Beautiful day trip to Brussles

The Europe leg is definitely the most rushed part of my Cescapade and that was completely due to my “planning.” At the time of booking, it was planned to be the only trip, other than GlitchGate, and then I was going to go back to New York and get a job. Because a month of traveling is enough for anyone-especially an unemployed anyone, right? 

  

#awesomehuman and his Mom

  
After spending New Years with one of my favorite humans and his Mama, Finn and Hezza, I got inspired to work towards my 40 x 40-a familiar phrase among the wonderlusting  folk that refers to hitting 40 countries by the time you hit 14,610 days…accounting for leap years, of course. I had only done 9 (10 if you count Northern Ireland as it’s own country) so I had a long way to go. I was almost 32 and accounting for potential years I would be pregnant or with small child and out of commission-again with the planning-I figured I probably need to hit about 8 countries a year on my good years and 2 on the off ones to make my goal. 4 good years, 4 off years and 2 baby years put me in good shape so I needed to hit 6 in this one trip.  Abu Dhabi was booked and there was talk of Iceland, and so a trip to Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Czech Republic (France is a repeat so it doesn’t count) began to take shape.

Operation Eurotrip was alive with a mission to basically get into as many countries as possible. The flights into Oslo were extremely reasonable (thank you Norwegian Airlines) so it was the clear starting and stopping point. Then came the fun part. In addition to the places that made the final cut, Sweeden, Greece and Poland were up for review, but something had to give. Brussels even almost got the axe but got saved by an amazing hotel at a great price! I narrowed it down to 10 cities. Let that sink in. 10 cities, one city twice, in 19 days. Whew..I can do this! 

  

Turns out, this is hard! It’s now Sunday and in the last week I’ve been in 5 countries. I’ve been on 3 airport shuttles, 2 planes, 1 train, a handful of roller coasters, a boat and tomorrow I leave on a bus! And I’m loving it, I truly am, but even the good Lord needed a day of rest! 
   

While it may look creepy, this man is actually running the ride!

  

Demnark! On a boat!

 
 So here I am in Brussels. And on my way here I pulled out my map of all the pre-starred, check-listed, fully planned things I needed to do during my 17 hours here. I reviewed my must sees and my should dos and by the time I got to my hotel I had a plan. 
But then I saw that a former-Belgian friend on FB mentioned a few areas not in my list. And the lovely clerk who checked me in mentioned the sauna and hot tub are open til 11. And then I got out and realized that it’s Sunday and many of the things in my plan just aren’t open today. 

So I stopped at the first restaurant I saw and filled my belly with some delicious Ethiopian food…probably the best Brussles has to offer. And I’m gonna snake my way to the monuments and see what I can see, and hopefully a few pieces of chocolate or a waffle makes it way to my mouth before that hot tub starts calling my name. And then I’ll probably be in bed by the time the is day football games air here. 

 

Almost in bed before football

  
And that’s ok. Sometimes plans don’t work out. And sometimes the best things in life happen by mistake. So here’s to taking a vacation from my vacation.
#journeyon

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Midriffs and the Middle East

Last week my #cescapades took me to Dubai and Abu Dhabi with my Mom and Aunt. When we arrived, I realized that “none at all” was a nice way of putting our pre-planning. None of us had any clue what we wanted to do. With only a few “must see” spots and group activities planned, we pretty much landed without a clue about the first move. It seemed the only thing all three of us had actually looked into was how to dress.

And when it comes to fashion my mom just wants to be cool. Literally. She’s not really a big fan of heat. Once we pass about 70 degrees, she’s ready to go inside. But she loves a sensible sun dress with a shrug! My aunt is a fashionista – looking good is ALWAYS important and in a place with such a rich culture and fine silks, she wanted to make sure to be in the running for Emirati’s top model…or at least look like it. I’m sort of ambivalent about fashion, but I like to be respectful. So all three of us landed in the middle of the desert with our cardigans and sweaters and long pants and maxi dresses and 2 hours in, we were soaked, I’m talking drenched, in sweat. And to make matters worse, we looked around and saw all the no-no’s our individual research had warned us against: exposed shoulders, short skirts, Bebe-I mean, WTF right? Here we are basically wearing our ski jackets and petticoats and these folks are just frolicking in their summer best! What gives?

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The Emirati culture is an absolutely beautiful one. The pride that the people had and have in their land and their work is clear to see today. The big Dubai boom came after the discovery of oil in 1966, but the foresight of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum is, in my opinion, what turned the United Arab Emirates into not just an oil producing region, but a major travel and business destination for the rest of the world for centuries to come. Throw in the exports to Iraq and you’ve stumbled upon a gold mine. And it’s understandable why people who are native to this land want to celebrate that rich culture. (all puns intended)

So thanks to booty shorts and American Apparel, it became pretty easy to pick out the foreigners.

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Truthfully, there was a delicate balance between under dressing and over heating, but we gave it our best effort! We went to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (one of the three things we had actually planned) and we were ready! We went through the website several times to make sure we were in compliance: Nothing tight, nothing short, long sleeves, head covering, nothing transparent.

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Mosque Manners for the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque

Of course upon arrival, all three of us were told we were in non-compliance and were swiftly sent into the basement to pick up our abayas. Sure, we were a bit frustrated at the lack of recognition of our efforts (ok..it was just me), but we went and made the most of it. And to my surprise, they were pretty cool. Our guide, Laila, also made a point to talk about the traditional dress of both men and women in the UAE. She said that she enjoyed wearing her abaya because it ensured that people were listening to her and not passing judgement based on her dress or her curves. Coming from a country where we regularly judge based on all sorts of things long before we even meet people (I’m looking at you, Tinder), it was a very interesting way to think about appearance.

Auntie, Mom and Me at the Mosque

Auntie, Mom and Me at the Mosque

So by the end of the trip, we relaxed our dress a bit. We weren’t so terrified to wear a v neck t-shirt or throw on a knee-length skirt. But the traditions and the culture definitely rubbed off on us. I may or may not have bought a few traditional dresses of my own. I have no idea where I’ll wear them, but I’m excited!

And more than anything, I left with a great deal of respect for the women in the UAE, or anywhere, who choose to wear their abaya, burqa, hajib, chador, or niqab or any other garments that allow them to feel comfortable. In the States, I’ve seen my fair share of side eyes at women fully or partially covered, but I get it now…at least better than I did before. And I have to say ladies, though it may not be MY look, I think YOU are beautiful!

Here’s to beautiful people, inside and out!

Ode to the Good Guys Part 1

Before I begin, I want to talk a little about this series. I recently met some of the most wonderful humans ever. I was in Sao Paulo having my last meal in Brazil when the folks at the table next to me saw me eating alone and invited me over. Turns out they were my flight attendants on my flight home the next day. I can not tell you how wonderful that night was, and how equally amazing my flight was, all thank to THEIR random act of kindness. So that meeting inspired me to just want to say think you to all the people who are wonderful or do wonderful things, just because. They are the Good Guys…and they deserve a little love so here’s my shout out/recognition/thank you to some of the Good Guys out there! And the first edition is my Mom and Aunt!

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Hello there from Dubai!

This week I’m traveling to the Middle East and I have my mom and aunt, Valerie and Cessalyn, along for the ride. Every few years we hit an international destination for their birthdays (Sept. 1 and 3) and it’s usually a pretty good time although we all have completely different travel styles. Mom wants to sit somewhere, preferably in air conditioning or at least with a major breeze, and read her book. Auntie wants to see and be seen, but with major breaks for resting and napping in the middle and I would be happy if I never sat down until it was back in the airplane seat to come home. Needless to say, we drive each other nuts. I’m always barking about tomorrow’s agenda, mom is looking for a place to sit down and auntie is ready to go back to the hotel.

But I wouldn’t trade these vacations for anything.

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Do you have any idea how cool it is to be able to travel the world with your family?

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To be able to see and do things that I’ve never done and will hopefully never be coerced into doing again (I’m looking at you desert dune ride) with the people you love. I have to say, it’s pretty awesome. Now I’ve been married a time or two so I’ve definitely done trips with a signifiant other, and that’s great too-don’t get me wrong. But mom/aunt/daughter time is great because it after 15 years of not living in the same city, it gives me a chance to just hang out with my girls. There is no worry about the Christmas dinner menu or the birthday party for uncle so and so or whether or not we’ve got tickets to see my show and what she’s going to do while I”m at work, it’s just us. In a neutral place where I don’t know anyone or anything and you don’t either and to make it out with some fun stories, we’re all in this together. Sometimes I get short with them because we’re not on the schedule or they don’t have a seven item want-to-do list prepared upon arrival in Abu Dhabi. But the truth is, I love these ladies. I love these trips and the fact that I can still be 100% myself around my other friends here and my mom just smiles and laughs (and sometimes video tapes) is awesome. And after the after party turns to the after after party, I still want to go home with my family instead of hitting turn up Part 3. Just so we can get up early and do it all again tomorrow.

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Atlantis Dubai

Ladies, you’re great.

But I hope you set your alarms. We have a lot to accomplish tomorrow!

That time I had white privilege 

In case you missed it, I’m a Black American woman.

   
 (I don’t take issue with the term African-American, I just wanted to use Black for this conversation.) I wouldn’t have passed anyone’s (except Bessie Smith’s) paper bag test, and I certainly wouldn’t find myself in pink in green had I pledged before 1950*. You get my point.

So last week in Brazil, I got this funny feeling that I’ve been trying to come to understand. And I finally figured it out. Or at least I sort of did. I felt White Privilege. Well, American privilege is more accurate. But it was this general feeling of ickyness. Feeling like I was able to do things and be places and receive a level of service not afforded to others. 

So to preface the situation, I have been on very stringent restrictions about how much I can talk. I had microlaryngoscopy and upon arrival to Brazil was only allowed to talk for 5 minutes out of every half hour. Add to that my entire grasp of the Portugese language can be summed up in one word, obrigada. 

So on day one, most of my interactions went something like this: I enter a store to silence and side eyes. Finally someone says to me, “sybbuinvetjknbcdyjb ssjijvgchbjohfer tsryunojdfg fsgvhinnnfd” to which i respond, “I’m so sorry, I don’t speak Portugese.” And as soon as those magical words escape my lips, the side eyes turned to smiles and impatience is replaced by pity.

Now to be fair, I don’t know the shopping culture in São Paulo or Rio and I can’t begin to assume I know everyone intentions. And most certainly, everyone didn’t have the same attitude. But I had a hunch so I needed to perform a scientific exercise to test my hypothesis. I needed to get out of the stores (mostly for my wallet’s sake) and into the street. 

For days I compared how many people genuinely smiled back at me on the street when I did or didn’t say hello. Two stinking syllables and all of a sudden I’m no longer a less-than Afro-Brazillian, now I’m an American with a great tan visiting your lovely country. I wish I could say it didn’t make a difference. But it did. And that made me laugh at first! Ha! I figured it out! But then I got really sad. 

I didn’t like that feeling. I didn’t like being seated first even though I came in last. I didn’t like people needing to warn me over and over about places because it wasn’t safe for “someone like me” only to arrive and find a multicultural area or just a bunch of brown people. I didn’t like seeing people who looked like me being literally kicked in the streets and no one doing anything. I just didn’t like it. 

And to think, should these same people visit the U.S., the Trumps of the world would hear them speak and instead of, “you’re a visitor in my country,” they’d get “I’m sure you’re an illegal in my country.” That’s some crazy stuff. (Now the whole topic of the travel privileges afforded to Americans that are withheld for other world citizens is just too much for this post, but I have a lot to say on that too!! 😉

So I think I would visit Brazil again, but I have a different perception now. While the whole of me isn’t my skin, the soul of me shares the color and history with those in my skin. I still don’t think I’ve totally come to the word or phrase for what I felt. But if this is what privilege feels like, I don’t think I like it. And I guess I’m glad I get to give mine back. 
   

   
 

*absolutely no shade intended to those mentioned. My step mom is a proud soror as are many family and friends.