Thursday, April 6, 2017

Arabian Knights

If French Montana was walking down the street in Marrakesh I would pay him no attention. Not because he's unattractive but because he would blend in. Most of the men we've interacted with in Morroco, remind me of a tall, short, skinny, pudgy or middle aged version of him. 

Additionally, the men in Morroco have been very kind and helpful, but consistently aggressive. Whether they're trying to negotiate business deals or pour mint tea; They have no chill. 
Pouring tea with flair 
For the entire 8 days we toured this captivating country the men basically spit Drake lyrics at us... 

You too fine to be laying down in bed alone 
I can teach you how to speak my language 
Rosetta Stone  

Coming from the United States, where whiteness is "rightness", I must say that it feels extremely nice to be lauded for your beauty as a black person.

Even the manager of one of the hotels we stayed at said we'd easily fetch a one hundred camel dowry. This compliment seems pretty impressive when you don't have anything to compare that unit of measurement to. Are 100 camels better than say, 100 instagram likes? 100 free Uber rides? 101 Dalmatians? For me though, the most impressive part of our trip was our 3 day excursion into the desert.

On the first day we wove our way through the Atlas Mountains and our driver was wildin'. He was dressed like Bruno Mars in a fitted navy blue suit and fedora, but facially he could still pass for French Montana's older brother. He kept passing cars on the two lane mountain roads while speeding around hairpin turns. 

The Atlas Mountains
I wanted to say, "Excuse me, Mr. Bruno Montana? Sir, we are on the side of a mutha fucking mountain," but instead I just put my seat belt on, closed my eyes and prayed for our safe deliverance.  

Ait Ben-Haddou 

We do a guided tour of Ait Ben-Haddou, where Lawrence of Arabia & Game of Thrones were filmed, have a group dinner & spend the night in a hotel. The second day we walk through a Berber village. The villagers farm figs and grapes and show us how they dye camel and sheep fur with cumin, saffron and indigo to weave handwoven carpets. They also except plastic money (their words not mine) and ship FedEx if you're interested.

Watching carpet weaving
That afternoon our tour group arrives at the Sahara Desert. We file into a building at the edge of massive sand dunes and a man dressed in a traditional Berber tunic brings out Morrocan tea for everyone. I ask the tea guy, Karim*, some vital questions.

The view of the Sahara Desert from the camp

Whats for dinner? (At this point I'm really craving a juicy 5 guys cheeseburger, as I had been eating shish kabobs & tajines for the last 4 days. Karim said it was going to be Chicken Tajine and bread)

Where are we gonna pee? (He informs us that the camp has an outhouse with a squat toilet and no running water)

Do ya'll have wifi in the desert? (There would be no wifi and no water either so he tells us to bring our own bottled water)

We were going to be roughing it.

As we're preparing to get on our camels Karim brings my paperwork over and asks if I have whatsapp.

Outer me was like, "Oh he probably just wants to practice English."

Inner me was like

I'm pretty naive though so I give him my whatsapp anyway, hop on my camel and keep it moving with the rest of the group.

Now I don't want to tell you how to live your life, but if you have never ridden a camel for an hour and a half through the desert, it is not a necessary life goal to achieve.
Right before I lost my scarf

Riding a camel hurts ya'll. Your neck, your back, your poonani and your crack. The entire ride I felt like a Republican with unlocked car doors at a stoplight next to a car full of minorities: Uncomfortable.

I couldn't help but wonder, how did Jafar find the Cave of Wonders? If I had gotten separated from the group & lost in the desert, there was a good chance I would literally become a line from the Bible a BeyoncĂ© song; From ashes to ashes, dust to this chick.

After snapping multiple selfies and losing my scarf in middle of the desert from atop my camel, we finally stop to watch the sunset.

The view was stunning. We could see the border of Algeria to the east, over the peaks of the untouched sand dunes.

The only working out I've done lately has been working out my issues, so I'm catching my breath after trudging through the sand when I get a phone call from a 212 number.

I don't answer it because Verizon charges $2.99/minute for international phone calls. Instead, I grit my teeth & pay 50 cents to reply by text.

Then I realize it's not a 212 number from New York, but that 212 is the country code for Morocco.

It's Karim, the tea guy.

We get to the camp, sit down to dinner and Karim shows up in full Berber regalia. In addition to his bright blue tunic, intricately woven with golden fibers, he is donning a turban the size of a Thanksgiving turkey serving platter. Its made with 2 brightly colored scarves instead of just one like the other desert guides. Either he is kind of a big deal or he is seriously peacocking.

Karim not pictured 
After dinner the desert guides build a bonfire, and start playing and singing traditional Morrocan music. When Karim isn't whispering about me to his coworker, who looks like French Montana's first cousin, he stares at me while he plays the cymbals like I'm the last sip of water in the desert.

Desert bonfire 
Meg and I are exhausted. We've already been up for over 12 hours and tomorrow morning everyone is supposed to watch the sunrise. he desert guides say it's not good to go to sleep on a full stomach and urge the group to climb one more dune to see the next city over by moonlight.

But this is no regular dune. It is the Starbucks venti of all dunes. It's legit 900 meters to the top. We start the uphill trek and I'm in front but want to tap out early. People keep passing me until I'm at the very end of the group and then Karim magically appears.

He says, "Take my hand, I will help you."

I really don't want to because I can tell he likes me and I don't want to lead him on, but I am seriously struggling to keep up. I reluctantly take his hand.

Eventually we catch up to a group of Chinese tourists that are resting from the climb. We stop just before we reach them and Karim says

Lets just sit.

I want to keep going but I'm tired as hell. The Chinese people are only about 15ft away, close enough to hear my screams if anything goes down. *Whispers* but in all honesty I don't know if they'd help me. 

I swear this dude whips out a carpet from Allah knows where and smooths it out over the sand.
It was almost like he had planned this whole thing.

Did you get the messages I sent you?

I lie and say no.

Normally I'm the concierge and don't come out to camp, but I couldn't stop thinking about you. I came to get to know you.

You really didn't have to do that Karim.

I walked 1.5 hrs through the desert just to see you and talk face to face.

I wonder if he found my scarf? I thought to myself.

Karim keeps going on and on about how he never got married because he's been waiting his whole life for a black woman. I kinda want to remind him that he was born and raised in Africa. Every woman he grew up with is black, but instead I ask,

How old are you?

31. Every year I wait for a black woman to come to the desert camp. Last year a black man came so I was still disappointed. You're the first.

I do like to think of myself as a trailblazer.

He moves his hand close to my face and says, Here in Morroco we call your hair Rasta hair.

That's interesting. I back my face away from his hand. In America we call it Yaki 1b/350.

He asks if he can touch it. Immediately I think of The Lonely Island's, Jizz in my Pants song and say no.

Then he starts talking about us getting married. I can move to Morroco or he can move to NY. (He saw that's where I was born on my passport). He comes from a family of 10 children, well 9 now, because his sister just got married. He wants to know how many kids I want to have.

Now Karim isn't an ugly dude. He doesn't even look like an immediate member of French Montana's family. If the circumstances were different (ie. I was desperate and ignorant to the fact that many men prey on foreign women vacationing in their country in hopes to get a green card) I might have given him a chance. But my life isn't a Disney movie. I can't instantly fall in love with a stranger and move to a foreign country. I am not Pocahontas.
Me as Pocahontas

Am I?

I gently tell Karim, I don't like you in that way. I don't really like anyone.

That's not normal. The purpose of life is to find a mate, love each other and make each other happy. Happy wife, happy life

Why do you like black women anyway?

He shrugs. I don't know why. Allah made my heart that way. But I can also tell that Allah made you a good person.

I get teary eyed but do my best to hold it together. A little over a year ago I was in a long term relationship with someone whom I wanted to tell me all the things Karim was telling me right now. But he never did.

It's so dark outside that we can't see each other's faces. The only light is from the moon and the stars and I have to admit it is a beautiful night. I hear a desert beetle scuttle by and I tense up.

Karim scoots closer to me on the magic carpet and breaks the silence, "I only have one heart and I want to give it to you."

That line right there almost got me ya'll. 

But my mama ain't raise no fool.

Karim may be a lot of things, none of which I'm familiar with because we just met 4 hours ago, but in this moment he has transformed from Aladdin into Prince Ali baba and he's showing me a whole new world of compliments. It's like Drake is serenading me by moonlight, kicking game like judo.

How many days will it take you to forget me?, He whispers. I will always keep thinking of you.

How many more women will you say this to this week, I think. But I jokingly reply, I will never forget this night.

Then I tell him I'm tired and want to go back to the camp and he says ok but suggests we hold hands.

I bury my hands in my coat pockets and while we're walking down the sand dune Karim tells me to never give my heart to someone who won't give their's back.

Maybe French Montana's 3rd cousin, twice removed isn't as naive as I thought he was.

As we reach the camp, I politely tell Karim good night and duck into my tent. Meg is inside preparing for bed and asks where I've been.
I tell her the whole story as I pull on my sweat pants and fuzzy socks.

"Wow that is creepy and intense," she says. "But now you can never date a guy who won't cross a desert for you."

One of the desert guides who took photos for me
*names have been changed 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I too was #HurtBae

At 11:58pm on October 62003 there was a knock on my dorm room door. I was in the middle of writing a sociology paper, so I put up an away message, got up from my desk and answered the door.

It was James*

Before I had a chance to say hello, he grabbed me by the shoulders with both hands and gave me a hard kiss on the lips. I almost oozed out of my pajamas and onto the floor like Alex Mack.

With my eyes still closed I whispered, “What was that for?

I wanted to be the first person to tell you happy birthday.

I glanced at the clock on my desk. It was 12:01.

That was the first time he kissed me and a few days later he became the first boyfriend I had in college.

James was fine ya’ll. He was 6’2, with sculpted everything and played on our university’s rugby team. I know what you’re thinking. Rugby? Well he was also an exchange student from England. His accent was so thick that I could barely understand what he was saying to me half the time. It was sexy AF.

Not only was he an athlete, but he was smart too. He majored in biochemistry and would help me with chemistry homework because covalent bonds were not my jam.

Spring semester, James gave me my most memorable Valentine’s Day ever.

I went to his room the night before V Day (doesn’t that sound like a C-list horror movie or an A-list porno?) to surprise him like he had surprised me on my birthday. There was no answer so I went next door to our mutual friends' room.

Have you guys seen James?

Billy looked at Henrik and said, "She has a right to know"

Know what?

James went to New York.

We went to school in Raleigh, NC. It wasn’t like New York was down the street.

New York? For what? 

He took Stephanie to New York for Valentine's Day.

His Biochem partner?

I had seen the signs but chose to ignore them. I saw the way she looked at him while they studied in the common area. I saw him close out AIM conversation windows with <3<3<3<3<3<3 dotted across the screen. I bet she was willing to give him anal when I wasn’t. That’s the only thing I could think of that would make him cheat on me.

I cried in my dorm room and blasted Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite on repeat through my Dell computer speakers because I’m dramatic and classy. I also had a music theory test coming up and figured if I was too sad to leave my room at least I could study the composition of Tchaikovsky's work in between sobs.

That night I vowed to never let a guy cheat on me or date an Aquarius ever again.

Fast forward to 2017 and I’ve learned a lot about relationships over the years. I went back on my vow about dating an Aquarius (which was a big mistake) so for the second time, I'm vowing not to do that again. I also notice red flags a lot quicker than I did when I was 19 and subsequently side step the bullsh*t. 

But now that my brother is of college age, I’m learning new things about the way guys think. And it’s horrifying.

To start, my brother is a mama’s boy. I think this is because:
  1. He was breastfeed and I wasn’t
  2. He is naturally more affectionate than I am. Growing up he would give everyone a goodnight kiss on the forehead followed by a quick I love you. I, on the other hand, would throw up the deuces and say, "Aight ya’ll I’m going to bed"
  3. He was babied by our parents For example when I was about 14 years old and he was 5, it honestly made me furious when my mom would cut up his pancakes for him.
And pancakes are what sent me over the edge the other day.

My brother asked my mom and I for $20 and advice about 2 girls he likes.

"Nikki is short and cute and has a very bubbly personality. She has light skin with long silky hair and she expects me to take her out to places that I can’t afford.

Kendra is okay looking, but her attitude isn’t as good.  She has a good job and a car that she lets me drive. If I’m hungry she’ll buy me food and she always gives me gifts just because. I’d rather be with her because it’s easier."

I told him to be honest with both of these girls and don’t lead them on.

His response: It's not cheating if they're both your girlfriend 

Then he asked me if he could have the pancakes I had made to snack on later.

My response: You would have $20 to buy your own pancakes if you didn't have to take two girls out on dates

This knee grow waited til I left the room and ate my pancakes.

I felt the same fury that I had felt as a 14 year old watching my mom pour Aunt Jemima on his plate. 

I thought to myself, so you don’t care about these girls’ feelings or my motha f*cking pancakes?! 

Later that night, when Kendra came over to pick him up I started asking her all types of questions 

Are you hungry Kendra? Brother why don't you treat Kendra to somewhere nice? 

Suddenly Brother wasn't hungry anymore

What’s your type Kendra? 

She literally laid her hand on his arm as she said, "Your brother."

"Girl you've got bad taste then," I said jokingly

When Brother got up to use the bathroom and I knew he was out of earshot, I looked at Kendra and whispered...

You don’t have to give a guy things to make him like you. Not free meals, not your car, not your body. If he really likes you he doesn’t care what material things you can give him. A matter of fact, he will go out of his way to give YOU whatever he can, even if he doesn't have much. And if you feel like something is off, trust you gut, it probably is.  

She didn't say anything else to me the rest of the time she was there. I doubt she’ll take what I said to heart but hopefully she’ll realize I was only trying to help her. I hate to see someone hurt because of someone's else's selfish shenanigans.

Side Bar: A couple of weeks after James had cheated on me, I went to a house party off campus and saw that James and Stephanie were there together. I had not become the unapologetically give no fux person that I am today, and so I decided to leave right away. When I got outside, I saw Billy sitting on the stairs at the back of the house. He offered to walk me back to our dorm.

When we got back, I thanked Billy and gave him a hug in the stairway. As I pulled away he held me a little tighter and then kissed me softly. I was shocked. Billy confessed that he had always liked me and he felt awful about the way James had treated me. Apparently right before I showed up at the house party he had gotten into an argument with James and punched him in the face. People at the party broke the fight apart and he was trying to cool off outside when I ran into him on the stairs. 

*Names have been changed
^ personally I wouldn't let anyone cheat on me more than once before I'd leave the relationship, unlike the girl from the original #HURTBAE video. But one thing that some people forget to account for is Emotional Abuse. Emotional Abuse can cause you to lose your self esteem or have a skewed sense of self worth. Your partner plays mind games with you & makes you believe that you're not good enough for anyone else and so you stay, perhaps thinking that you can persuade them to love you just a little bit more. It's a vicious cycle and a very hard one to break for many of people.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Welcome to my African American Home

My sophomore year in college, I lived in a dorm where each American student roomed with an International student. It was like living in a bunch of different countries at once. I was paired with Priscilla, a Brazilian exchange student from Rio de Janeiro and boooooooyyyy we had so much fun together. She taught me Portuguese and I taught her English slang. She made me feijoada & pao de queijo and I made her yams and macaroni and cheese on Thanksgiving. We’d dance to Brazilian Pop music during study breaks and go to parties at Duke and UNC with the Ecuadorian kids.

Priscilla is on the far left, I'm the Black chick obviously
During this time in my life I was pretty popular and my room was like the United Nations hangout spot. The Japanese & Chinese students were polite but mostly kept to themselves. However, I regularly got drunk with the Scandinavian & Irish kids, had movie nights with my German friends, and dated an English guy.

Priscilla’s culture was similar to mine in many ways but many of my other friends' cultures that year were not. Outside of music and movies sometimes I was the first African American person that they had ever interacted with or perhaps even called a friend. In many ways I was like a Black Brand Ambassador, dispelling their preconceived notions of Black people. Years later, when I dated a White guy that wasn't versed in my Blackness, I found myself in that same Black Ambassador role.

When I first started dating JC* my Grandmother had a hard time processing his White American background. Being born and raised in Brooklyn she was used to ethnic white people. 

Is he Italian?
No. Just Caucasian.
What do you mean just Caucasian? Is he Jewish? 

I had to break it down for her.

My boyfriend was not white like Jon B, Eminem or Tommy from Power. It would take a while before my family would be comfortable inviting him to the cookout. He was a Bernie Sanders supporting, sweatshirt with flip flops in the winter wearing, doesn't close the living room blinds at night and let's his dog lick him in the face^ type of white guy. To be fair I don't know what Jon B, Eminem or the actor that plays Tommy enjoy doing in their free time, but I highly doubt it's listening to music primarily consisting of banjos. I hated those car rides.

I would explain facets of Blackness to JC and I kinda got a kick out of it. Every month we dated was like Black History month. I would tell him things and he simply would not believe me. For example he thought I was joking when I told him black people aren't really into extreme sports. He would randomly ask Black people about it when he'd get the chance. He asked my best friend one night and she said, "I cant speak for black people every where but I'm going to go ahead and say no."

Conversations like this were commonplace between us. JC played hockey and since I had never been to a hockey game I was excited to go to his championship tournament. Before his division played, the teenage division was up and I noticed there was one black kid playing.

We don't usually play hockey.

You mean black people don’t you?

Yeah. I've counted maybe 4 Black people at this ice rink, me included, and 2 were janitors. In addition to mountain climbing, PCP and serial killing, we don't typically play hockey.

Serial killing? There are black serial killers.

Name one (I had to stop myself from easily rattling off the names of White serial killers).

The DC sniper.

He was African, not African American. We don't even eat the same food or have the same health problems.

Are you serious?

African Americans are going to come after the person who came after them. We're not about to stalk you for 3 weeks, meet you on the jogging trail and cut you into pieces for stew simply based on the fact that you have brown shoulder length hair.

Well you’re right that there aren’t a lot of Black hockey players.

I bet he was raised by white people too.

And because I'm petty at times, when the game was over and the players started coming off the ice I went over to the black kid.

Hey you were really good out there! How long have you been playing?

Like 7 years, since I was 6.

At this moment his clearly Canadian Caucasian parents walk up and congratulate him on the win. I look at JC like...

Speaking of Caucasian parents, when I met JC's, they welcomed me into their home, offered me snacks and asked if I was lactose intolerant.
It was funny to me because they seemed fascinated that I didn't drink milk with each meal. My stomach hurts just thinking about it.

Apparently JC had relayed a conversation we had about most minorities being lactose intolerant and so they asked me if my family ate cheese. 

The short answer: Yes, but we're going to hate ourselves afterwards. The long answer is my family probably isn't going to offer you cheese or any other food if you come over. Unless the reason for your visit is specifically dinner or a cookout, they will offer you something to drink. Besides, you're not going to just pop up unannounced to a Black person's home and expect them to answer the door anyway.

For the record I really liked his parents. They were very sweet and down to earth people whom I felt wouldn't mind having mixed grandbabies one day. Obviously I really liked JC too. He sincerely liked me as a person and not in a weird "I've never been with a chocolate girl" fetish type of way. He thought my natural hair was pretty, he liked that I smelled like Cocoa Butter. But a big part of what made me like him was the fact that we could openly discuss our differences and learn from them.

Honestly I wonder how is it even possible to go to school, get a job and live in a society with people that are different than you, without knowing anything about them? Get out of your bubble.

I guess the sad truth is that we live in two different worlds. I live in JC's world all the time but only after we started dating did he bother getting to know about mine. It didn't work out between us, but ironically it wasn't because of his lack of cultural awareness, it was bad timing.

When Priscilla first came to North Carolina she gifted me with a book about Rio. We would look at it sometimes and she'd tell me stories about each of the places inside. Before she left to go back to Brazil at the end of our Sophomore year, I gifted her with a book about North Carolina. We were both able to take what we had learned about each other back home and share those experiences with others. If only we could do that right here in the United States.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of my ex boyfriend. I also had a huge crush on JC from Nsync growing up and so this was my chance to live out my teenage fantasy.
^ I'm not stereotyping White people. These are all things that JC actually did