Guest Blog: First Impressions

•February 26, 2014 • 1 Comment

By Bianca Mona

Disclaimer:  This post was extremely difficult to write.  First, I was worried about being offensive so my word selection was long and tedious. I didn’t want to seem judgmental and biased. Then I was worried about the fallibility of first impressions.  First impressions are tricky.  Some are spot on and remain, while others are adjusted as time goes by and an experience is had.  In the end, this post is a mix of my judgments (which I am slowly working on) and some things I’ve noticed.

My semi-liberal self was determined to enter “Africa” with an open mind.  The reality was I had no clue what to expect.  I had no frame of reference, so why bother with assumptions or expectations.  I told myself, Bianca, just be open to the experience.

So I entered Johannesburg, I thought, with open mind and open heart.  What I would soon discover is my subconscious mind had been forming a narrative that would be disproven within days of my arrival.

My initial thoughts are as follows:

1)       The South African sun shines brighter (and longer).

Generally the weather is nothing like I expected.  The days hover around 85 degrees, while the nights go down to anywhere between 68 and 70 degrees.   My mornings here are intense.  The sun rises at a quarter to 5 and vividly shines until a quarter to 7 in the evening.  This sunrise is crisp and refreshing.  During the days, the sun slowly and tenderly kisses my skin.   We have a pleasantly intimate relationship.

2)       The diversity of the people.

I thought South Africa would be Black, White, and Indian.  Ohhhh I was so wrong.  Everybody and their mama lives here.  EVERYBODY!  Besides South Africa’s 11 official languages, in the course of the day I will also hear Wolof, German, French, Cantonese, Finnish, and Hausa.  Most people are multilingual, speaking anywhere from 2 to 12 languages.  One day, I asked one of my bilingual peers, “How do you determine which language to speak when approaching a stranger?”  She simply said, “You try one and if it doesn’t work you try another.  You eventually figure it out.”

3)      Even pavement.

I think the only reason I noticed this is because New York’s streets are riddled with holes.  Every block and every neighborhood is made of bumpy, rocky roads.  And although the city repairs the roads annually, within 2 months, the New York City streets are fucked up again.  I find this perplexing because Johannesburg, which is the size of 3 Brooklyns (which means it’s huge) generally has smooth, pothole-free streets.  There are more people and more traffic, yet nicer streets.  In conjunction, this is a mountainous, hilly place.  Terrain is not flat at all.

4)      Mall culture

Since, I have gotten here, I found that the people that I am around and observe really like malls.  The mall is the hub for all sorts of activity and transactions.  The grocery store is in the mall.  The bank. The phone company. The drug store (referred to here as the chemist). The nail shop.  All in the mall.  I haven’t been to the mall so much since I was 13.

5)      Smoking and drinking.

I thought smoking was passé.  Didn’t the world get the memo that you will get cancer from smoking?  Well, maybe the memo didn’t reach South Africa, because I see many young, brilliant, “healthy” folks smoking cigarettes.  So many people smoke here that I am starting to wonder if the notion that one develops cancer from smoking is propaganda.  Is secondhand smoke rhetoric because no one gives a damn about blowing smoke in my face.  I guess everyone has a fix.  Mine is bread and cake.  For others its tobacco.

Oh but the alcohol here is divine.  (Even the tap water here is delicious.)  Fabulous bottles of wine for like 4 and 6 bucks.  The drinking, of something, happens at every meal.  And it’s kinda endless.  Which makes me wonder, how do you know some is an alcohol if that much alcoholic consumption is taking place?  I have had at least one drink almost every day since arriving.  I soon will have to dry out.

6)       General landscape (architectural, neighborhoods, and the like)

The white colonizers in South Africa were clever as hell.  They systematically created a robust city and beautifully landscaped homes immediately surrounding the central downtown, while simultaneously creating slums (aka townships), partly modeled after Native American reservations in Canada, and barring people of color (anyone none white) from these affluent areas.  My point being, Johannesburg is not “third world.” (I hate common vernacular usage of this term.  For the record, “third world” country is not a country that simply is primitive, underdeveloped, or poor, as most people think.  In fact, a third world country is actually just a country that is not considered a capitalist country (first world) and not considered a communist country (2nd world).  This term was further defined during in “April 1955, twenty-nine countries from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East came together for a diplomatic conference in Bandung, Indonesia, intending to define the direction of the postcolonial world. Representing approximately two-thirds of the world’s population, the Bandung conference occurred during a key moment of transition in the mid-twentieth century—amid the global wave of decolonization that took place after the Second World War and the nascent establishment of a new cold war world order. Conference participants such as Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Zhou Enlai of China, and President Sukarno of Indonesia seized this occasion of change to attempt the creation of a political alternative to the dual threats of Western neocolonialism and the cold war interventionism of the United States and the Soviet Union.”  http://books.google.co.za/books/about/Making_a_World_After_Empire.html?id=yRdG3-rELNkC&redir_esc=y)  The homes and neighborhood here are simply beautiful.  Old and historic with tons of lush fauna.  And yes while the masses of Black South Africans still remain in township match box houses, these places too, are undergoing a facelift as the Black middle class expands. South Africa is not just your stereotypical, National Geographic’s, tittys out, loincloth nation.

Phew…that was a lot.  Here’s some other random facts about JHB:  http://www.wits.ac.za/placesofinterest/16403/johannesburg_at_a_glance.html

Each day I’m growing and expanding my thoughts about this complex and intriguing place.

The Churches in My Life

•February 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Lately, the only places that I seem to travel to are churches. Maybe, my spiritual compass is trying to point me “true” North? Maybe, my spiritual fuel is running on empty and the only place that refills me are churches? I do not know exactly why I now, make time for churches, but I do. It has proved to be very difficult to share something so routine with you all.  Instead of sharing what I thought I would write about, let me share what is on my mind.

This week, I went to run an errand in Brooklyn and passed the church where I am a pseudo member of in Brooklyn Heights.  I started to reflect on my spiritual journey and I started to think about churches from other countries.

In Rwanda, the closest church to me served as a small memorial of the Genocide. It was a building that I had to be pass everyday. It also mirrored many other dimensions of my life during my time in Rwanda. I acknowledged that church, only because I had to because there were small parts of me that could not go into that memorial. It was a small and dark place that held the villages pain.  

In Haiti, there was one church in Port-au-Prince that was very special to me. It was a reminder after a long road trip, that I was almost home. It seemed very inviting, at least, that is the way that I remember it.  Months after,  I remember passing it when I came back to Haiti after the earthquake and it was a pile of grey, dusty rubble. No longer a reminder, that I was almost home, instead a reminder of other people’s pain.

In Rwanda, I learned the power of truth and  reconciliation outside of church. In Haiti, I understood and valued community outside of church. In New York, my current home, church, has provided me with this subtle routine, that I think I desperately craved. And out of this routine, I receive spiritual refueling, stability and deeper roots to my life in New York.

Are there any places of worship that hold a special place in your heart? PLease share them in the comments section below.

 

Mugonero, Rwanda

 

 

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

 

Brooklyn, New York

 

 

Guest Blog: Insomnia X jet lag = blessings hidden in…

•January 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I wasn’t warned about this!

What I wasn’t prepared for was a lack of sleep.  I’ve suffered from sleep deprivation in the not so distant past for many reasons.  The first reason is just staying up really late.  Sometimes, I wouldn’t go to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning and wake up 4 or 5 hours later.  I’m pretty sure I consciously stayed awake later as a means of avoiding the next day.  The days I deemed most important leading up to South Africa were filled with me feeling unsuccessful and pathetic.  What I realized later is that I was too tired to do anything productive because of my lack of sleep.  After a while my insomnia returned and over the last few months, I stayed awake for days.  When I did fall asleep one of two things would happen.  I would either, toss-and-turn, never finding a comfortable spot or I would have hellish dreams.  Although my eyes were closed I was fully aware of my discomfort.  If I did reach REM sleep, I was plagued with all sorts of harassing thoughts.  I had dreams about transitioned relatives, old lovers, violence, and homelessness.  In one dream I was an undercover assassin, forced to kill Jill Scott to maintain my cover.

Once again, I regularly suffer through restless nights.  Ironically, I was surprised at how tired I’d become over the past 6 months.  I’m always tired.  This tiredness hangs over my head like a gray rain cloud, following me wherever I go.  What’s scary was I didn’t know when it would let up.  The many unknowns that lay ahead, especially my upcoming trip to Johannesburg, continued to haunt me. I may look calm and cool on the outside, rarely verbally expressing my inner thoughts of worry and insecurity.   This occurs because my stress and doubt manifest in my dreams.  In my dreams I face uncontrollable emotions and consequences such as death, haplessness, all sorts of inconveniences, and turmoil.

So as I prepared for my journey to South Africa, I prayed the most for peace, peace of mind specifically.  I hoped that my thoughts would calm down enough to enjoy the moments.  While traveling to South Africa once again, I suffered from restless sleep.  As we all know, sleep on a plane is the pits.  I crossed several time zones during terribly long flights, thus adding to my dishevelment.  During the 16-hour flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg, I maybe slept 3 hours.  This small amount of sleep was also interrupted by a stewardess who kept awakening me for meals and snacks (I’m not complaining, I was grateful for this food, just saying).

When I finally arrived in Johannesburg, I was a hot sleep walking zombie mess!  My landlord was there to give me a lift, thankfully, but when we arrived at her place we stayed up talking for at least another hour and then after bathing I headed to bed.  I lay in bed for another hour, reading and then forced myself to close my eyes.  I didn’t have high hopes for this modest bed.  To my dismay but relief (and happiness) this bed performed magic.

I slept 10 hours, peacefully.  No tossing.  No turning.  No nightmares.  No interruptions. 10 hours of sound, restful sleep.

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The Rebuilding of Haiti

•January 12, 2014 • 2 Comments

Four years ago, goodoo goodoo (earthquake, ground moving) became a part of everyones vernacular. Many remember, exactly where they were when the earthquake happened and the exact moment, when they found out that their family or friends made it out safely or perished. Since that day, a new Haiti has emerged.  New political leaders, promising ambitious plans for its citizens and for those working in and “for Haiti”.  Haiti, is rebuilding and while hope in contagious, a new population has emerged that are easily cast aside: the vulnerable. As Haiti, becomes “open for tourism” and attracts international investors, the poor, young girls, women, the elderly and the disabled must not be forgotten or pushed aside into new slums. The new Haiti seems promising for “everyone”, many people, genuinely want to see this country finally thrive. Yet, we must always ask ourselves at what cost? 

 

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                      The first elderly woman in the area where I was working in 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

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This tent would be for some of the elderly people that lost their homes. Younger men were tasked with building a tent for them.

 

 

 

 

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                          Morning house chores delegated to young girls

 

 

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    A young girl, who wanted to know specifically, what I would be bringing to her town.

 

 

Back at it again: Themes and musings for a happy 2014

•January 11, 2014 • 1 Comment

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2014 is here!!!

It has been way too long since I wrote a blog.  So much has happened and I often leave the blogging as the last thing on my “To Do” list.  The worst part about it not being a priority is that a day or two easily becomes 3 months.  In the interest of new beginnings and transitions, I am once again deciding to give blogging a go.  I realized that part of getting this blog thang happening is putting a structure in place to do it.  With that in mind, this post will be all about my plans for 2014.

For the past couple of years, I have used a theme and Happy Black Woman’s 31 Day Reset to turn my life right side up!!  Since, I started to add structure to the framework for achieving the realistic goals I set for myself, I have really been able to change my stank eye ratio from 80 percent stank eye/20 percent not to 50 percent stank eye/50 percent not.  Believe me this is a great improvement.   And with that in mind, I give you my theme for 2014. 

FINDING MY VOICE! 

Now, for those of you that know me, this may seem kind of odd.  However, once I explain it in detail I think it will make a bit more sense.  My theme is in 2 parts.  The first part is around financial fitness/wellness/literacy.  Finding my financial voice means that I will spend this year with my new boo.  Who is my new boo?  My budget, checking account, savings account, home savings account and anything else that has to do with money or financial fitness.  I need and want to find balance in this area of my life.  The only way for me to do that is to become comfortable with money.  I need to be comfortable with talking about it, reading about it, saving it and sometimes not feeling like I need it.   I have a short list of goals like finally taking advantage of those free financial planning services that I have through my 403(b), taking a first time home buying course to see if my dream brownstone is actually possible without a sponsor and will play a lovely little game where I actually save the money that is in my savings account.   Of course, this didn’t happen over night.  It took some time for me to get my spending under control, cut down my debt (a little bit) and realize that I didn’t have to suffer to get control over my finances.  I am still not perfect but I am on my way to being balanced.  I am pretty excited about it. 

The second part of my theme is finding my voice through written and oral communication.  Of course, we all put on our resumes that we have excellent written and oral communication skills.  I believe that is true for some of us.  However most of us could use a bit of practice.  So that is what I plan to do.  I am excited to take on new writing assignments at work and have started a writing circle/group with a wonderful friend where we carve out at least 2 hours once a month to work on writing.  We are going to have a grammar lesson and time to just put it all out there on the virtual or real paper.  This group takes me back to my favorite course in the 5th and 6th grade when I had a teacher that required me to write whatever I wanted for at least an hour per day.  I may not have been the best writer but I was confident and engaged.  My mind went places and I need to find that place again.  The place where my skills and confidence meet to form something.  It may not be perfect but it is something that I am proud of.  In fact, this blog is my first step in that structure.  My hope is that I get at least 12 posts for the year.  

 So dear friends.  Yes, all 12 of you that read this blog.  What is your theme for 2014?  I cant wait to hear from you and look forward to the journey that is before us.  Just think, the Traveling Womanists doesn’t just have to go to a place far far away.  This Traveling Womanists is on multiple journeys.  This one just happens to be to a location that you cant find on a map. 

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Guest Blog: The truth about consulates: Preparing for my big journey to South Africa

•January 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The trip to the South African Consulate.  Deep Sigh.

My friends and colleagues have been encouraging me to visit the Consulate for months.

 One said, just visit and get on their radar.

 Get on their radar?  What does that mean? But after receiving this recommendation for the third time,  I finally took the trip, during a snow storm, all the way from my Brooklyn home to E. 33rd and 3rd Ave in Manhattan.  Waiting for me behind the glass window was a 75 plus, year old woman.  I stepped up and here’s how the conversation went:

Me:  Hi, I’m here to speak with someone about a work visa.

Consulate Representative (CR):  It’s all on the website.

Me:  Oh yes, I looked at the website and that’s why I’m here.  I have questions about work visas.

CR:  It’s all on the website.

Me:  Yes, I reviewed the website and I have questions.  I want to know what my options are for obtaining a work visa.

CR:   That’s between you and the employer.

Me:  Well, I don’t have an employer.  Is it possible to get a visa without a job?

CR:  Your employer helps you get a visa.

Me:  Oh so, when I get a job offer the job helps me get a visa?

CR:  No you get a visa.

Me:  Oh, ok. What are my visa options?  What do I need?

CR:  That’s all on the website.

Me:  Well since I’m here can you give me an application so I can review it and get some clarification while I’m here?

CR:  The application is on the website.

Me:  (My voice gets louder with annoyance) Yes, I know, but can’t I get a paper    application here?

 

She gives it to me.  I look it over.

 

Me:  I have questions.  Is there anyone I can talk to here?

CR:  No.

Me:  So while I’m completing this application, if I run into trouble there’s no

one I can talk to? No one eight-hundred number to call?

CR:  No.

Me:  Well what’s the difference between the General Work Permit, Exceptional Skills Permit, and the Quota Work Permit?

CR:  It’s all on the paper.

Me:  But I have questions.

She looks at me.  Finally after 20 minutes of this back-and-forth, another woman finally gets up from her desk and says, I can answer your questions.  I thought to myself, “you heard all of this and you are just now stepping up?”  We stepped over to another window and I proceeded to go through the checklist of each type of visa.  As I thought there were a number of criteria in which I needed clarification.  She answered the questions and then the BOMB SHELL…

you have to come back to your country of origin to obtain a visa.

 Me:  Wait!  If I go to South Africa and get offered a job, I can’t apply for a visa there?

CR 2:  No you have to come back here.

Me:  And how long does it take to get a visa?

CR 2:  4 weeks.

Me:  And there’s no office in Johannesburg at all where I can apply for a visa?

CR 2:  No.

So what’s the lesson folks?  Due diligence.

I feel in my heart that this trip is destined.  I am meant to explore the world at this time.  I can’t begin to tell you the signs I have and continue to receive about South Africa.  From car songs to random emails about South African speakers in New York to discovering a pin of the South African flag in my mom’s dresser.  Even my dirt cheap airline ticket was a sign.  Although, I know this is exactly what/where I am supposed to be doing at this very moment, one still has to be completely informed.  If I want to relocate to another country, it would be nice to know all of the regulations regarding immigration, visas, and permits.  Silly of me to think I could simply go to a country and get a work visa there.

Huh!

So, now my focus during this trip is to proceed with in-person interviews, establishing contacts, and building networks.  I will then return in March, once my 90-day visit expires, and obtain a work visa:  General Work Permit, Exceptional Skills Permit, or Quota Work Permit. 

My next questions:  Can I apply for all three at one time?  If I get denied one kind, can I apply for another? Sigh…

Am I Ready to leave? South Africa or Bust.

•December 31, 2013 • 1 Comment

Hello everyone. We are sharing the journey of Ms. Bianca Mońa in a three part series, as she prepares to leave for South Africa. Please feel free to share comments and let us know when you might have felt this way, before your trip.

Highs and lows. My highs are having people that remind me of all of things I need to do.

They give suggestions and ignite ideas and generally focus me. These people make sure I

have complete to-do lists and remind me, sometimes gentle and sometimes forcefully, to

complete the tasks. These friends offer to help me pack and purge. These friends offer

space in their storage units and rent zipcar to make sure we can safely travel there in the

snow storm. And most importantly these friends send affirmations through a myriad of

tactics including prayers and pep-talks. For all of this I am grateful and humbled.

 

Last week, I had my greatest high. No, not a job offer. No envelopes of cash. But a good

hardy cry. It was in a public space in front of plenty of people, but there before I knew

it I was crying. Gushing, really. And it felt soooo good. It was the release I needed to

relax, to find calmness, and find honesty. The tears were a release to admit that I am

scared and elated. Nervous and fearless. Worried and careful. Sometimes experiencing

all of these emotions at the same time. But tears are healing and I have been on a high

knowing that everything is perfect and complete and will unfold magically as needed.

 

The Lows. The same ole, same ole. Money and doubt. But this is the fullness of life.

One can not completely appreciate the good if not for the bad. And how does one grow

if not faced with barriers or hurdles? These lows aid in building character. Right? Well

that’s what they tell me.

 

Bianca Mońa is an arts administrator, curator, educator, advocate, and artist. She was a consultant for the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (Manhattan), the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women (Bronx), and gallery manager for City Without Walls (Newark, New Jersey). Most recently, she served in the education department at the Studio Museum in Harlem while founding the Newark Black Artists Oral History Project. Her artwork has been featured in the Gallery Aferro and Bushwick Open Studios. She holds a bachelor’s degree in arts administration from Dillard University (New Orleans), and two master’s degrees (art education and interdisciplinary studies) from San Jose State University and Teachers College, Columbia University.  Ms. Mońa is currently embarking on her next adventure,  relocating to South Africa.

 
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