Moving Forward By Looking Backwards

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Caption: Me looking out towards the Ocean at the Door of No Return. 

Identity, agency and affirmation are three of the most important things that we can develop as human beings. Identity is significant because it serves as a fingerprint on the hand that is our culture. It is developed individually but adds to the spectrum of the communities that we belong to. Agency is the pulse of our experiences. The more agency that we have, the richer our experiences are in life. Social stratification has lead to some individuals having more agency than others, but it is agency that serves as our motivation. Those who have it, enjoy the full power of free will and curate the museums of their lives. Affirmation (or lack thereof) powers agency. To be validated. To be seen. To be heard. Affirmation comes from those who serve as our parents and guardians. It comes from our communities. It comes from success.

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Caption: This was the first building constructed on the island. Initially it was a church. Now it is a Police Station for the island. 

Two days ago, I visited Goree Island. Goree is a 20 minute ferry ride off of the Coast of Dakar, Senegal and it serves as a physical reminder of one of the most horrific atrocities in human history.

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Caption: The view of Goree Island from the Ferry as you approach it. 

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Caption: Entrance to Maison Des Esclaves (Slave House) where the “Door of No Return” is located on Goree Island. 

Genetically, I am 94% African. My great great great grandfather Syrus Williams was born into slavery in [insert year]. Had I been born at that time, I would have been a slave. I would have been a person who was stripped of my humanity, who would have been disconnected from my born identity – as a Ghanain, a Congelese, a Senegalese, etc. My agency would have been shackled in the iron balls and chains that I witnessed and my only affirmation would have been my ability to work, to bear children and to collaborate and conspire in the continued destruction of our continued humanity.

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Caption: This room was for “young girls.” Their value was determined by the fullness of their breasts. They weren’t allowed to come out of the room and were expected to relieve themselves inside of the room because if they were seen outside of the room, it would cause a disturbance with their parents who were sometimes only a few yards away in a different holding area. They were often removed by the room and taken upstairs where the slave masters stayed and sexually assaulted. Parents often prayed for their children to become domestic servants so that they could avoid the life of traveling to America and exiting the door of no return. IMG_2042

 Caption: This area was for children. We were told that the value of boys was determined by their teeth. 
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Caption: This area is the view of the door of no return from inside of the slave house. Originally there was no wall and all you’d see is the water. They added the wall for the safety of others. 

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Caption: This is what you see when you step outside of the door of no return and look right. This is the auction block where enslaves persons would be taken two at a time, chained to the floor and the boats would line up to purchase the enslaved persons and take them away. 

“Move on.” “I did not own slaves.” “That was a long time ago.” Are all things that are said. The danger in that is if we do not remember something, we are likely to repeat it. The human experience on earth, outside of these human-caused nightmares has been one of abundance. One of development. Who are we to cut up earth into imaginary boundaries? Who are we to prevent the development of growth of other human beings? Who are we to call anyone an alien. To deny entry. To deny exits.

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Caption: Former President Barack Obama on a visit to the Goree Island. The curator’s area of the museum is filled with photos and notes from some of the celebrities and historical figures that visited. 

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Caption: I used to teach Elie Wiesel’s book “Night” about the Jewish Holocaust. It was exciting to see his name on the wall. 

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Caption: Harry Belafonte is one of the most philanthropic human rights advocates on the planet. It was great to see his photo and letter at the museum. 

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Caption: Mugabe, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe visits Goree. IMG_1941 copy

Caption: Nina Simone visits Goree Island. 

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Caption: Nelson Mandela visits Goree Island. Mandela is an important symbol, not only for South Africa but for many countries. IMG_1932 copy

Caption: What a blessing it was to write the name of my great, great, great grandfather Syrus Williams into the visitor’s registry at Goree Island. 

Many of the buildings on Goree Island are still in shape. The “door of no return” is located in a Museum called the Museo de Esclaves (or slave house). For those Africans who find themselves in South America, the Caribbean and America, it was our collective forced removal from our ancestral home and would lead us to a path of poverty, of second-class citizenship (when our humanity was finally recognized by constitutions) and we’d become a permanent threat – a people to be feared, to be experimented on (often against our will) and to be the worker bees of European and Western Economies. We’d be lucky if our contributions were recognized and our inventions often made our collective burden easier for us all.

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Caption: Barack Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King were two important symbols visible throughout the continent including this mural of Dr. King on the wall of a hotel. 

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Caption: This brother makes wood sculptures that he uses oil to paint into the dark color.We were able to catch him in the middle of a new piece.

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This brother makes “sand tattoos.” He also demonstrated his technique. I purchased four bottles from him.

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Caption: This statue captures a woman clinging to a man who has broken the chains of slavery. It was powerful! They are standing on top of a drum. 

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Caption: Cheikh creates art out of sand. The sand he gets from all over the continent. The orange sand is from Mauritania, the country that was the source of our delegation’s mission. I purchased four pieces from him! He also demonstrated his technique and studied at the Art School in Dakar. 

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Caption: This brother made quilts out of Fabric. I also purchased two pieces from him because his work is so beautiful! He also made his outfit. 

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Caption: Several artists incorporate found objects into their practice, this includes everything from cell phones to trash collected. The art work was absolutely stunning and unique. 

Some of the most beautiful pieces of art and most creative artisans live and work on Goree. I purchased lots of pieces and I was able to get a picture with the artists. I believe that art is therapy and it is one of the ways that our people have processed and coped with the devastation that slavery was for us and it’s horrible remnants that still impact our communities worldwide.

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Caption: This monument was meant to depict a sinking slave ship. 

As our tour guide spoke to us about the history of slavery as he knew it to be on Goree Island I went through many emotions. One was a deep sadness. One was anger. One was disbelief. The men, women and children and the unspeakable horror that they endured made the air thick. I wondered whose fingers had made etches in the stone. I imagined the literally blood, sweat and tears that mixed into the dirt we were walking on. I touched those walls. I walked into those holding cells. I picked up two small rocks to add to my collection. I bore witness, to remember and to keep telling the story. I hope that the language that I speak (English) and my dark skin serve as an advertisement for the strength and the resiliency of the people whose DNA powers my existence today.

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Caption: Restraining devices, chains and weapons that were housed in the museum area of the Slave House. 

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Caption: Me standing at the top of the staircase, directly above the door of no return, facing Mother Africa. 

As we navigate our collective modern day challenges, it is my hope that black people across the globe can learn about what happened in Goree, Ghana, Angola, etc. It is my hope that we can continue to research and learn as much as possible about the many tribes and the many tongues on the continent. It is my prayer that we can all connect to and be proud of our African Heritage. That when we see each other we recognize each other as family members through shared experience. That we take advantage of resources like education and credentials to solve the problems that are really vestiges of the institution of slavery – discrimination, racism, poverty, misrepresentation and oversimplification of our issues in the media, etc. I’m not interested in the people of African Descent inverting the power dynamic, but I am interested in a level playing field, protecting our civil and human rights and ensuring that our culture remains documented, preserved and transferred for future generations.

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Caption: The salt water eats up the iron causing many of the things on the island (including weapons and chains) to stop functioning. Nature always has a way of balancing things out. 

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Caption: Goree Island has a lot of industry. There are restaurants and lots of artists and merchants who also travel to the island on the Ferry with their goods to sell. This photo captures some of the items that were being delivered. 

Video Footage

Below you will find several videos that I captured while in the Slave House on Goree Island. I used both my nice camera and my cell phone to capture video. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate posting them in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer them or find answers to them.

Check Out My Other Pieces About Slavery Here:

The Slave Revolt You’ve Never Heard of: https://donnienicole.com/2011/07/18/the-slave-revolt-youve-never-heard-of/

When The Ancestors Speak: A Tour of Whitney Plantation: https://donnienicole.com/2017/02/26/when-the-ancestors-speak-a-tour-of-the-whitney-plantation/

And the DNA Tests Revealed… Genetics, DNA Testing and Legacy: https://donnienicole.com/2015/08/24/and-the-dna-tests-revealed-genetics-dna-testing-legacy/.

9 Things We Can Do To Combat Racism: https://donnienicole.com/2015/06/18/9-things-we-can-do-to-combat-racism/.

Note: Thank you to the Abolition Institute for making this trip possible. I look forward to continuing to support the mission of eradicating slavery wherever it may be on the globe!

Road Trip Reflections

This past weekend, my husband and I dropped my bonus (step) son off at college in Montana. The drive from Chicago to Montana was about 21 hours. We decided to make it a thing and on the way back we drove through Yellowstone National Park and we viewed the Solar Eclipse in totality in Idaho. This added additional time to our schedule and we ended up being in the car traveling home and taking the scene route for 36+ hours total!

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I love travel in all forms, but I am particularly fond of road trips because they allow you to get off the grid, truly connect with the people you travel with and see beautiful parts of the country. I wanted to share some reflections on things I learned from this trip:

  1. Sometimes when you’re at high altitudes you have to slow down. The curves are sharper and the fall is more deadly. Sometimes we think that as we start to achieve our goals and live the life of our dreams that all of our problems will magically disappear. Puff said it best, “I don’t know what/they want from me it’s like/the more money we come across/ the more problems we see.” In my experience the more successful we become, the higher the stakes.

IMG_00942. A “hello” and a “smile” ease and dispel fears. America is full of tension right now and we could definitely feel that as we traveled through small and rural towns. What I understand is that people fear the unfamiliar. We spoke and smiled at every place we entered, and were filled with a sense of calm and comfort when people spoke and smiled at us.

3. A Walmart is the Sign that your town is on the map. Before dropping Solomon off to school the first thing we checked was where was the nearest Walmart, and where was the nearest Target. Both were in walking distance and both alerted us that Solomon would be totally find because he access whatever he needed.

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4. Deers like to come watch humans at night. While in Montana, I counted over 100 deer and most of them were on the side of the road. Either that is the best tasting grass, or they enjoy watching us, just as much as we enjoy watching them.

5.Rest stops have the best bathrooms. Restaurant and Gas Station bathrooms weren’t always the best. The rest stop bathrooms were incredible and it’s easier to pull off the side of the road, run into the rest stop and keep it moving.

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6. GPS still works, even when you have no cell service or wifi. When we were in the mountains our phones were not receiving any service. The great news is that once you put in a destination, even when the internet or service goes out the GPS still works! I was so thankful for this! Google Maps can literally get you where you need to be, with amazing service…. or none!

7. Always take the scenic route. It will be exactly what you need, when you need it. Nature feeds my soul. I enjoy living that big city life, but there is nothing that substitutes some good clean air, a beautiful body of water and greenery!

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8. Whenever you get too tired, pull over and take a nap. Sometimes we work ourselves to exhaustion – endangering ourselves and the people we come in contact with. Literally and figuratively, don’t be afraid to push the pause button. Nothing is worth risking your life and your wellbeing.

9. Curate your snacks wisely! They may become your meals. When I’m on road trips I prefer not to stop. So when I purchase snacks I try to purchase things that “keep” or are non-perishable and that can work at different times per day. A few weeks ago I went on a trip with some friends to Atlanta and our road trip food became our meal when we had a microwave in our hotel room. Most of the restaurants were closed and we were too exhausted to leave the room.

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10. Get gas when you can, and try not to go below half a tank because you never know when the next gas station is coming. This is another lesson that is both literal and figurative. “Fill up your tank.” Do things that inspire you and that give you life throughout this journey of life. Don’t wait until you get sick or have a nervous breakdown to take some time for yourself. Don’t wait until life forces you to “fill up.”

I’m always game for road trips because I welcome the time to be alone with my thoughts and to slow down the pace of my life. I hope these lessons from the road are as helpful for you as they were for me to experience!

 

Capturing Memories… 

I spent my Christmas Eve & most of my Christmas Day scrapbooking. In the last 2 years, I haven’t spent as much time scrapbooking, so my “Stuff To Scrapbook” Pile is overflowing.

Last year I spent some time sorting through things & I was able to get things into folders: 


I usually toss all of the stuff I want to scrapbook into bins. I have two bins that are overflowing because I’m so behind:


My goal is to sort the two bins into either stories I want to share or areas of my life (family, work, friends, etc.) to make scrapbooking things easier since they will be clustered together.

I also have to find a solution for the larger magazines and other memorabilia that is too large to put into a scrapbook. Currently I keep them in plastic craft boxes:


These are also great to hold scrapbook paper & supplies. I’m not crazy about how they look on shelves with the albums. 

Here are some of the pages I completed this weekend:


I counted and I have 20 volumes of scrapbooks:


I finished up my Mumbai, India Trip adding that to the Johannesburg Album, making that Volume 21 on the shelf:


I’ll keep you posted on my progress this week!

The Ultimate Packing & Travel List

I love to travel both domestically & internationally. Here are my packing & travel tips:

Caption: Packing Cubes allow you to better organize your outfits and make more room in your suitcase. Especially helpful if you are packing multiple people in one suitcase. img_0495

Caption: Hubby & I on our last adventure to St. Louis, MO. We regularly just pack up our bags and take a weekend trip somewhere. 

Clothing

  1. Be sure to look up the clothing & cultural norms (e.g. are women expected to dress modestly?)
  2. Look up the climate & understand the season you are traveling in.
  3. Consider the type of activities you will be doing? Do you need activewear? Dress up clothes, etc.?
  4. Pack clothing in a similar color palette to make packing shoes & accessories easier.
  5. Pack more underwear than you need. You never know when you may have a delayed flight or decide to stay extra time.
  6. Pack at least one outfit per day.
  7. Pack at least one swim suit and cover up.
  8. Shoes (think function over looks). Think neutrals: browns & blacks.
    • Walking/Athletic Shoes
    • Flip Flops
    • Dressy
    • Casual
  9. Scarves (great accessory and can also be used to “cover up.”)
  10. At least two “dress up” outfits
  11. Don’t forget your belt.
  12. Don’t forget your bras.

Medical 

  1. Prescription Medications
  2. Imodium (in case you get sick!)
  3. Pepto Bismol (some people prefer this over Imodium)
  4. Tylenol (or other preferred headache meds)
  5. Hand sanitizer

Carry-On Bag

  1. Try to keep it small!
  2. Blanket
  3. Pillow (Note: Many international flights provide both a blanket and a pillow, but I’m weird about germs and prefer my own)
  4. Socks (I like to take off my shoes during international flights & only wear my socks)
  5. Noise-canceling headphones (these are essential for traveling for me. I have a pair of Bose that I absolutely love).
  6. Reading Material
  7. More Water/Drinks (due to airport security, you will need to purchase these once you get past the security line & before you get to your gate)
  8. Compact Snacks (may be useful in your travels as well, depending on where you are going)
  9. Writing Material
  10. Print-outs of important things (your hotel reservation, ground transportation, itinerary, return-flight info)
  11. External battery (for laptop and other mobile devices)
  12. Assume no wifi or internet (even upon your arrival)
  13. Smart phone (for music, make sure your chosen streaming service plays music offline. I love Spotify, but you are required to turn the “offline” feature on, to make sure your playlists actually work when your device is in airplane mode.)
  14. Include a smaller envelope clutch or bag so you can stow the larger bag.
  15. Airplanes can get really cold. Be sure to dress in layers and have a jacket or extra hoodie to travel with.

Don’t Forget

  1. Make copies of your passport
    • One to leave at home with your friends/family
    • One to pack in your luggage in case something happens to your passport
  2. Make ground transportation arrangements
    • For when you arrive to your destination
    • For when you return home
  3. Leave room in your suitcase to bring things home. You WILL shop!
  4. Make a list of gifts/souvenirs to get and people to get them for.
  5. Look up travel norms for the country you are visiting.
    • Is it safe to travel via Taxi
    • Does the hotel offer an official shuttle
    • What are the tipping expectations
  6. Look into whether or not you need a Visa.
    • Especially true if you will be traveling to multiple countries. Sometimes you need a Visa to exit one country and enter another, regardless of your home country.
  7. Set a spending budget and stick to it!
  8. Let your banks know when and where you’re traveling (to avoid your account being frozen)
  9. Research where you want to go.
  10. Bring different types of bags.
    • a backpack
    • a clutch or small handbag or shopping bag
    • a pouch
    • Personally when traveling, I prefer hands free options. I also don’t usually travel with my designer bags depending on which country I am visiting.
  11. I don’t travel with much jewelry. Only earrings & my wedding ring. Flashy jewelry can make you stand out AND it also makes haggling/bargaining difficult because your jewelry is a signal that you are wealthy!
  12. Include a bag for dirty clothes (I hate for my clean clothes to mix with my dirty clothes while traveling. On the way back home, I remove all of the dirty clothes from the dirty clothes bag and repack them.
  13. Use travel packs/cubes, or employ the rolling method to make more space.

Hygeine/Cosmetics

  1. Toothbrush
  2. Toothpaste
  3. Mouthwash
  4. Soap
  5. Deodarant
  6. Oil or Perfume (I usually take a rollerball or two)
  7. Makeup remover wipes
  8. Sunscreen
  9. Lotion
  10. Cosmetics (keep in a travel case)
  11. Wash cloth (depending on where you are going)
  12. Beach towel (depending on where you are going)
  13. Dry Towl
  14. Pantiliners or sanitary napkins (these can be difficult to find in some areas and super expensive. Pack your own)
  15. Shower cap

Feel free to ask any questions you may have OR tips you may have in the comments section below!

Bon Voyage!!!!

My Love Affair with New Orleans…

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It is no secret that New Orleans is my favorite city outside of the Chicago, the city that I call home.

I’ve written about my love here…and here

The city of New Orleans hovers with an energy and a spirit that sticks to your thoughts. The architecture makes you feel like you’re stepping into a time capsule. Plaques throughout the city hint at just how long some of the buildings have been around. New Orleans is a fortress, that borders the Mississippi like an antique gold frame.

The only thing that I don’t like about New Orleans is the oppressive humidity (which happens mostly during the summer months). Outside of that it’s sensory perfection.

I had a chance to visit New Orleans last week to attend a conference with AARP.

We had an opportunity to tour HollyGrove – the neighborhood that Lil Wayne is from. We also had a chance to tour Bywater. In Hollygrove there is a neighborhood garden and farm, where residents are able to grow food and then sale it in the market. I spotted okra, bok choy and even organic milk and dairy products! They had a row of food where residents could fill a bag for $25.00.

StudioBE, created by artist Brandan “Bmike” Odums was super inspirational. It is a 30,000 square foot warehouse that is filled with art. StudioBE is SO hip-hop! I spent a couple of hours just taking in all of the art. Here are some of the favorite images from StudioBE:

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You can also follow Bmike on Twitter here and StudioBE on Instagram here and Facebook here.

You can also learn more about StudioBE here. StudioBE was recently featured in an episode of Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar and an article in Ebony here.

Across the street from StudioBE, is NOCCA – New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. NOCCA was founded in 1973 and is regional, pre-professional arts training center that offers students intensive instruction in culinary arts, dance, media arts: filmmaking & audio production, music (classical, jazz, vocal), theatre arts (drama, musical theatre, theatre design), visual arts, and creative writing. Students audition to study at the school tuition-free. The school has a Culinary Arts Program supported by world-famous chef Emeril Lagasse. Donda’s House works in the after school space, so it was exciting to see an arts-centered academic program! Here are my photos:

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Students work out of the Press St. Station and it is connected to the building. While we were there, Creative Writing students were giving evening presentations. Learn more about Press St. Station here.

The school was built on the site of a train station where the historic Plessy V. Ferguson case happened. Across the street from Bywater is the neighborhood Faubourg Marigny.

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I had the chance to visit Holy Trinity Chuch, the location where Solange had her wedding. Check out the photos here:

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While in New Orleans, I love to eat seafood and had the best Oysters I’ve ever had in my life a Neyow’s! Not only were the Oysters amazing, but so was everything on the menu (including the fried catfish and the fried chicken!). You have to have the signature Bow Wow drink which is 16 or so oz. of light & dark rum & fruit punch. Sip it slow, it will sneak up on you and they serve it in a to-go cup. I had the chance to meet the owner Tony and his wife Tanya was the chef! I’m always inspired to meet other couples who work together. Neyow’s will be opening up in a beautiful facility next door and they also own an event space across the street called Neyow’s Palace. Also, please have the bread pudding! It was served warm out of the oven & by far the best dessert I’ve ever tasted in my life! Check out Neyow’s on Yelp here.

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No visit to New Orleans is complete without hearing Rebirth Brass Brand at Maple Leaf.

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One day I hope to own an apartment or condo in New Orleans. I’d like to visit NOLA at least once a month at some point in the future because I love it THAT MUCH! Definitely adding NOLA to my vision board and if you have the opportunity to visit, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

My Trip To Abu-Dhabi – Part 1

I spent the last 8 days in Abu Dhabi, which borders Saudi Arabia & Oman, and it is directly across the Gulf from Iran. I also spent one day in Dubai, which is about 90 minutes away from Abu Dhabi. See map below:

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Ever since I traveled to Kingston, Jamaica in High School, I’ve been addicted to traveling. My trip to Abu Dhabi is the 3rd trip I’ve taken across the world on my own. My husband and I travel frequently together, but we are also fans of solo trips, because it is important to spend time alone reflecting, planning and growing. Che took a solo trip to Colombia about 3 weeks before my trip to Abu Dhabi.

The first time I took a trip alone across the world was to Mumbai, India and I was terrified! I was nervous about the super long flight (over 15 hours) with multiple stops and afraid of how I would be treated, specifically as a woman. My response to fear has always been to push myself. Rather than run away from the things that I fear, I find myself running, full speed ahead toward whatever I’m afraid of. Although it makes me uncomfortable, I have experienced tremendous growth in those moments.

I’m going to share some of my favorite photos from my trip over the next week. I was able to spend some time with my friend who teaches there. For us, it was basically a week long slumber party! We’re already planning our next visit!

I’ll start with my pics from the Al Ain Zoo, which is rated as the best zoo in the area. Essentially, Al Ain is like a suburb of Abu Dhabi. Please do not repost pics without giving me credit!

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Caption: This is the closest I’ve ever been to a lion. H was behind a glass, but we were pretty close to him. He was so beautiful that he looked fake. I also captured some great shots of him moving around. 

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Caption: I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many giraffes up close. The mountain in the background was a beautiful backdrop. 

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Caption: My friend captured this shot of me in front of the Giraffes. 

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Caption: I’d never seen Giraffes eat and it was almost like he didn’t have any knees because he stretched his front legs out as far as possible and then bent over from the neck to eat. A man dropped the food off using a wheel barrow. I think it was kale. 

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Caption: THIS was hilarious! This little monkey kept sticking his arm out to steal berries that had fallen off of a tree. He would look around to see how as looking and then quickly stick his arm out to get the berries and eat them. It was the cutest thing!DSCN2622

Caption: I’ve definitely never touched a camel before. He let me rub him, and then he nibbled on my fingers a bit. His mouth moved like a sock puppet and I was amused. It didn’t hurt at all. DSCN2632Caption: My favorite animal in the world is a peacock. This guy was caged, but I still had to capture a photo of him!

10 Reasons To Go Into The Woods

Blogging from a tent, that is being pounded by rain at the Sequoia Retreat Center. I’ve had the luxury of speaking about women with incarcerated loved ones, mass incarceration, feminism and so much more thanks to Essie Justice group! If you check out my Twitter @blkgrlunmasked, you can see some of the comments that resonated with me.

I wanted to share my pics from my nature walk today and also 10 reasons why you should go into the woods!!! I had a moment to meditate, listen to the earth and just spend some time with my own thoughts! 

10 Reasons to go Into The Woods:

   
    
    
    
    
 1. Nature is much louder and more present than anything human.

2. The cycle of life is crystal clear.

3. Multiple senses are awakened, especially when your senses are so used to (numb) to your regular environment.

4. Electronic service is bad and forces you to connect with others.

5. It’s a great place to get clarity and to work on your vision.

6. You get to be alone with your thoughts.

7. You see physical representations of the challenges in your life: steep hills, fog, barriers that blend in, etc.

8. It’s magical. 

9. You come face to face with fears you didn’t know you had – fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, etc.

10. You get really good photos!!!