About 25 years ago, I spent a month in Phoenix for work - and fell in love with it. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to return. So it's lovely to be back.
Because that desert light, man. It's truly like no other.
About 25 years ago, I spent a month in Phoenix for work - and fell in love with it. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to return. So it's lovely to be back.
Because that desert light, man. It's truly like no other.
The images coming out of Baltimore are horrifying. And honestly? When it comes to processing it all, I don't even know where to begin anymore.
I've written this blog now for over 11 years -- and almost without exception, I have focused on love and light. I've invited readers to see the light in their lives. I've invited people to see the light in each other. I've shared stories of commonality and resonance about people from all walks of life -- wealthy and poor, all races and religions, from all over the world. Every week, I share links proving that despite everything, this was a good week: links that inspire laughter or wonder, or awe at the beauty that people create all over our planet. I work pretty tirelessly to make Chookooloonks a haven of peace and light -- because I truly, deeply believe there aren't enough havens of peace and light in this world, and I want to be one of them.
But this latest Freddie Gray thing? Man, I'm tired. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed over 3 years ago, and since then, I have seen story after story after story reminding me that regardless of how hard I work to remain positive, how hard I work to share love and light, in this country, in a split second, I could be viewed as negative and bad person, a person worthy of death, simply because of the colour of my skin. Even if I do nothing wrong.
I shared the thoughts above with a white friend of mine not too long ago, and she suggested that I just turn off the news, and stop looking at the media, so that I could take care of myself and feel better. She meant well, but what she didn't realize was that watching the news wasn't what was making me feel bad. The fact is that I don't have to look at the news to know the state of racial affairs in this country. Because of who I am, and what I look like and what my family looks like, trust me, I know. What was making me feel bad is that I feel like I work so hard to show that the world is a good place, and the world seems so hell bent on proving to me that it's not.
And so, because I'm not willing to give up that easily, a break, to find my light again. I have a lot of travel coming up: I leave tomorrow for the Mom 2.0 Summit in beautiful Scottsdale, Arizona, where I'm going to inevitably run into good friends who will remind me what lovely souls they are, and by extrapolation, what lovely souls still exist in the world. (And if you're attending and you see me, please tap me on the shoulder and say hi. Friendly faces are exactly what I need right now!) Then I return to Houston briefly, before heading to the amazing country of Malawi, where I'm certain I'll see even more beauty and light. Then I return again for a short while before doing a little bit of personal travel. And then it'll be June, and things should be quiet for a while.
Throughout these trips, of course, I'll have my cameras with me, and I'm going to make a conscientious effort to find light. When I do, I'll pop in and share it with you -- but I'm not going to make an effort to craft long blog posts, or process deep thoughts, or anything like that over the next month. I suspect that my posts going forward for the next month are going to be pretty light on words. Because honestly, I just don't have it in me right now.
As always, I send you love, friends. Thanks for understanding.
Today, let's talk about something deeply personal: my hair.
For most of my life, my hair had been the bane of my existence. I remember every morning as a child, with my mother tugging and pulling at my huge hair, trying to tame it, occasionally wiping her brow, "Good LORD, you have a lot of hair!" before diving back in again. My sister, with her looser curls, had the "good hair." My hair, quite simply, was a trial.
Finally, when I was about 10 years old, my mother couldn't take it anymore, and took me for my first chemical relaxer. I admit that the prospect of having long, straight, silky hair, like some of the girls at my elementary school, was deeply exciting. (Although I was living in Trinidad at the time, the school I attended was built to cater to the children of the expats of the American company my dad worked for.) The actual experience of having my hair straightened, however, was horrifying. The process entailed putting a creamy paste consisting of sodium hydroxide, or lye, onto my hair for as long as I could stand it. It's painful, and because my hair is so curly, it required leaving it on my hair for almost 25 minutes -- and I was sobbing, begging them to wash it off after five. At the end of the appointment, though, I did have long, silky black hair, which I proudly swayed and flicked as much as possible ... even though a week later, sheets of my scalp began peeling off.
And of course, any new hair I grew was curly, so the process had to be repeated every 6-to-8 weeks. It only took a couple of times before my mother tired of my wailing at the salon (not to mention that since I hadn't actually combed my own hair in my life before, so I wasn't particularly good at combing the long straight hair either), when she finally decided in exasperation to cut it all off. And I mean all off.
At first, I loved it -- it was so easy, I thought it suited me, and required little or no upkeep! Sure it was a bit annoying that occasionally people would think I was a boy, but I was still living in Trinidad, where it wasn't uncommon for girls to have really short afros, so it wasn't really a big deal.
But then, our family was transferred to Houston.
At 11 years old, moving to a really homogenous suburb of Houston, Texas, my blackness and foreignness could not have stood out more. Both students and teachers at my new school started making fun of the way I looked and the way I talked -- and for me, survival meant changing things, fast. I got really good at speaking with an American accent, and I immediately told my mom I wanted to grow my hair out again, and start straightening it again. And so, back to the salon we went. Eventually I got used to the pain of the chemical relaxers, and stopped complaining. But when, two years later, my father was transferred back to Trinidad, I was relieved to ask my mother to let me go back to my short hair again.
Finally, after living in Trinidad for two years, my dad was transferred again to Houston, and again, I started growing my hair out and straightening it. By this point, I was in my last year of high school, and my beliefs about my own hair were fixed: my hair only looked good if it was cropped extremely short, or if was straightened when long. In my mind, this was an immutable fact, and for the next 15 years or so, until I was in my early 30s, I lived my life by this fact: either cropped very short, or once it grew a couple of inches, chemically straightened. Then, in my 30s, I discovered "texturizing" -- which basically meant using the same chemical lye relaxer, but only leaving it on for a short amount of time, rendering the curls looser. Finally, some relief from the torture of straightening, and a way to give even my teeny-weeny afro the appearance of "good hair"! I was sold, and "texturized" my hair for the next 10 years of my life, long or short.
And then came 2008.
I was 41 years old, the recession had begun and I had just quit my well-paying job to work at home full-time. We were watching our pennies, and I knew that my texturizing-and-or-frequent-haircutting-habit (required to maintain my very short hair) was going to have to be seriously curtailed. So I decided to see what would happen if I stopped texturizing my hair entirely, and gave up on every-six-weeks haircuts. I called it my Recession Hair Experiment. And I started googling and researching hair products that would make my natural hair look ... well, at least respectable.
After a ton of research, I found some products that worked really beautifully, and I was astonished to discover that as my hair grew, I liked it. In fact, I love my hair in its natural state -- a state I hadn't actually seen at any perceptible length for thirty years. I was surprised that my natural curl, with the right conditioners, was exactly the kind of curl I'd been trying to achieve for a decade with texturizers! As my hair grew longer, I got mad at myself for buying into the belief that I had "bad hair" or that my hair in its natural state was unprofessional, or unkempt, or a trial -- and livid to learn that I wasn't the only black girl who grew up feeling this way. In my case, it was just a matter of learning my hair -- the kinds of products that worked best, and the best way to treat it. It's been a long learning process, but in hindsight, for me, it has actually been a fun one. And admittedly, I'm still learning.
The last time I cut my hair really short was October 2013, right before I left for my trip to Australia -- I wanted it as short as possible so I didn't have to think about it on what was promising to be a very full, busy trip. Then when I returned, I decided to start growing it again. Normally, I can stand growing it for about a year or so before I try to cut it again -- but this time, I decided to go whole hog: I've decided to keep growing it until I turn 50 (in 2017). Sort of my little personal outward expression of thriving. And I've not left it grow for that long of a period ... well ever. In fact, at 18 months since that last haircut, this is the longest it's ever been in its natural state since that first chemical relaxer when I was 10. As I mentioned before, I'm loving how it looks -- but there are some practical things I wrestle with, like it takes a lot longer in the mornings to get ready. So I've been wanting to experiment with different ways to wear it, and tie it back. Recently, I came across this little history lesson about tignons, or hair scarves: back in colonial days, tignon laws were passed in Louisiana and the Caribbean mandating that women of colour cover their hair, ostensibly as a way to keep them from vying for the attentions of white colonial men -- and in protest, instead of interpreting them as a badge of dishonour, the women turned them into a fashion statements. You know I loved this. And so I've become determined to learn how to tie a head scarf properly -- what you see in the photo at the top of this post is my first attempt that I'm happy with. I suspect that on busy travel (like my upcoming trip to Malawi) and on hot Texas days, you'll find me in headscarves like this more often (read: I'm about to start spending obscene amounts of money on long, cheap, colourful scarves!). But I love wearing my hair wild and huge, as well. It's lovely to have options.
The point is that black hair style and fashion -- especially in the United States, and I suspect anywhere where people of African descent are in the minority -- has social and political implications, and "rules" that society tries to tell us we're supposed to navigate. For this reason, no matter how a black woman chooses to wear her hair, I don't judge. But here's what, friends: when it comes to our hair in its natural state (and this is actually true no matter what race or ethnicity we are), it's all good hair. No matter how you choose to wear your hair, do it because you love how you look, or you like the idea of experimenting with your hair, or as a form of self-expression -- do not do it from a place of shame, which is what I'd been doing all those years.
Ain't nobody got time for that.
As someone who is growing out her hair, I love looking at progress photos, so I thought I'd share mine. The following shows my hair the last day I cut it really short (i.e. "the big chop"), and my hair every 6 months since then, most recently a couple of weeks ago. I've been sharing periodic shots on my Instagram account, as well (tagging them all #afroliciousby50, to keep me on task). I'll keep saving all of the 6 months shots going forward, and will likely share them all when I turn 50, a little over two years from now. After that, I'll decide what I'm going to do with my hair -- leave it long, or cut it all off again. Or maybe dreadlock it? You never know.
This was a good week! Here's why:
• My cold is pretty much gone, alleluia! I forced myself to stay in bed for a day, and coupled with Marcus' Magic Cure-All-Made-From-Scratch Soup, I'm feeling as right as rain. (Before you ask, unfortunately I can't share the recipe, because he makes it differently every time, as imagined on-the-spot from his very head. I do know that his concoctions usually include both chicken and shrimp, a ton of corn, and obscene amounts of ginger, garlic and pepper. God bless him, I'd have married him for his cooking alone.)
• Astronaut Reid Weisman discusses a photo he loves. Actually, all the photos he shares at that link are mesmerizing. (Also, I'm a little geeked that he shoots the same camera I do!) Make sure to have your sound turned up (or your headphones on).
• Woolgathering is one of those quiet little blogs I've actually been following for over a decade at this point -- and it suddenly dawned on me that I've never shared her with you. Elizabeth, the artist behind this site, shares a sketch a day -- just simple drawings of her life. She never fails to bring a smile to my face.
• May I one day have this woman's spirit. (Warning, salty language!)
• 7 lost American slang words. They're sort of woofy, if you get me.
• For those of you who enjoy the togs posts, I realize it's been a while since I've done one (it turns out that taking full-length self-portraits is hard). In the interim, however, I thought it would be fun to share the items in my life -- clothing, and other things as well -- that I really enjoy. And so, I've developed a little carousel of my favourite things (inventively called, "Karen's Favourite Things") found at the footer of this site. Some of them are affiliate-linked, some are not; however all of them are things that I actually own and use in my offline life, and recommend unreservedly. (Also, if you'd like to see them all in one place, you can find them here.) I'll update as I fall in love with new products accordingly.
• And finally, for the song of the day: this A M A Z I N G yoga demonstration from Laruga Glaser, a Sweden-based yoga instructor. Even though I admit I was cringing through some of the poses (how does her body do that?!), there's no doubt they she is jaw-droppingly stunning.
And on that shockingly bendy note, have a great weekend, friends. See you next week.
I'm still in time out: my fight against this cold continues, but I think I'm winning, since I'm able to get some work done today. Alleluia.
I figured you guys were sick of looking at my cold medicine, so I'm just popping in to update Chookooloonks with a couple of photos of the jasmine that is currently blooming in our back garden. I still can't breathe through my nose, but I have it on good authority that the aroma is intoxicating.
More soon, friends, as soon as I can breathe.
Song: Summer breeze as performed by Jason Mraz
Yesterday, I came down with a cold. So last night, I took some Nyquil and went to bed early.
This morning, I woke up feeling a bit better. So I thought to myself, "Self, what you need is some exercise. Get moving! Shake things up a bit! You'll feel better!"
So I did. And during the during, I did feel a lot better!
But now it's the after.
And I'm taking to my bed.
More when I'm feeling a bit more human, friends.
This weekend, my friends Mark and Morgan and their two children were in town for a family wedding, and we were lucky enough to have them stay at our house. Their elder child, William, is my godson, and I hadn't seen him in almost 18 months. He's definitely not a baby anymore -- dude is all boy.
He's also one of the most photogenic kids I've ever captured with my camera. So naturally, when he ran outside to our back garden with a bubble gun, I ran right after him.
Those eyes, man.
Even though they left yesterday, we've happily already made plans to visit them at their new home in Boston later this year.
I plan on chasing him with my Nikon there, too.
This was a great week. I mean:
• Some dear friends are spending the weekend with us; also, I had the opportunity to photograph my friend Sarah, a lady priest, at work. (Related: the phrase "lady priest," much like "lady astronaut" or "lady firefighter," warms the very cockles of my feminist heart.)
• A couple of days ago, I shared a photo I took of a pride of lions in Kenya a few years ago. I was pretty proud of that photo, until I saw this one. For the record, that photographer is nuts. But man, what a great shot.
• Speaking of great photographers, this 5-year-old Instagrammer is pretty epic.
• Girls in Afghanistan are prohibited from riding bikes. But boy, can they shred.
• I don't camp -- I always say my parents sent me to college to ensure I'd never have to sleep on the ground -- but I have to say, Xanthe always makes it look enticing.
• And finally, the song of the day: Jennifer Hudson, riding around in a car and singing her lungs out with James Corden. Hear me now: it is officially on my life list to be in a car with these two at some point in my lifetime. For they would give me unmitigated joy.
Click here or on the image below to watch.
Have a great weekend, friends. See you next week.
You know how sometimes when you need to be calm, you close your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere -- a favourite spot from your past, perhaps -- that brings you peace?
The photo above is that spot for me: my happy place. Specifically, it's right where the woman and her companion are swimming in front of the "Undersea Tobago" boat.
This is the little private cove at Coco Reef Hotel, in Tobago. It's a nice-enough hotel, but really, the best part is this little cove right behind the hotel. It gently slopes to probably a good 20-foot depth, and right near the rocks you see in the picture is pretty great snorkeling, with tons of sea life. When we lived in Trinidad, Marcus, Alex and I would quite frequently take the 15-minute flight over to Tobago for a long weekend and stay there, invariably spending ever day on that beach. We'd snorkel, swim out with Alex and swim back, have lunch at the beach café, and then do it again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
And right in that spot, where the woman is swimming with her companion, is where I used to like to lie on my back and float, without a care in the world.
That's my happy place, man. Every time.
This photo was taken in 2011, when I was visiting with Alex. I really hope we can go back one day.
Last week, when I mentioned that I was in the weeds, I said that I have an epic international trip on the horizon -- a trip that warranted its own post. This is that post.
In about a month, I'm headed back to Africa: this time, to the country of Malawi.
I'll be returning again with the amazing ONE Campaign, an organization I've been passionate about for several years now. I first traveled with ONE to Kenya back in 2011, as one of a team of bloggers, to learn and tell about the good work being done by the Kenyan government with the assistance of foreign aid: specifically in fighting poverty, and preventable diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. It was an eye-opening, joy-filled trip, full of experiences I'll never forget.
The following year, ONE invited me to join them on another similar trip to Ethiopia. I was so excited to travel with them again, accompanying a new group of bloggers, in a support role as their photographer. Ethiopia was a totally different experience -- quite distinctive from its Kenyan neighbour -- but our time there was no less exhilarating. I was beyond grateful to have been invited to travel to Africa again.
So needless to say, I'm so honoured to have been invited by the ONE Campaign yet again -- but this time, ONE is doing this trip in partnership with the amazing Heifer International. Next month, ONE and Heifer will be traveling to Malawi with a delegation of writers and social media influencers who will use their voices to share more stories of success and hope with their communities. The hope is that through their visits and storytelling, they'll engage women, moms and families around the world on issues that are important to all of us. The team will travel from Lilongwe, Malawi's capital city, to Blantyre, Malawi's centre of finance and commerce, and along the way they'll meet with women, farmers and school kids, and visit health clinics, agriculture programs and organizations and projects that have done amazing work with the benefit of foreign assistance.
And again, I'll be the team's photographer.
As if that's not exciting enough, the team that ONE and Heifer have pulled together is an amazing one, comprising the following rock stars:
Be sure to check them all out -- they're really pretty incredible people, and I can't wait to travel with them.
As I mentioned, the team leaves in May, so I still have a month to prepare (beginning with getting a few shots at the travel clinic yesterday ... oww). And of course, I have close friends who are visiting this weekend, not to mention a talk to give at the always-wonderful Mom 2.0 Summit in a couple of weeks. But I wanted to share this exciting news with you -- and naturally, I can't wait to share images and stories from the trip.
Stay tuned, my friends.
About ONE: ONE is an international, nonpartisan campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Cofounded by Bono, ONE raises public awareness and work with political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency so governments are accountable to their citizens. ONE does not raise money itself to build schools, hospitals and the like, but does its work by advocacy and campaigning so that government funds continue to flow to programs that make a difference in people’s lives. Click here to become a member of ONE, knowing that ONE never asks for your money, only your voice. And be sure to follow ONE on Facebook or on Twitter @ONECampaign.
About Heifer: Heifer’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant. For information, visit Heifer.org, read their blog, and follow them on Facebook or on Twitter @Heifer.