing when I get home is getting a real hamburger. I had one at the hotel and it was horrible. I told ’em, go to Walmart get a Boca Burger, at least it’s halfway close!”

And they all chuckled.

First his statement made me sad. “This is Mexico!” the fat kid (name’s Carla) trapped inside me yipped, “there is so much amazing food here. I haven’t eaten this well in 3 months!” Cartoon tacos danced around happily in my brain.

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But immediately after the dancing finished, my mind was awash with judgement.

This is EXACTLY what the world thinks of Americans, I said silently to Carla (who was at that point hungrily grabbing at the cartoon tacos). Thick, southern accents! Traveling to the most commercialized foreign regions! Complaining about the HOTEL HAMBURGERS (“At least it wasn’t hot dogs”, Carla said meekly)

Sigh.

Lounging on a sparkling beach in Playa del Carmen, surrounded by a slew of other tourists, getting catered to by Mexicans who speak perfect English. Shopping for slightly less expensive American and European brands at shiny stores on pristine cobble stone sidewalks. Eating at restaurants with elaborate websites and 14 dollar margaritas. It isn’t exactly my idea of an exotic vacation.

But then. Then I thought: hey Judge Judy, vacation is a personal decision! What makes your vacation better than their vacation? As you may have picked up on above, I disliked Playa del Carmen. But, people have the vacation of their lives there. For some it’s their first time on a plane (as another person on the flight mentioned). Or first time interacting with people from another culture. Leaving ones comfort zone is never a bad thing. Just because it’s not the vacation that I would want for myself, doesn’t make the experience any less valuable.

I’m sure there are many seasoned travelers who would judge my vacation. I wasn’t bunking in war zones or remote villages, I chose shuttles over chicken buses, some of my hotels even had cable television.

So, fellow travelers: I will not judge your travel choices. We’re all just trying to see parts of this huge beautiful globe we’re sharing.

But the beaded cornrows? The ones you got done on the beach?

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Those I will absolutely, wholeheartedly judge you for. And so will your co-workers.