Hi guys! For the end of August I was on the Italian island of Sardinia so I’ve been a little behind with work. I wanted to share with you a new great round up of Black travel bloggers I’ve been featured in on Buzzfeed! I’m listed with some of my favorite fellow travel bloggers.
As I read the comments — yes, I’m a sucker for comments, there was one person that stood out to me that simply didn’t get it. S/he was lambasting Buzzfeed saying it would be “racists if Buzzfeed did an article on white travel bloggers” and it’s a pointless article because “of course all white people know that black people travel.” I try not to get wrapped up in the trolls. But this person showed their ignorance. Unfortunately, whiteness is the default, so before the trend of these listicles, when big publications were doing lists of top travel content creators, more often than not, 1% of them were POC. This person’s seeming anger at @hey_ciara‘s list, exposes their fragility. And as a black traveler, I can tell you “all” white people don’t know that black people travel. And sir / ma’am, I’m more-so doing it for that young black girl / boy who doesn’t feel seen in travel spaces except when being gawked at as a local. I hope to inspire travelers of all races, genders, etc and I thank Buzzfeed for helping me and my fellow black content creators in being seen!
Until July I hadn’t left my neighborhood in Brooklyn and less than 2 square miles around it. Since understanding the severity of the Covid pandemic, I was afraid to fly, seeing airplanes as petri-dishes. I flew direct from Milan’s Malpensa airport to NYC’s JFK on March 2nd and soon became unsure of when I would see my partner, Michele, as both of our nations shut their borders. Weeks turned into months. Italy was on full blown lockdown and NYC the same. Markers like my birthday passed without us seeing each other. When we were able to figure out a solution, the next stage left me anxious about the flight. There were no direct flights to Milan and I would have to fly into Rome with a domestic connecting flight.
I AM NOT ADVOCATING FOR LONG HAUL FLIGHTS, UNLESS NECESSARY RIGHT NOW.
But, here‘s my experience and a helpful how to fly during the Covid pandemic. I’m a person that’s an easy flier. I fall asleep before the plane even takes off; I like taking overnight flights, getting to my destination rested and ready to start the day. On this 8.5 hour flight from JFK to Rome’s Fiumicino, I slept for maybe 2-3 hrs. Let me take you through my journey.
I love a look. Friends who’d taken shorter domestic flights were recommending clothes that you’d throw out later. I didn’t want to use a “hard to wash” travel blanket, or even my favorite Scaglione cashmere duster. Because I knew I’d be using wipes and sprays I wanted something I could easily wipe down. When I saw the Spring LoveShackFancy nylon track suit, I knew I found it. It had a hood that I wore up for much of the trip, ample pockets and was cute and nylon. Upon landing in Milan, per recommendation of How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch, I changed in the airport restroom into a fresh look to great Michele and put my airplane clothes into a reusable plastic bag. When I got to our apartment, they immediately went into the washing machine.
Everyone at all 3 airports I visited was in a mask. In fact I saw an airport police officer in Rome insist a passenger put on a mask. I wore a hospital grade mask for the duration of the flight with my SCAGLIONE mask over it. My friend Brandon bought an extra face shield before he made a LA to New York flight recently, and gave it to me. I had a mask protecting others from me, face shield protecting me from others — I felt good. Maybe I wouldn’t wear the face shield for a flight under 4 hours, but it gave me peace of mind for a long haul. Boarding my plane, a few of us had them on.
My family dropped me off and didn’t really come in. My mom usually hugs me at security. But there wasn’t really that this time around. They really prefer those that aren’t traveling to not even step foot inside the terminal.
JFK was like a ghost town. There were barely any cars dropping travelers off. Protective shields separated customers from desk agents. Pre-check status isn’t really recognized as there’s hardly anyone flying. Stores, food and newsstands were open — though people were hardly in the retail stores. The passengers on my flight (operating at seemingly 1/2 capacity) were primarily made up of European nationals or dual passport holders returning to Italy. I was online behind one American couple heading to Greece and flying through Italy; Greece’s borders are open for American holiday-makers.
Rome Fiumicino was considerably more lively with Italians heading on holiday. Like JFK, seats were set up in social distancing efforts with every other one blocked off. I had a 3-hour layover (we booked intentionally just in case I had problems with border patrol). I had a cappuccino and did work — it was strange how quickly we slip into the same habits. At this point my masks were on but not my face shield. Malpensa was kind of dark and quiet — more of a JFK vibe, as compared to Rome’s airport; but that’s standard.
Before approaching the check-in at JFK, they took my temperature and wrote it down on my documents. When boarding the plane, they asked to see this. Upon landing in Rome they took my temperature and again upon landing in Milan. Since I’ve been in Italy supermarkets, restaurants, most establishments check your temperature upon entering.
The boarding process was smooth and organized from the back as to prevent too many people from passing each other. The airplane was a “Boeing 777-200.” No dreamliners and mega airbuses this time around. Each side of the plane had a pair of seats with the middle aisle having a set of four. I mostly saw families in the middle set of seats while single travelers were given window seats with empty seats next to them. As soon as I boarded I wiped down my seat, head & arm rests, screens, window and remote with antibacterial wipes. I saw many other people doing the same. I then turned on the overhead air vent. When I spoke to a Delta communications person about flight safety, she detailed this being an important part in the air filtration system during a flight. This was a big change for me as I usually turn it off: I’m always freezing on flights! I settled in and remain pretty unbothered for the duration of the flight. I watched a few movies and tried to sleep. Breathing with a face mask for 8 hours, easy. Sleeping with a face shield, hard! There’s just no way to get cozy. I went to the restroom 3 or 4 times. It always looked fresh cleaned when I did. Eating was the only time I slightly raised my mask. I used my hand sanitizer quite a bit but I didn’t use the pocket behind the seat. My second domestic flight within Italy was also operating with every other seat open. It was smaller and I was in the window seat while a gentleman was in the aisle.
I packed food for my flight (Luna bars) and was surprised that Alitalia served food! There wasn’t options as usual. It was a cheese ravioli – not good, bread and butter, a packet of taralli, tiramisu and two water bottles (I usually like flying Air France and Alitalia for the bread and wine options). In the morning, there was a brioche and two bottles of water again.
I’m currently in Italy, staying home with my partner. All and all it was a relatively easy flight and well worth it to get to him. I feel good, we were monitoring my temperate and as of writing this, I completed my two weeks of self-quarantine!
Not a lot of places are accepting Americans right now but if you’re considering say responsibly traveling to those places that are and even around the US, I hope this was helpful how to. Every airline is different. My experience would have been have been completely different were it one of the airlines that we’re operating at full capacity!
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.