Sunday, June 19, 2011

A day at the beach...

I love feeling the hot sun caressing my skin while a fresh breeze passes by to cool me down, the sound of the palm tree branches dancing to the sounds of the roaring sea, while the sand molds to my body as I lay taking it all in and when I am ready, I submerge myself into the salty warm waters and look up at the fluffy clouds in the sky who are so respectfully staying far enough to not disrupt my date with the sun but close to enough to allow me to admire them. I love the beach.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Black is Beautiful: Hair and the Identity Struggle in the Dominican Republic

I wrote this piece for a conference I participated in Dakar, Senegal on January 2011.

I come from the Dominican Republic, a country that has been plagued with the worst kind of self-hate and racism in the world. This is a big statement, but I say it because it is what I live and feel everyday since I returned there—I migrated when I was 4 years old and moved back 18 years later. I am trusting my experience, as James Baldwin, an African American writer once wrote, confiding in the fact that it is my own and relevant to me.

My mother relaxed my hair when I was 9 years old and I continued to do it every 2-3 months until the age of 23. I remember describing how I felt right after a relaxer was applied as feeling clean, more beautiful, and feeling like a huge weight was taken off of my shoulders. My entire life I was socialized to believe that the opposite of relaxed hair was dirty, ugly, and heavy. Finally after spending thousands of dollars on hair products (US$10 for relaxer every two months, an average of $25 for salon visits every two weeks and countless hair products), wasting endless hours at the salon, and enduring painful burns from the relaxer and blow dryers, I said, “No more!”

Deciding to go natural was not an easy process. I cried, I felt like a boy, I felt ugly, I felt less of a women. I realized that like any process, these were just a series of steps that I had to overcome. The feelings that arose gave me a slap in the face, allowing me to deconstruct the origins of these feelings of inferiority based on my natural hair and question their validity.

Many Dominicans who criticize me, see themselves in me and when they reject me they in turn reject themselves. They don’t want to be African, they don’t want to be black, and so when I embrace these things they become afraid because I am them. I am also considered a rebel and a revolutionary for not conforming to what has been determined as beautiful. No one asked my opinion when beauty norms were created.  Why is fair skin and long silky straight hair beautiful when I wasn’t born like that and why is being natural revolutionary?

I wish that when we talked about hair, it would be just that, hair—an accessory to the body and nothing else.   Pablo Freire, a Brazilian scholar once wrote, “Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle.” Until we recognize, love and value our history, our skin color, our hair, ourselves, this fight will be long and painful. Black is beautiful.   

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A little piece of Trinidad and Tobago

Una Aventura!!

This blog post was inspired by someone really special who is traveling outside of the US for the first time. Those who know me know I L-O-V-E to travel, I also give it away with the title of my blog-I am Miss adventures around the world. 

The first thing is the most difficult—don’t create a lot of expectations about your trip. This is so hard because all of these things are going through your head, oh the people I will meet, the places I will see and the foods I will taste! It’s ok to be really excited about all of this, but don’t start calculating and predicting how everything will happen during your trip. Go into it with an open heart, open mind, and open mouth (the mouth part is for the yummylisious foods you will eat of course).

Even though you shouldn’t have all these expectations about your trip, you should one, go into it with a positive outlook and two, you should be somewhat prepared for what’s ahead.

For short trips—2-7 day—don’t do a lot of crazy pre-trip planning. Just make sure you have different options for lodging, an idea about the transportation systems, and some specific places you would like to visit. You do this so that you spend less time looking for these things when you arrive and in turn you get more time exploring and doing the fun things, for me that is eating, naturally. Oh and I almost forgot, please stay away from Internet cafes and from a cell phones. On short trips you need to disconnect and just enjoy.

For longer trips—8 or more days—definitely do a bit more planning. Look into different options for lodging, so that you could experience different parts of the city or country you are visiting. Look into the national transportation options and if the country borders another, look for international traveling options. Start thinking about buying a cell phone or SIM card for your phone. If you are going to a relatively safe-ish place, then take your fancy phone, get it unblocked and just buy a SIM (these are usually really cheap US$3-15).  If you are going to a busy city that is not so safe, just buy a cheap US$20 phone.

There are some basic things that apply to both short and long trips. Pack really light. I can’t stress this enough. If you are going somewhere hot, pack a few shorts, few shirts, flip flops, pair of sneakers, and all of your toiletries in small containers. Ladies, in addition to what I previously mentioned, travel with a smaller makeup bag, 2-3 bathing suits and a few flowy light dresses, you really won’t need much more.  Traveling to a cold place? Pack 2 pairs of jeans, some leggings, a few t-shirts, 2 sweaters, a few going out outfits and of course a coat, gloves, scarf, hat, and if it is really cold, a pair of boots. Don’t forget the sun tan/sun block lotions, bugs spray and the Chap Stick. These are just the basic things you’ll need, your list may change depending on where you are traveling and how long you will be there.

Always carry some cash with you. Exchange some of it at the airport; between US$30-50 depending on where you are traveling, you’ll need this to get to your hotel, hostel, or couch. In the towns and cities there are always places where you can exchange your money for better rates. Go online before traveling and find out how much you’ll get for your dollar.  Always bring some extra money for emergencies.

Make friends with a taxi driver or a moto driver. During you taxi drives ask questions to the drivers about the economical, political and social state of the country. They will be able to give you the lowdown because they are in the middle of it all. It’s also good to keep the cell phone number of a reliable taxi driver, it can make your life easier during your stay.

There are dangers everywhere you go in the world; I haven’t visited the other planets, so I can only talk about my experience here on earth.  What has worked for me is simply using my common sense. It’s actually that easy. When you're somewhere that is completely foreign to you, you don’t put yourself in sketchy situations (e.g. dark alleys at 3:00am by yourself, I actually did this once and was mugged, go figure!).

Finally, just have fun. Don’t go crazy at the souvenirs shops; if you can’t use it, don’t buy it. There is so much more to say, but I have to run to work before I get fired! If you have anything to add, feel free to write it in the space for comments.

P.S. If you traveling for a long period of time, don’t forget to get health insurance.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hello everyone one!

As I was reading a blog on curly hair this morning it hit me that I really missed writing in this space. It has been quite a while since my last post. Since then I visited Trinidad and Tobago for work, I spent almost three weeks in Dakar, Senegal, and I went back to the US of A to visit family and friends. I guess I will spend the next few weeks updating this space, but for now, welcome back misaventurasaroundtheworld!