At my Uncle’s funeral in May, in addition to talking about his kindness and generosity, many people had a lot to say about his cooking. That’s the magic of food, breaking bread. It brings people together. It’s why most of my fondest memories of my travels are centers around meals. It’s also why I’m so close to my Jamaican heritage. I often wonder would I feel as Jamaican, being born here in NYC if my family didn’t eat Jamaican food? If I didn’t crave escovich fish, fish tea or curry goat?
I’ve always been proud to share my Jamaican culinary heritage with others. I even shared my mom’s stuffed red snapper on here before. So as the days are getting hotter in NYC, I thought I’d share a drink that’s been cooling me down, Jamaican sorrel. Now, this isn’t my Uncle Wayne’s exact recipe — we certainly freestyle a lot in our family, but this will definitely get you started.
You definitely see this hibiscus drink a lot in the West Indies over the holidays, but over ice, it’s pretty perfect all year round and it’s natural ingredients are good for you!
* If you have access to fresh hibiscus, even better! Steep them for 2 days!
The travel industry is one of stories. From middle school history books that double as ancient world travelogues to luxury hotel promotional videos it is an industry whose fantasy is built on transporting the reader or viewer mentally until the pull becomes too great, leading to that monetary spend and hopefully, the interconnectivity of the world. But in a world where we are questioning the gatekeepers of the status quo that has upheld systematic oppression, it is time we examine who these story tellers are. What are the limits of the narratives they impart?
I was able to explore this for Condé Nast Traveler and interview some of my industry colleagues on the change that needs to happen. The closing remarks by Kellee Edwards in the article gave me chills during our conversation.
To travel is a privilege but many facets of the industry have for too long been a symbol of white privilege, marginalizing the Black traveler. Travelers are story tellers: from the president of The Explorer’s Club to the travel public relations exec carefully crafting the story of their destination to present to journalists; from the journalist telling the story of the destination to the consumer, a young state politician from Detroit, Michigan. At this time in modern American history when we are reckoning with systematic racism and the need for major societal change, the travel industry, as an industry of story-tellers must reflect on who have been the gate keepers of these stories and how to diversity their medium.
I’ve featured some amazing black owned hair companies here before. I was so excited when Tamu Mcpherson and the team at her site All the Pretty Birds asked me to share my hair story for their series “Our Hair, Don’t Care” with their pretty birds community. It was so cathartic thinking through it, going through old photo albums and talking to my mom about my hair growing up. I had been taking notes and then one night about to go to bed, I had a line and it all came flowing out. Our hair is our crown but as black people we’ve been much maligned for our hair. Gabrielle Union came out about the America’s Got Talent Team deeming her hairstyle’s “too black.”The high-school wrestler Andrew Johnson was made to cut his hair or forfeit the match. You couldn’t help thinking of the biblical story of Samson and Delilah when you saw them sheering his locks. The black community was outraged. Even when our hair styles are accepted, they’re often co-opted: Kim Kardashian calling corn rows “Bo Derek braids.”
When I say political, I truly mean it. Black hairstyles are policed in schools and the work place. Recently, driven by senator Holly J Mitchell, California became the first state in the US to ban employers and schools from discriminating against people based on their natural hair. “This law protects the right of black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without the pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms.”
Whether you wear it pink, straight and down your back or a Shea bitter twist, I see you and love you kings and queens.
How many of you have had people reach out and touch your hair without your permission?
It has been a hard few weeks with seeing the onslaught of violence against black bodies on full display that has finally garnered enough of a call to action in America. This in turn lead to a wide scale social movement in the world. Black Lives Matter is not new. It did not start with the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor. In fact, reading about the Ferguson protests and violent police response, there was a moment this week that I became dismayed about what is really going to change. But this time it’s different.
White allies are stepping up to confront systematic racism hoping to make long lasting generational change. When I made this video for my IGTV last week, it was in response to several posts and asks from white allies about what they can do, what they can say without overstepping and how they do the work of being anti-racist. I want to address some next steps and tasks for us all as well as a call to action for an anti-racist white ally. I’ve never been so galvanized to participate in my local government than I have been after going to protests and rallies. The police must be demilitarized. We have to stamp out white supremacy in this country. It’s strange, I can finally see the rumblings of change happening.
I’ve discussed with friends a lot “What’s the ask?”
And most importantly, the ask that we think would implement change? This is the importance of being ANTI-racist vs. not just racist and committed to being A PART OF the systematic change.
Call to Action:
Use your platform or your position for equality and black economic empowerment. This is something that I saw in full force while in South Africa.
Re-examine your elected officials and their objectives. As Trump calls your governor to go after protestors aggressively, for fear of not “looking like a bunch of jerks” make sure your governor hears from the people they are serving.
Side with disruptors publicly in whatever field is your “lane.” It is hard to speak out for fear of loss of job opportunities.
Share black stories. There’s a whole Instagram sticker for it! And brands, be aware of the climate, maybe give your favorite influencer an extension on that post right now.
F the feed. Your concern for black lives should disrupt your grid and call attention to it.
Question your privilege. As people of color, it is our actual black lives at stake here so being anti-racist needs to be your lifestyle.
I remember the scene that hooked me on 90 Day Fiancé a few years ago. My mother kept insisting I watch the show. With my propensity for dating foreign men, she told me the concept over and over again but it wasn’t until I walked into her bedroom and overheard Luis chastising Molly about her brujeria and Molly screaming in bewilderment, was I hooked. Luis probably used Molly for a green card. I’d heard of “green card marriages,” even knew one or two and as a reality tv junkie whose business is in travel, I am even able to take Sharp Entertainment’s portrayal of the “dodgy foreigner” with a grain of salt.
Upon hearing that my partner is Italian, many people ask if I’ve seen the show. Believe it or not, it the same thing that has many transfixed on the relationship between Meghan and Harry, curious about mine, Loren and Alexei, Tom and Rachel. Love is hard enough without factoring in oceans away, completely different cultures and lifestyles. So for seasons and spin offs, I was entertained by the revolving cast of characters in the 90 Day universe, but for some reason, this season, I found myself catching it on streaming more and more. The problem is Big Ed.
Despite delayed tuning in this season and watching passively, Big Ed, Ed Brown, all 4’11” of him and his relationship with Rosemarie has infiltrated pop culture. His sycophants range from the average anonymous person on social media to Chrissy Teigen, Tori Spelling and Heather McDonald. I’m a fan of these women so I find this even more disappointing. Chatting with my friend Tia, I sussed out the root of my problem with Big Ed, why I finished 90 Day episodes disgusted at having watched him. He boils down to a sex tourist and he’s how PC culture can go the extremely wrong way.
Big Ed has said he suffers from a a rare genetic defect called Klippel-Feil syndrome. This is a condition where two bones in the neck are fused together. This is really unfortunate and in the initial episodes, I was happy to see that he was thriving in his career, friends, family. Due to his condition, Big Ed revealed that he has been bullied all of his life. I started on team Big Ed…. Even as we saw his disconcerting relationship with his daughter when she didn’t say what he wanted to hear. Even learning of the large age gap between he and Rose.
But Big Ed is white privilege personified. Everything people think is wrong with Americans. On 90 Day Fiancé we’re used to see age differences all over the board and power dynamics off. We’re especially used to seeing this with white older American men and women overseas in impoverished areas. We love David & Annie, we love Akinyi & Benjamin, we even love Angela and Michael despite LOTS of problematic power dynamics. From Jay and Ashley we learned Jamaica has its share of f*boys like anywhere else. This show has taught us different forms of love that aren’t so foreign if we take a closer look at ourselves. Love in the form of stability, love towards someone who can build a home, can mean just as much as romantic love. It can substitute for sexual attraction.
But the problem with big Ed is that he knowingly lied to Rose. First, about his height — no big deal — then made an excuse re: not trusting her about her sister asking him for money, the STD test that’s not good enough for him to take, shaving her legs, giving her a toothbrush…. The list of disgusting offenses go on! But that STD test though….
Doesn’t that sound like something a typical sex tourist would do? You’ve been bullied your entire life so you bully and verbally abuse a woman from overseas. All while under the guise of the “nice guy,” that Chrissy Teigen may have fell for. He berates her in whatever way he can, all the while knowing — as he admits to his mother — that he had no intentions of committing to her and her child because at his ripe old age of 54, 31 years her senior, he didn’t want to start over. That’s completely fine, and actually understandable, but it seems like Ed knew this going in and was not clear to Rosemarie.
Dare I say that if Ed was a man of say 5’11” the attention would be wildly different. Predatory behavior comes in all heights, guys. Because we so want to separate ourselves from whom we assume to be the ignorant tormentors of his childhood, we enable and encourage his not so lilliputian reign of terror on poor Rose week after week. Two bottles of champagne wasn’t enough for that first night Rose had to spend with him for hope of a better life.
Podcasters I love that have viewed his IG Lives say that it is common for Ed to accept share screen-time requests mainly from young girls, though he confirms their age when he starts chatting with them. Gross. Though we don’t cover 90 Day anymore — my podcasting partner on Housewives of Milan, Tiffany, and I discuss the dark turn some of the 90 Day characters have taken quite regularly.
It took you 28 years to find love because you are a bad person, Big Ed. Let’s wrap up his 15 minutes.
A few weeks ago in April, videos of the horrible treatment black people were receiving in the Chinese city of Guangzhou were making its rounds on the internet. I watched in dismay as African immigrants and black expats in China’s Guangdong province were being denied service in places like hospitals, restaurants, housing and hotels and more in a new wave of Covid-19 blaming. It seemed strange that this was happening given the recent spread of sinophobia in the United States and the Chinese government repeatedly asking trump to not refer to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus.”
The situation was so bad that the US State Department issued a travel warning to African Americans against going to the province. As we perfectionists know, traveling while black is a nuanced subject. The crazy thing about the 24/7 news cycle is people’s day to day horrible realities can quickly become yesterday’s news to those of us around the world. As of last week, officials in China’s Guangdong province have announced new measures aimed at combatting racial discrimination. The measures target businesses such as hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and other places where Africans have been routinely turned away, as well as residential compounds. Education, public transport and medical service providers are also included in the new regulations.
This comes after many African countries’ officials, including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, along with the African Union commission summoned China’s ambassadors to answer for what’s happening. China has a special relationship with the African continent. Some might even call it new waves of imperialism. To keep Africa welcoming this “partnership” with open arms, China had to address and rectify this issue. But there’s a history of friction in the city of Guangzhou with its African population … This is not just a result of discrimination due to Covid and I wanted to delve into this.
If you’ve been to Cartagena de Indias you’ve seen the women who are icons of the city: las palenqueras. These beautiful Afro-Latinas, dressed in colorful traditional garb and often pictured selling fruit or candy, are the pride of Colombia and on much of the country’s promotional material, especially that of the city of Cartagena. Tourists line up to get that Cartagena picture with the woman whose bright smiles and deep eyes often hold the story of Colombia that many of these same tourists might not care to know: the story of the black Colombia.
After Brazil, Colombia has the highest black population in Latin America and the Colombia population historically ranges from the white decedents of the Spanish to what they call negra negra, the African descendants of slaves that were brought to the then Spanish colony and did not mix with the indigenous population or Europeans. Today, there are mestizos, mulattos, first nations, Europeans and every mix in between. But most of the Colombianidad we have “exported” internationally, the Colombian ideal of beauty, is seen through white Colombians, like Sofia Vergara — she’s actually a natural blonde, or Shakira, who does proudly discuss her mixed heritage, including Arabic background.
Cartagena de Indias was Spain’s biggest slave port in the New World and the beautiful city was built by slaves. However, as we saw throughout the US and West Indies some groups of slaves rebelled, think Haiti, the maroons in Jamaica. Before these incidents, in Cartagena it was Benkos Biohó, a former African King who rebelled, ran away and took his wife, children and 22 other men with him, eventually forming San Basilio de Palenque about an hour north of Cartagena. It was the first town in Colombia to secure their independence from the Spanish on May 12, 1851 and was home to the first free men and women of the New World. A ‘capitulation of peace’ was signed between the Spaniards and the former slaves in 1603 — after the Spanish captured and killed Benkos Biohó and, in 1713, the Spanish crown issued a Royal Decree that officially freed the people of the palenque from slavery.
Now the story brings us to my #WCW. The palenqueras of Cartagena, and the palenque communities around Colombia, were instrumental in helping countless slaves to freedom. While blending in with their traditional garbs and head-wraps, they braided the routes to freedom in their hair and passed along this knowledge amongst the enslaved. Those head wraps and fruit that we still today traditionally see atop their head was to hide their resistance work! Slaves were brought from different African countries, and language was made to be a barrier in their communication. Patterns of rivers, mountains and roads indicated the route to safety, stealthily and in a way they all understood. Wow!
What strength, what ingenuity! Today, the palenqueras of Cartagena wear colorful traditional clothing and sell fruits, vegetables and traditional palenque treats to make money to support their communities. Sometimes travel while black gives you the opportunity to dig deep. This is just one of the reasons that I listed Cartagena is a black friendly travel city.
Now, given the history of the palenqueras, isn’t it almost revolutionary for them to be the city of Cartagena’s marketing symbol? What a long way we’ve come though we have much further to go.
This #TravelTuesday is #GivingTuesday and with communities around the world in need and hard hit by the crisis, it can be overwhelming thinking where to look or what to do or where to give back! Here’s a suggestion, The Rockhouse Foundation’s Covid-19 Relief Fund – give back to Jamaica.
When I say the travel and tourism industry is hit hard by this, I don’t only mean beautiful escapes and airlines, but communities that rely on tourism dollars to sustain themselves. Yes, the carbon emissions from travel can be detrimental to environments but at times, if distributed wisely, the good that your travel does, can offset this. Make your travel dollar count — it’s one of the reasons I like to fly Norwegian. Rockhouse Hotel is not one of my top three favorite places I stayed solely because of the beautiful villas overlooking dolphin cove, delicious on-site restaurant that reminds me of home-cooking and amazing staff that make me truly feel at home. It’s because of the Rockhouse Foundation.
The Rockhouse Foundation tied with the property group is charity that has been transforming schools in and around Negril, Jamaica since 2004. The Foundation has built, expanded and renovated seven schools and the Negril Public Library and invested over US$5 million in projects and programs. All administrative and marketing costs are underwritten by Rockhouse & Skylark Hotels and Miss Lily’s so all donations directly support the work. The foundation has positively impacted the lives of thousands of children.
If you stay at the property, you can visit one of the schools in Westmoreland — where my maternal grandfather was from.
So, what does this Covid-19 Relief Fund do?
Jamaican communities have been hit hard by the COVID-19 shut down of the island. Families need help putting food on their tables and navigating their children’s disrupted education. Rockhouse Foundation is making bi-weekly distributions of food staples to impacted families. Through their on-the-ground network Rockhouse is prioritizing the most desperate and they need our help supporting their school families.
For a $10 donation you can provide staples for two weeks to a family (10 lb rice, 10 lb flour, 2 lb cornmeal, 2 long life milk, 2 cans mackerel).
Many children receive most of their nutrition at school. With schools not to re-open until September at the earliest, parents and teachers face a daunting challenge keeping up. Families struggle to effectively homeschool with prohibitively expensive access to the internet and few computers or devices at home. Simple obstacles become overwhelming and with our help we can make a HUGE difference. They are also sponsoring free wifi credit to facilitate home schooling for the children. It is a HARD time for us all — but if you can, pay it forward. I just donated in memory of my Uncle Claude Walker who passed away this month. A chef and a caterer, he’d do his damnedest to make sure none of those kids went hungry, so it’s a small tribute in his honor.
It’s been a bit. I took a full month off of blogging here on NAPerfectWorld.com. While I have been creating digital content almost daily, it has lived in the faster consumption space of my Instagram. Yes, it seems ridiculous for me, as a digital creator to not take full advantage of the eyes on me and create to “grow my brand.” To me, as I processed the world coming to a halt, and went through my own trauma, short-form Instagram was all I could give publicly. I haven’t shot as much content in my apartment ever. I also have done a lot of “press” during this time, I’ve been featured in Grazia, on All the Pretty Birds, virtual career days and Bravo-lebrity lives!
It’s been a reflective time. One where I’ve connected weekly for Instagram lives with friends. (I’m going to share those on Youtube and in blog form in the next few days) We talked about issues going on around the world — why Sweden didn’t fully embraced lockdown, the racism in Guangzhou, checking in with Tamu in Italy, to name a few. They were wonderfully healing and a way I could bring you global content, without saying “hey! Look at this cool place, go here!” while the tourism, airline and hospitality industries were crippled.
I shared travel photos few and far between. I couldn’t advocate traveling at a time when upon advice from WHO and international governments, it was safer for many people to shelter-in-place. Is it responsible for me to see you dream explorations while many people’s biggest concern was their next paycheck? I know many of you can’t afford to get to a destination and self-quarantine for a few days or a week before having to come home again. I grappled with the idea of arm chair traveling — I wrote an article on Zihuatanejo, Mexico for a magazine and had a Mother’s Day Travel article furloughed. But ultimately, mentally, I wasn’t ready to flippantly share beautiful destinations and cultures that I think you should experience. Until recently.
Hey now, summer’s my favorite season. My birthday. A time when cities and beach towns are pulsating with life. There’s even a new Italian Netflix show, SummerTime. I love a steamy, Spike Lee hazed summer in Brooklyn — but no one does beachside summer like the Italians. As a people, it’s almost as if they were really made to fully blossom in the warmer months and mass exported the beauty promos of their culture for warmer weather. Dolce Vita isn’t happening in the winter. Giorgio Armani’s perma-tan doesn’t fit with January. Vespa cruising isn’t for snowy sludgy Milan days. So I was inspired for content.
Much of my Italian travels are slow travels: we take the car or a train. This is the way I think a lot of people, internationally are going to be traveling in the near future. I have to go back to Italy eventually — I’m not really looking forward to the plane ride. Moreso out of concern that I may contract Covid_19 and be a carrier to my loved ones. But I am looking forward to summer in Italy and being able to stimulate an industry that’s taken a major hit with this: tourism.
I travel for the people. I was reminded by that and rejuvenated looking at photos from this past summer when I came across this woman. I can’t wait to share what Northern Italian summers look like with you. Have you seen Call Me By Your Name? It’s actually set near where we’re based. Summer’s in Italy can be magical, and I hope you can see them through my eyes.
Never before has the quick flight to St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands looked more appealing. This quarantine has some of the closest destinations seeming like bucket list locales! Covid-19 has hit the world hard and I recognize the privilege I have in being a travel journalist so first and foremost, I wanted to put that out there as sort of a pardon or a mea culpa of a “woe is me.” From baggage handlers to TSA to airline CEO and luxury resort owners, the travel industry is one of the hardest hit by this strain of coronavirus. Even when we collectively get over this curve, there is going to be a new normal, the world will not be the same. I, like many of my colleagues, am pivoting how I think about travel. For some time, New York to Italy is going to be the longest plane ride, at nine hours, that I will take — and that’s only out of necessity.
This time last year, I was heading to St. Croix for the Taste of St. Croix festival and it was glorious: check out five minutes of me eating my way through the island. The US Virgin Islands get a bad rep among a lot of “cool kids” “authentic experience travel seekers. But, as we Perfectionists know: there’s always more than meet the eye in any destination. Each Virgin Island, US vs British, and the islands of each is different from the last. While friends of mine are Virgin Gorda locals, I thought most of the US Virgin Islands were cruise day trippers and retirees.
St. Croix proved me wrong and I loved it!
And I’m not the only one. Plenty of newer locals came to the island for work or a vacation and ended up staying; I tell a funny story about that to Bleu Magazine. Read about it and the rest of my travelogue of the island on Bleu’s Issuu Magazine site (see the full spread — how it’s laid out for print, photography by me) or grab a copy on your newsstands!