Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Where is it safe to be homeless? Reflection piece

I did this one kind of different. Just testing out reverse posting via Instagram, where I've written at length about my observations and thoughts.

Homelessness has a different face, feeling and impact on the survivor and the observant public, wherever you go in this world.

The gist is that privilege can be and is layered, and diverse.  The crux of such privilege is having access, and it is as much what as whom you know.

Read more at my instagram page.



Thursday, January 11, 2018

How To Take Care Of Yourself: Basic Edition

Would you believe me if I said I had an epiphany while drinking kombucha? I wouldn't if I were you! I was on the train happily slurping away at my Trader Joe's kombucha* contemplating my next moves. Kombucha is one of those health drinks that I kind of dared myself to try, from an intellectual curiosity point of view. It is a strange flavor combination of fizzy vinegar and mild fruit juice (VERY low sugar taste), and if you're a real militant fan, spicy cayenne pepper or ginger. It is NOT for everyone, I must stress this, but if your stomach can take it, and you are conscientious about rinsing your mouth out afterwards to protect your teeth, there are a chock-full of benefits to drinking kombucha. For one, it is a fermented cultured drink, made with beneficial bacteria that is a literal gut-check, if you get my meaning.

Don't be scared of the sour fizzy drink. Do brush your teeth afterwards, or rinse with water.

I'm a big fan of an ounce of prevention being worth more than a pound of cure. The facts are that "good"/beneficial bacteria in the stomach balances the production of bad or harmful bacteria which contributes to so many issues. We need balance, and not just in our stomach.Your stomach is the seat of your body's immune system, and not only serves to break down your food into the vital nutrients you need to survive, but affects your energy levels, how your hormones function, and whether those favorite pair of jeans will fit tonight better than this morning.

People either don't remember or ignore the importance of the stomach. At least once in your childhood, you learned not to mess around with what goes in your mouth, as it eventually will end up in your belly. They bad-talk their midsection, throw all sorts of unbalanced junk down there, and have no regard for its happiness and humming functionality until the sharp pains or the bloating starts. Then they throw more questionable stuff with uneven effectiveness, and fall victim to so many of those dreaded "side effects" we hear droned ad nauseam ad infinitum in those daunting prescription advertisements. Some will argue that for serious and chronic illnesses, you must take the good of these pharmaceuticals with the bad. Ok. I don't live your life, so if you have been advised thus (and, hopefully, are satisfied with the second and third opinions you sought), be at peace and take care.

I used to have what my mother calls "a nervous stomach". It was almost chronic, and added to my tendency to fold in on myself when feeling stress, internalizing a lot of confusion, anger and overall exasperation at my lot in life. from my tweens to maybe two years ago, this condition contributed to bouts of insomnia, what felt like chronic throat and lung infections, and feeling like I was losing my mind and control over my body. I remembered the time that I got a UTI when I had no health insurance, and went through the regular process to get antibiotics to cure it. Aside from reeling at the medical bills, I was angry that I did not know cheaper, supportive ways to prevent or at least alleviate the damage of certain commonplace illnesses that plague the commonfolk regularly. Why did we have to be beholden to a limited socially acceptable approach, when there was a wealth of information that can safely and more consistently reduce the instances of what ails us, across the board?

I don't call myself an expert and am not a doctor, licensed dietitian or counselor. I write from my perspective, and you, dear reader can use a sprinkle of salt and adjust the recipe as you see fit for your own life. I read, I write, I listen and I continue to learn.

Adulting is hard; I mean everyone from age 18 to 55 (and beyond that, bless your long life!) find it legitimately daunting in one way or another. Since I am squarely in the middle of this demographic, I feel acutely keen to address this long-haul period of our lives. Things tend to pile up on us from the time we are a legal adult (in America and many other parts of the world), and the compassion quotient unfortunately does not keep pace. We beat ourselves up and it seems like society beats us down further still. There are taxes and bills to pay, statuses to maintain, jobs to do, children to raise, peaces to be kept. Many times, these things are at polar opposites of our individual realities, leaving precious little space for us to BE.

I started doing a lot of #kitchentherapy posts on Instagram last year. This is not a lie. It's about more than the eating of the pie.
I will outline here a few measures I've taken (or others I know swear by) to ease some of my stress and manage the fears of daily living.  This list is something I came up with as a way to remind myself, as well as remember my younger self and the advice I wish I heard years ago when I first moved out and started living on my own and working my first "real" job as a young adult. This list is not for everyone. If you feel that you have a handle on life and don't need my suggestions, great for you. Send it to someone else that you care about that may need to see/hear another way than what you can provide them with.

1- Drink more water. Duh. I'm gonna sneak in eat more veggies and fruits and fiber for good measure. Back to the water. You've heard this before. Less diet soda, more water in between your glasses of wine. Sparkling with fruit, Hint, whatever. Try filtered, if you are bottle-averse. Save yourself, save the environment, push out those sugary, calorie-ridden drinks.  Your cells in every organ in your body needs to be hydrated, especially if you live in a wintery region like New York City right now. It will help your hair, your skin, your sleep, your digestion, your breath!

2- Learn how to breathe again and practice regular deep breathing exercises. If you are frustrated with hearing this, there are free apps online that will guide you through it. I'm not saying you have to launch yourself into a whole meditation ritual (although it will probably help). Baby steps is the name of my basic game. If you are a human being, you need to breathe.

3- Try not to panic: try to prioritize your worries. Give them some structure instead of allowing them to blob all over your brain unchecked. Who am I to tell you don't panic? I still panic sometimes. But I put this one third for a reason. Whatever the reason is that you THINK you are panicking, practice taking a step back from your current state, drink some water, take some deep breaths, and then steel yourself to face the issues at hand. Which issue can you handle now? Which one can be put on a shelf until something else happens? We are all adults here, so we gotta deal one way or another.

4- ASK. FOR. HELP. How can taking care of yourself not include this action? My best friend put her two cents in on this one. We both have a tendency to struggle alone, quietly, while all our friends and family around us are none the wiser. It is a bad habit. Many women do this, and many more men fail to publicly admit that they do this, but then turn around and commit more suicides** (or murder-suicides, ahem). No man is an island. As an adult, we must realize this and acknowledge that we need help, even if our instinct is to say "no" when asked. Find something specific that the person offering can help you with. Remember, your friends and family don't really know what's going on inside your head unless you tell them. Plainly. With all the will and directness that you can muster without burdening said relationship with unrealistic expectations clouding the issue. They may be working from a skewed perspective that you're super-resilient when you're struggling, which may speak to how you yourself project to the outside world. Own it. On the other hand, friends that know you well enough may also be intuitive enough to reach out when others may not. We often assume that our friends can't help us, but we may be looking to them for financial help when what they can offer are reliable resources instead. Never diminish the value of opening up to someone and them telling you, "Calm down for a minute; let's talk about ways to tackle it."

5- Know you uppers and downers. I'm not just talking about drugs. Caffeine is a drug that "ups" you for a while. Alcohol is a downer. Both are fairly legal to acquire in America, both are additives in various foods and drinks also legal over the counter, but in large doses can really mess with you in a bad way. If you are an introvert, being around too many people for too long can also be a "downer", in that it drains your energy and makes you want to pull in on yourself. But if you are keen to listening to your body and the signals it sends you, knowing when to reach out to others and engage and participate and when to retreat and find solace in solitude and quieting your mind is very valuable to your self-care routine.

6- Get acquainted with your local library and other free public services that you already paid for with your taxes. Even if you are in between jobs for the past 12 months, you have likely paid taxes towards the maintenance of public services at some point in the past and will do so again when you become gainfully employed. Have faith in that. Also, have pride in this; public access to social medical and financial services is a right that too often is mistaken as a privilege unworthy of its many patrons. I know that people abuse the system, however the scale of how many systems currently abuse major swaths of our population tips the scales for me in terms of decency and dignity. There is no shame in seeking help (see item #4 above), and sometimes, if more people were able to know about and access services set aside to help them, there would be a greater acknowledgment of statistical realities that have yet to be resolved politically, economically, etc. in this country. Sidenote: if you have some hangups about going in public spaces, the internet can still help you access these services, but maybe not as directly or effectively if certain people get their way. New York City has three public library systems: NYPL which serves Manhattan and The Bronx, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library, all with their own cards and websites. If you signed up for the New York City ID card, you can link it to your NYPL card to borrow materials, plus get discounts for so many other events and institutions.

#lookupmore: you never know what you could be missing!
7- Pay attention. If you live in a big metropolitan area like New York City, this suggestion should resonate with you on many levels. For one, #lookupmore, which is a hashtag I started using last year when I did a whole lot of wandering around the boroughs, doing pick-up delivery work, being a creative, and getting much needed fresh air. We have amazing architecture, publicly commissioned art and as city dwellers, not enough people acknowledge nor appreciate this. Looking up more is also a mantra to allow yourself to think more positively (more "up") in general.

Sometimes paying attention is as simple as stopping to listen for a bit. Some #musictherapy by~@SterlingStringsNYC
We have the Metro, amNY, The Epoch Times, and many others (I'll add Timeout New York, since they hand it out free on Wednesdays and many places just give them away). They may have a slant, but they do offer a lot of daily information in more or less real-time. If you are already out and about (don't coop yourself up all day, go outside and get some fresh air!), you might as well scoop up a copy or two and scan them for interesting free or cheap activities going on in your neighborhood. You may find something that helps you directly, or you can be inspired by something you learn, or some way that you can get involved to help others. Be aware of your surroundings, because being aloof and being caught up in your own head are two sides to an unproductive coin, and we are no longer spending that currency. Thank me later.

Yesterday's amNY listings of free or inexpensive activities for the week.

8- Get Busy. Okay, you can only spend so much time wallowing and worrying. At some point, you must will yourself to get back in the game. That can take a year, or a month. No judgment here. There was this commercial I used to hear on the radio years ago for PowerBar, where the guy is basically saying "I'll just eat a PowerBar and go lift the fridge down the steps (or something equally ridiculous yet mighty)." Maybe you completely revamp yourself into a new career, or acknowledging a different aspect of your long-suppressed persona. Maybe you buy a ticket and go abroad or across the country for a new job you've been on the fence about. Maybe you freeze your eggs for possible future babies you're still not ready to have yet. Or donate the man-jelly to a hopeful parent, 'cause you are so awesome.

Maybe you get crafty and open an Etsy store or apprentice with a Master. Maybe you start training for that quarter-marathon, which becomes a half-marathon. Maybe you finally take those tests your doctor suggested "to rule it out." Maybe you just go buy the damn kombucha to see if it really does help your strep throat and other infections for cheaper. By the way, this applies whether you are single or married, childfree or a parent, employed or not. Adjust accordingly.

*- I was not paid nor sponsored for anything that I say here. These are my views, and one of them is that Trader Joe's has a lot of great products for decent prices, and are of good quality. Although I LOVE GT's brand Kombucha, it is sold almost everywhere else for upwards of $4-$5 a pop, whereas Trader Joes sells several flavors for $2.99. And they also stock their brand with other flavors (and a tad bit sweeter) for $2.69. Carry on.
**- I am not one to gloss over the heavy ramifications of not taking care of oneself. Suicide is serious, no matter what gender you identify with or present as; it disproportionately affects several communities in our society, and is quite an intersectional phenomenon. Please reach out for professional help if you are having suicidal thoughts. There is only so much that your friends and family can do. at some point, YOU MUST WANT TO HELP YOURSELF.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Unbridled Gifthorses

Happy New Year, Indeed!

I got an early "present" in the form of a last-minute writing assignment to interview an up-and-coming travel guru, originally from Brooklyn, now an expat in London. Talking with Travis gave me some really encouraging insights on taking leaps of faith that have helped confirm my ambitions for this new year. A bonus on this perspective was in the discovery through our chat that we actually share an ancestral homeland! "Guyanese truly does go everywhere, man!"

2018 has already blustered in (snow punning, I know) with all kinds of interesting developments. The most enjoyable so far has been the growing tradition of meeting up with some of my New York City cousins and hanging out and catching up. Chances are, I might have just seen them at the annual Christmas potluck, but every now and then a surprise guest makes an appearance.

This Christmas, I got to dig deep into some old family photos documenting our shared heritage, and even make plans to do more genealogical spelunking that would culminate in some sort of published work. It's all very exciting!

I feel most validated, however, by the sheer joy and unexpected benefits of reconnecting with old friends and relatives that were growing far too distant. And I will take this moment to include all of the family friends- Aunt This and Uncle That- that are, by sheer cultural privilege, also part of my family.

I should back up a bit here. I have a huge extended family. HUGE. My mother is one of nine, my father one of five, his mother the eldest of ten, and her mother the middle of five or six herself! All of the previous generation had at least two kids a-piece, and on, and on! We've got such overlap between the generations, I'm envisioning a family chart that will rival the Targaryens, without the icky incest. I have made jokes about not even attempting to marry anyone Guyanese or Bajan, specifically to avoid unpleasant (READ: unexpected) familial connections. I'm only half-joking.

The point is that there are a lot of us that I call Family, and we honor our second- and third cousins, and are (in)conveniently spread out over three, maybe four continents! So when even a few of us gather together to celebrate, mourn, and, invariably, eat, it is a big deal, especially as many in my generation keeps getting married and having children, and getting quite caught up with life in their respective borders. Iv'e often felt like a bit of an anomaly among my cousins, being in my mid-thirties and not following suit, but as I learn to embrace the unique path that I am on, I relish what I can also add to the legacy of our ancestors' wildest dreams.

Some of us cousins made plans to get together and make the first day of the new year a collaborative process of vision-boarding, kids in tow, carving a small rectangular piece of dreams and affirmations into our hectic and varied lives. It was an oddly calming exercise that really got our creative juices going, amidst the children orbiting on their bikes and scooters.  I learned that we all have similar desires to travel, a genetic trait that has not thinned out, apparently. We also all had a moment of clarity for how we can still be in each other's lives, and be of value and encouragement.

As the time came to a dramatic close (you can't really take your eyes of of that many assortment of tykes for too long!), we collected our cutouts to finish later and briefly explained our mural masterpieces to each other. One cousin expressed her interest in getting into a healthier diet regimen and incorporating more outdoors activity to add variety and fun to her transition. Another cousin vowed to use her post-graduation off-time before starting a new job to volunteer more and learn a new language. Another cousin who has the cutest team of boys very close in age said that this is the year she books an all-inclusive family vacation, her first like this since she became a domestic engineer. There were suggestions for websites to visit with travel information, and promises of accountability support for individual endeavors. Here again, we young women pledged to maintain friendships borne from childhood.

This was the first time in my memory that we had a goal-oriented gathering, and it affirms the promise that as we continue to grow and grow older, we still have it within us the codes to family success, family wealth and healthier relationships with whomever crosses our paths.

By the end of this week, a couple birthdays would have come and gone, job interviews attended, a flight around the world taken. I, myself made an investment into my own skill development with some online courses, while I continue with renewed vigor chasing down writing contracts, and practicing what makes me perfect: my words, my #kitchentherapy, my beadcraft, and my penchant for diving down rabbit-holes in research. fine activities for a winter's week.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Craft of (Dis)Illusion: Reflection, Wonderings and Wanderings in Winter (TBT)

Words of the day:
hindsight (n.): understanding a situation or event only after it has happened or developed. The past year-plus, of course.
schadenfreude (n.): pleasure derived from someone else's misfortune. Well, considering our current socio-political climate, this is relative... and many of them deserved it.
facepalm (n./v.): the gesture of placing the palm of one's hand across the face, as to express embarrassment, frustration, disbelief, etc. (often used as an interjection). If I can own it, so can you.

The shortest day of the year begins at 11:28 am ET(New York City Time) today, and I awoke to a notification on my cell phone only six hours earlier from my dear cousin Anthony with the most apropos of words to savor: facepalm. 

I did the facepalm several times in 2017, felt a healthy dose of schadenfreude while watching the news, and still gained much from hindsight. There: used all of them in one sentence. A day well spent in contemplation. But wait, there's more...

Black turtleneck, 'cause it's winter now.
I made these. See model above.

In the winter, I don't get out as much, because New York City has FIVE MONTHS of it, and I haven't yet acquired my alternate cold-weather residence. Numb fingers and toes notwithstanding, I did, however, manage to ice skate twice this year before December even began! 

I still have my "ice-legs", it would seem. Selfie on skates, smh...

Getting my Nature Documentarian on with Newtown Creek Alliance!

It has been quite a year! 2016 I dubbed the Year of Travel. 2017 was my #busybee, to the point where I got so busy, I forgot to appropriately apply the coined hashtag as liberally as I intended, and back it up with blogged evidence (if it's not on social media, it didn't happen, right?!)!

Ah well, take to heart that I have, indeed, been busy, and the culmination of this year is seeing several fruits come to bear.

Yes, I climbed an active volcano in Guatemala last year, and now it finally has become part of my legend!
I am happy to say that having a reunion after several estranged years from Anthony last December began a unique journey from 9-to-5 monotony and disillusionment to freelance hustling and creative anxiety. Not to be outdone, my newfound "flexible schedule" as I continued to carve out exactly what I wanted to do next (and how) allowed for some truly unorthodox experiences for me.

The "taxi" I didn't take in Guatemala. Stay tuned for video!

I canoed on a formerly contaminated creek on its way towards environmental rehabilitation.
I helped to restore an urban green space dedicated to food justice in my Bronx hometown AND I brought a midwestern city's 25-year jewel of a working urban farm to light for a greater audience through my journalism instincts. And they were both started by Blackfolks!

I attended for the third year in a row the Women In Travel Summit that has been very responsible for my upstart forays into travel, writing, and tapping into my creative goddess warrior spirit.
I managed to consistently imagine, execute and publish articles for a dynamic new online publication- and get paid for it!

I kept my eyes and ears open, and my heart vulnerable, my head cool, and my skin as thick as I could.
A queen up on Queen Street, ON.

NYC in the summer means a fan, and a twist-out!

I learned through much trial and error to speak up for myself within my family and romantic relationships, and to deal with the hilarious, exasperating, and thought-challenging results of that.
I stuck with projects that didn't quite make sense at first, but afforded me better skills at business branding, social media management, and even networking, all the while building up my confidence in defining myself as an entrepreneur, writer, and mental health and human rights advocate.
I got back into the kitchen for pleasure, and also tightened up my preparations skills for routine cooking.
What you see here is three types of carrot and parsley root from the farmer's market. Yum.
I learned that pride and shame should not get in the way of attaining mental and physical therapy, regardless of what traps the current administration sets for the general population.
I have said congratulations and goodbye to many friends and family, in joy and heartache.
I got out more- and showed people how they can also be active and involved, whether locally or from afar- and I re-dedicated myself to not being afraid of meeting the travel challenge wherever I presently am.
I embraced the utility of being organized and applied mise-en-place across professional disciplines as diligently as in my kitchen.
I managed my stress and confidence lags while also coming to terms with the toxicity of the present economic, social and political climate in the United States, as it pertains to women, Black women, and creative, non-binary, non-mainstream people, who are dear to my heart and deserve the platforms and dignity they have fought (and/or died) for.
Melinated Moms Winetasting Event in Newark with Sipper's Delight Inc.! Support Black Female Businesses!

I have found a way to channel my anger, my need for consistent, meaningful and life-affirming creative outlets, and have made significant steps towards multiple streams of income and livelihood that enrich this life I currently lead. Out of sheer boredom and necessity, I have accepted the creativity of my nimble fingers, and allowed myself to lean in to all of my talents. I've tackled my writer's block head-on, and can thank both of my sisters, my besties, their mamas, Sacred Walker, Kim Piper Werker, Ariam Alula and so many others for their individual and collaborative influences!

Color, texture, location, season, environment are all part of my inspiration in creating culinary, literary and visual art.
I continue to be a daughter, a sister, a best friend, a confidante, an aunt, a cousin, a granddaughter, (a hot date), and myself, and strong in the definition that I determine reflects me in these roles. No one else gets to tell me how to be in these people (and more to come).

I am (also) a journalist, an editor, a listmaker, a researcher, a reader, a lover of languages, a singer, a dancer, a jewelry-maker, a fashion-enthusiast (and thus, designer), an artist, an advocate, a thought warrior, a business strategist, a photographer, a lover, a fighter, a dreamer, an immigrant, a New Yorker, an American, a #Blackamazonian, an environmentalist, a gardener, a chef, a tinkerer, a hustle-hacker, a problem-solver, a mountain-climber, a hula-hooper, a jogger, a weight-lifter, a #seldom_settled traveller, an unbeaten liver of life. I sang, I taught, I wrote and I flew. What did you do??

Soup is my go-to in the cold months. Curry-spiced red lentil with coconut milk, if you please.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Tasty Talk Series Saltfood: Mining a Guyanese Oral Tradition in Cuisine

I was recently having a conversation with my mother about the value people "back home" in Guyana have for certain kinds of food at certain events. She was informing me of the preparations being made for a popular elder's 91st birthday thanksgiving service, in which there was great expectation of sampling the revered bake-and-saltfish, even though it is a common enough preparation throughout the country. Fried bread "rolls" stuffed with salted codfish stewed with onions, tomatoes, sometimes a bit of hot peppers and a splash of lime juice! *mouth waters*

Bake-and-saltfish is one of those dishes that can be made on a Sunday morning, for a wedding-day catering order, for Christmas morning, and for when folks are visiting from afar/"foreign". It is an everyday for some and a special occasion for others. It is usually the first thing to be eaten out! This does nothing to diminish its value. Salt cod (Bacalao) may be the go-to fish of choice, but I would argue that smoked herring is up there as well, perhaps even more of a specialty, based on price and occasion. Smoked herring was definitely more occasional in my childhood, so when it made an appearance, there was ample cause for heightened appetites and festivities!

Mom went further, however, extrapolating on how beyond celebrations, everyday eating in Guyana required creativity and wisdom. She offered a phrase that although it was my first time hearing it, the concept immediately crystallized in my mind. "What we used to talk about at home was '#saltfood'... which was more than about the salt. It was about getting real food that satisfied, and often stretched what little you had. And you feel fuller with 'something salt'...'real food' was not something sweet. Something quick. Rice and something to go with it." I dunno, sounds like a #foodhack to me!

Aside from acknowledging that high sodium diets has been a known cause for several ailments and chronic diseases worldwide, saltfood is almost an inversion of usage, wherein the main idea was to only add a hint of a highly flavored substance in times of austerity. This is now a two-fold definition. Saltfood is not a mere salted snack to stave off hunger; it is a significant connection to nutrition and economic fastidiousness often expressed in unique yet endemic ways in tropical, warmer and, let's admit it- poorer parts of the world. I remember reading years ago in a history class about how poor principalities in the wide regions of China ate savory breakfasts and had a tiny bit of egg, beans, or pork to balance the vegetables or rice (or other starch) that was their everyday fare. If that was their one meal for the day, the morsel was almost a flavoring instead of a significant part of the plate or bowl. It usually was a kind of protein. Talk about a stretch.

I can definitely say that in my "starving student" days having a small container of spicy-crispy anchovies from Koreatown with a bowl or rice, noodles, or steamed veggies filled me up more than I believed possible. And I keep both on hand now when I'm feeling lazy to do a big spread in the kitchen. It's easy!

Nutrients are at the heart of it, to be sure. Just as actual salt (NaCl, sodium chloride) has helped to flavor food for millennia, making it a prized trade item and a maker or breaker of ancient civilizations, dietary salts are important in human diets because of their balancing electrolytes. Sodium helps the body retain necessary water (remember, we are about 55-60% water, depending on your physicality), facilitates several chemical reactions in many different parts of the body, and helps with digestion and muscle contraction. The Biblical line about people being "the salt of the earth" is telling, in its observance of such a worthy aspect necessary for life.

So in a country where there have been waves of undernourishment due to economic austerity, political unrest, and lack of access to medical treatment due to transportation shortcomings, it is expected that salt would play a large role in the population's attempts to stay satisfied, even as they balanced healthy and not-so-healthy consumption. It has saved people from fainting, in a hurry!

To me, the concept of saltfood is one that walks this line, and acknowledges through a combination of centuries of oral folk medicine and culinary traditions what has been proven and tempered with scientific research in the modern age. So it is still quite useful to roll this word around in your mouth.

As with most terms that falls out of my mother's mouth, I marvel at the variation between succinct and delightfully obscure Guyanese and Greater Caribbean expressions. Such a rich oral history is worth collecting for future use. I will be sharing more of these from time to time, and encourage my readers to corroborate their own regional terminologies and pastimes!

Now that I've defined it for you, what's YOUR favorite saltfood?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Beads and Buttons: Grandmotherly Memories

Had she lived to this day, Enid Veronica Daniels née Sam would have seen her 99th year completed. My grandmother was born on September 25th, 1918. She was born under the British rule of what is now the former colony of Guyana, in South America. She once told me that she worked in rice paddy fields there, and left her formal education to help her family at an age comparable to 8th graders. She did not see Obama as president for eight years, and Grace spared her the indignity of many other events since.

Enid bore nine children to adulthood, and adopted four of her eldest grandchildren, sponsoring them to live with her in the United States and continue their education. She was twice as old when she had my mother, one of her later babies, than when my mother had me. I believe she was in the middle of her own siblings, of whom I only ever met two, but heard tales of most of them all of my life. There is a lot of mystery (to me, yet) surrounding some other facts of her origin, like the tale of distant Chinese ancestry, her maiden name allegedly Anglicized over time.

Enid named her children very proper names. English, Roman, Christian, French names. Some middle names had Latinate or Germanic undertones, to be sure. Perhaps all of them had two middle names.

She worked all of her life, until she started forgetting the pot on the stove every day, and as she recounted to me more than once, accidentally left straight pins in the clothing she was mending for her charged. The parents got scared that the children would get injured, and as much as they loved her as their nanny, they parted with tears for the last time, her grey hair the only steely aspect of her disposition stubbornly intact. That was that.

She was amazing, nonetheless, in all of her ambitions, making countless sugar cakes on order for formal functions, guava jelly and pastes to the eternal distaste of several uncles and cousins tasked with helping her in the kitchen in their formal years. There is a picture of my grandmother in a crisp white nurse's uniform, testament to the tale of how she got her GED in New York City at age 65, and started going to nursing school before leaving that to care for the adopted grandchildren. She made a great many strides before Alzheimer's took over.

My grandmother's entrepreneurial spirit was borne of poverty and practical innovation of the resources she could command, on three continents, in four countries, spanning six decades. She funded several children's school fees and supplies, study-abroads, special projects, and fabric for uniforms she probably sewed, or at least darned, herself. All of this occurred before I was born, however.

The Enid I knew was decidedly more reserved and sternly adherent to her home devotionals and congregational services. I accompanied her on many Bible studies and bus outings to Boston and Washington D.C.. The old hymnals still ring in my head, and many of the lyrics as well are committed to memory. If she had her way, I would have always worn skirts and dresses and had my head covered and my hands gloved in her holy presence. She had a sharp tongue for rebuke, and a heavy hand for the occasional spanking. Had she lived to this day in full health and mental faculties, me, my mother AND sister would have some serious explaining to do about what we were all doing with our lives, for sure. It was not her style to smile for most pictures, and I was often scolded to "stop skinning my teeth", even when I knew she could cackle most vibrantly when put upon with a funny memory.

I first learned that onion, lime and cauliflower made delicious if peculiar pickles because of Enid. We would take trips to Woolworth and scour the craft section for zippers, beads, buttons and paper patterns. I credit her with my modern preoccupation with the minutiae of design, as I was often responsible for helping her rip out the incorrect bead-work in one of her coasters or table settings. I regret never learning to knit or crochet from her, or paid closer attention to the magical moment of her plait bread rising in doughy deliciousness.

For a while as a preteen, my grandparents held myself and my sister close while my mother worked on her undergraduate degree. I was very unhappy about being left in their care, and developed a distance from my grandmother in particular, favoring my grandfather's more taciturn benevolence (there were Werther's to be had, and long nights watching PBS when she fell asleep). She often seemed ill-tempered, and bossy. My grandmother's snores kept the dragons at bay, though. You could always find a treasure of quarters fastidiously wrapped in toilet paper when she sent me to fetch something form one of her many purses.

Things got progressively downhill after my family deposited me on campus in Southampton, and she was never the same after that farewell trip. She died three years after my grandfather, and thus I lost them both on the cusp of my young adulthood. I hold on dearly to the memories I have of Enid. There are videos somewhere from a long ago family function, and several boxes of pictures over the years. Occasionally my mother would reveal a craft piece that she had saved, or I'd come across an old postcard wedged in a book with her distinctive proper handwriting. She was the matriarch of the Daniels family for over 50 years, and she lives on in so many grand and great-grandchildren. I am honored to have known her as long as I did. Love you, Ma.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Juneteenth, #blackjoy, and Sowing Freedom Forward

I love a garden.  A green space of my own is one of my top-ten life goals. I come from a country that still retains a predominant percentage of its pristine rainforests, and can boast a long line of relatives that were (and are) stewards of the land. It is one of my greatest joys and marvels that they chose to retain this heritage in spite of generational trauma resounding from prior forced servitude on those very same lands, in North and South America. In this vein, I understand some of the legacies of slavery in the United States.

Imagine the value of urban green spaces for folks that have evolved beyond the legacy of slavery and sharecropping; migrating from predominantly rural agricultural communities to larger metropolises; sacrificing fresh air, affordable and generous living quarters. Urban green spaces, farms and gardens are a vital and intrinsic part of the mental, physical, and, dare I say, spiritual fortitude of the people that provide and/or seek them out. There is also an often overlooked economic affect as well. This becomes an interesting hurdle when one considers city zoning rules that designate what spaces can be used in what ways in every community. An endeavor to reclaim an abandoned lot previously collecting garbage thoughtlessly chucked by passersby and unscrupulous businesses can become a battle for real estate suddenly deemed valuable. Modern civilization often manifests itself in an unfortunate divorce from the free simplicity of enjoying land, air, food and water. How did we come to this?

It is no coincidence that gardeners often have other social justice projects under their belts. Black Joy in action.

"Black Joy" is a radical concept these days. Social media attests to this, and the apparent retaliation and rhetoric surrounding it proves that it is potent in its application and documentation. I have documented in this blog my initial forays into establishing a green sanctuary of my own, as a way to reconnect with the sacred, magical earth, as well as to channel creativity: from working the soil to photographing and cataloging its mysteries, to sharing its tasty and therapeutic rewards. It is an ever-unfolding practice, much like meditation that may involve complicated handstands, or simpler breathing techniques.

A much-needed break to re-hydrate and enjoy fruit and vegetable salads.

Some things are not meant to be rushed, but gently and mindfully coaxed towards their highest potential. And whatever bug bites or dusty jeans I've acquired in this process, I've always left that green space happier, more fulfilled, and restored for whatever came next once my feet touched concrete.

Touching the soil is as important as handling the delicate shoots being transplanted. 

The height of irony came after the first Juneteenth, which began in Texas in 1865, with the mass exodus from the resistant Confederate states. They carried within them a powerful knowledge of the land, even though they were enslaved to it. That paired with the newfound courage and will to organize brought forth the most earnest efforts to thrive in pre-Civil Rights Era United States. The real victory here in those early post-Civil War struggles that rolled into the next decade of the Reconstruction Era was a revolutionary concept of individual autonomy and dignity for Blackfolk, intrinsically tied to their occupation and thriving on and from the land they stood upon.

The backlash against progression was swift and vicious in the South, and followed in a more insidiously institutionalized way as folks migrated North to urban centers, looking for jobs, homes, and peace of mind. City rules and political circumvention put many of them in public housing, in neighborhoods zoned away from parks, farms, and quality groceries (apparently). The influx of fast food advertising, convenience, liquor, and pawn stores in certain 'hoods instead of others helped to put a negative spin on the intrinsic value of the bodies inhabiting these areas. The joie de vivre was stripped and devalued, in place of fast, cheap, and a limited food spectrum (white, yellow, and brown- gee, what foods are these colors?). In a way, the rush to forget the (punishing) agrarian roots of the South allowed for a grand departure from its more wholesome culinary legacies, and an itchy wool to cover the collective's eyes.

When a space gets reclaimed from its dirty dumping ground identity, an angel gets its wings...or a neighbor gets her zucchinis.

The Blk Projek is a nonprofit organization started by Bronx resident Tanya Fields in 2009 as an act of resistance to food injustice in her South Bronx neighborhood. When she started her organization with Mommy and Me outreach to provide healthy food choices for the mothers and children of the neighborhood, the feedback shone light on the need for more education and economic development. Food deserts in urban neighborhoods has since become a new front in the attack on economic and mental poverty, as the adage "feed the brain" has dramatic implications for those that are literally starved of nourishment. The Libertad Urban Farm is a natural extension of this effort, as justice and freedom fighting comes in many forms, both radical and seemingly mundane. She encourages better choices by making them more visible, with a healthy sprinkling of the aforementioned "Joy". What people may not recognize is the vital task of normalizing a health-food trend that naysayers of the food desert concept scoff at, while they attribute troubling community health statistics to bad cultural choices in the face of an abundance of access to green groceries. Once again, representation is everything. on every level of society.

Libertad Urban Farm, at 972 Simpson Street in The Bronx.

Ms. Fields negotiated her way through city ordinances and public misconceptions with grassroots elbow grease to create and maintain a safe and healthy space, snatching this parcel back from the development list. I was honored to be invited to share some of the load to rebuild and reorganize Libertad Urban Farm on Simpson Street near Southern Boulevard in the Bronx on June 9th. It was a sunny day, and the large mound of soil greeted me at the entrance, daring anyone to approach it with a meaningful shovel. All around us, apartment buildings played sentinel to our toil, with the occasional curious onlooker from a balcony or fortified window grating. Some people walking by on the sidewalk stopped to chat with our carpenter in Spanish, or Tanya, herself, if they recognized her. They see what she is doing, and for the most part, it seems to bring visible joy and relief to their faces.

Ms. Fields herself came and went while I worked in the garden, as she was busy working on some grant applications with a pressing deadline, but she was very much involved with the entire process. The property was vandalized recently, by those who littered and stole supplies, setting back previous gains. The re-education and re-prioritizing of a community continues. A shed was bought, and funds from the NYC Parks Department supplied much needed tools, organic manure and wood to construct raised beds. This will not be a one-off effort to beautify and prepare, but an ongoing labor of love during the fertile season to bring nutrient-dense edibles to the community, as well as a space to recharge the spirit of a proud people.

I can't wait to go back and show you the "after" picture of this raised bed- cucumbers and squash runners everywhere!

Read up on some of Ms. Fields' earlier efforts with Libertad here.
Find out about upcoming events here.