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I thought I was over most of my body image insecurities...

Jun. 13th, 2008 | 06:53 pm

Until I lost weight.  I guess that's one way I know I'm Black...but most women in whichever ethnic group would probably be very happy to be in my situation.  So what's my problem?

I have the same problem that most people do: I've been heavily marketed to all of my life, and sometimes I listen too much to other people.  Because the weight loss was actually a result of a more active and frugal lifestyle, and a less junky diet.  (Yeah, "frugal" is being used as a euphemism just like you suspect.)  So a sane person would try to maintain this, right?  But I'm obviously insane, because I've been sitting on my ass, eating bowls of ice cream every day (intentionally), and maybe once a day staring at the gap between my thighs where there has been none since I was about 10 years old.  "My thighs don't rub together anymore..." I said to my mother when I realized it too late.

When did it start?  I think my father was the first person to say something to the effect of "you look thinner."  Followed by my mother who agreed with him, then my sister who said I still had "a little" booty , then the woman who does my taxes(!)  She said I was "bony."  Of course, El Novio "didn't notice."  I guess I believe him.  He clearly isn't turned off by the way I look.

Then my father made me cry when he told me my breasts look smaller.  I don't know if he was trying to "scare me straight" or what, but it almost worked.   

But I've realized that the habits I followed that resulted in weight loss were actually good habits (I also realized that I started wearing padded bras last year and the breast thing was all an illusion; they're as tiny as they ever were).  Like drinking a lot of water, walking on average a kilometer a day and exercising every weekend.  Not eating sweets every single damn day, and cooking instead of eating out.  So...I bought a new pair of pants that fit from the 2nd hand store, and make sure I do what makes me feel good, whether that's eat some ice cream because I'm in the mood, or go for a nice long walk.  

Only question now is...when is this junk food binge going to stop?  You know, because once you get me going...


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Uncle Ruckus: Alive and Well in Caracas

Jan. 9th, 2008 | 11:05 am

Ah, the new year.

The last week of 2007 began with vampire movies.  Lots of vampire movies.  Why vampires you ask?  I don´t know, El Novio downloaded a bunch of movies and we just keep picking the ones about vampires I guess.  Ever seen Vampire Hunter D?  It´s pretty good.  I think we´re going to watch Van Helsing tonight.  I thought the end of Interview with the Vampire sucked by the way.  Oh and action movies.  I never usually mess around with those, but for some reason I´ll flip to a channel and remain there, watching people like Tom Cruise, Vin Diesel and Tom Berenger keep popping up, never getting shot, jumping out of exploding buildings, screaming stuff like "damn you, Scott!  You can´t give up now!"  you know the type.

New Year´s Eve. Five of us sat around until about 11pm (nothing exciting...no food or alchohol), then headed out in the night to a nearby park on a hill.  But this isn´t just any park on a hill. This place happens to have one of the best views in Caracas.  It has several levels of stairs, squares, woods, little abandoned chapels, etc. The problem is it´s really steep...remember those stairs from Rocky?  Forget about those...these stairs were created to bust tendons and crack knees.  Of course, I had the luck of going there with a couple of health nuts who thought it would be fun to run the entire way up.  But my veneer of "pissed-offedness" wore off once we reached the level where we could view east Caracas.  Everyone was shooting fireworks.  It was a multicolored night down in the valley, up in the hills, from plazas, apartment building balconies, contrasted against the darkness of the mountains. 

Did I mention that caraqueños are crazy as hell?

After a while we decided to go to the other side of the park to take a look at West Caracas.  As we were coming up near a small police post, we were surprised by some bottle rockets they set off that exploded right above our heads.  Of course once they saw us coming they tried to pretend they were actually working and not partying 5 seconds ago.  Riiight.  After viewing fireworks for about an hour or so, we noticed that smoke in the air looked a little different and definitely smelled a lot different.  "Hmmm...that's not sulfur....that's more like a burning tire.  Is the hill on fire?  Maybe we should go home."  So we rushed out of the park to a few burning trashheaps but nothing serious. 

Did I mention that fireworks are illegal here? Hehehehe.

Who would expect that on this night we would run into no other than the USA's own Uncle Ruckus?  En Español?  As we were saying goodbye to each other near our friends' building, we heard some slurred shouting.  Then a dark-skinned wino came into my view, and he was clearly upset with us.  He was supertoasted, so I didn't catch everything, but I did get that "¡Somos racistas en Venezuela! ¡Somos racistas! ¡Vayate!"  "¡Suuuucios! ¡Suuuuucios!"   We all nonverbally communicated that beating up a clearly confused bum would get us nowhere in life except as dirty as he was, so we said "Feliz Año" to him, our friend stared him down for a second, we said our goodbyes and went on our way.  Of course he followed el Novio and I for about 2 blocks.  It's not clear to me whether he was trying to insult us "¡Puta Negra! ¡Puta! ¡Maldito!" while maintaining a safe distance, or if he was so wobbly he couldn't possibly keep up.  He must have passed out or got tired or something because he stopped after we rounded the corner.

Now I have a story for the hoardes of white Venezolanos that step over themselves to tell me that there is no racism here.  (Meanwhile they call Chavez a "monkey" and a "negro en mierda" when no one is looking.) 

Palabras del Dia:
caraqueño = resident of Caracas
el pedo = a fart
correr = to run
fireworks = fuegos artificiales
somos = we are
sucio = dirty

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Puff Preservation Update

Dec. 19th, 2007 | 10:45 pm
location: far away from a sally's

Okay, so I ordered my products.  *drumroll*

I went with Elasta QP's DPR-11 for a moisturing conditioner.  I ordered Aloe Vera gel to mix with water in a spray bottle; i'll use that for daily moisture.  Then I got Treasured Locks Herbal Hair Balm to help in softening it up for styling when it's dry, and also to apply to my scalp.  Another reason I went with that one is because you also use for your body.

On top of that, I decided I needed a new instrument.  The old-as-dirt plastic wide toot comb from Walmart or god knows where probably isn't helping with the breakage issue.  I was stuck between ordering a wooden wide tooth comb, a Denman 4 brush, or this Kakakaki Kombrush doohickey.  I ended up going with the Kombbrush after doing alot of reading up on reviews, it's supposed to be good for detangling and removing shed from black hair...don't go to the official website, just don't.  It's terrible.  If it doesn't work out, I'll be trekking through the perfumy malls looking for a wooden comb.

Reviews to come in about a month.

By the way, it's not there aren't ok hair products here (the local drugstore carries Garnier, wheeee)...but this is an EMERGENCY.  And I didn't have much time to run all over Caracas looking for aloe vera gel and essential oils and whatnot when I only had a few days to make up my mind about what to get from the US. 

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The Big Chop...I'm Dangerously Close

Dec. 17th, 2007 | 05:59 pm
location: back at my mac!

Unless this last ditch effort doesn't work out. 

I'm serious!  Don't test me!  Afrobegone!

I  need a trim.  I need a moisturizer.  I need a super-product.  I need juices & berries.  
I need help.

i have worn my hair mostly in a fro for about...wow! 8 years!  and I admit it, there have been times when i was cruel to it: not moisturizing as often as i should, pulling it back using cotton cloths, switching up shampoos too much, using leave-in conditioners with mineral oil, sleeping on it without covering it, pulling on it, etc.  i avoided natural hair salons  and barbers alike for years: i would go in looking for a trim and end up with a haircut i absolutely did NOT ask for because she or he decided to "style" it,  or someone completely incompetent who didn't make a dent.  Pinche charlatans.

finally, i decided 2007 would be the year i do right by my head.  I took myself to a stylist friend of mine who i trusted to trim it, and came clean about my breakage problem, especially on the right side of my head.

she gave me a fabulous trim (she's 60, and rocked the fly fro back in the day) and advised me to trim every 3 months at the least, use a protein conditioner in addition to my moisturizing conditioner about 1x a month, and beware of how I'm combing my hair. Before, I would just drag it through my hair any kind of way in the shower, but now i make sure i divide it into sections.   I followed her directions, quit with the frequent cotton, cover it at night, and twist it all the time now, as it's a more "protective" hair style.  But it's still breaking.

But you read my "hair in Venezuela post."  It didn't even get into the no-really-i-swear-i-have-"good hair"-goo that keeps showing up on people.  I'm not going to find someone here who can trim my hair.   i think the trim is probably the most important factor. i had half-contemplated getting it hot comb straightened & trimmed until i read about the effects of heat damage on natural hair at nappturality.com.  Eh eh, not an option.

back to square one. sad.gif  I may just need a fresh start.

However, my friend is coming to visit us in January, and I'm considering ordering some products and having them sent to his house so he can bring them.  Specifically, something to stop the breakage and some kind of daily moisturizer.  also possibly a specialty brush. Possibilities right now are Elasta QP DPR-11 Remoisturizer, Goody Ouchless Brush, Oyin Handmade Greg Juice, and Aphogee Treatment for Damaged Hair (although i'm a little afraid of that one; i didn't bring a dryer with me, obviously).

Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?  

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Dec. 11th, 2007 | 01:16 pm
location: in a valley near the Caribbean Sea

I cried a couple of weeks ago thinking about my family, especially my mother.  Which is unusual for me.  Not the crying part, but the part about being homesick.  I´ve been to many places that are far from home.  But this time it´s different.

In the summer of 2001 I went to London for 2 weeks, then on to Ghana for 2 months.  By then I was already coming up on my 3rd year at a college in New York, a 14 hour drive away from home. During my first evening in Africa, I cried into my plate at dinner.  I was thinking about how far away I was, and for how long I would be so far away.  I went to sleep crying that night, and woke up in the morning feeling fine.  I didn´t cry again, or even become sad, until it was time to go home. 

And up until now that was the only time I´d gotten homesick in another country.  Even when I was gone for 5 months one time.  In New York, I more wanted them to come see me than I wanted to actually go back.

My mother says that I ¨can´t just get somewhere and be¨ for awhile.  Which isn´t true.  I´m not the type of person that moves from place to place.  I always maintain a home base while I step out for a bit.  I always come back.  She knows that.  The whole family knows that.

So why is this time different?  I think it´s because I have a more developed sense of responsibility to them, especially the little ones, and more evolved relationships with everyone as well.  For example, when I was 19, I went back to my mother´s apartment because it was home.  Now at 26, I go over there because I like to spend time with her.  As I age, my desire grows to get to know my family members and appreciate them as the unique, individual people they are outside of being my brother, niece, etc.  And my attachments become even more complex.  Before I was content knowing they miss me, are there for me, and will still be themselves, in their same places, when I get back.  Now I am conscious of wanting to witness their processes of growth, and understand a little more why I´m important to them.

I guess it will continue to ¨be different¨ from now on.  My niece keeps telling me that this should be the last time I go away, but that I can´t agree with that.  Even while I miss them, I think that this is where I am supposed to be right now.

Palabras del dia:
por vicio = for the vice of it.  e.g. No tengo hambre, pero voy comer la postre por vicio.
llorar = to cry
sobrina/o = niece/nephew
mundial = global
Tags: ,

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¿Sí o No?

Nov. 30th, 2007 | 08:46 pm
location: not at my very own mac >(

This is definitely the most important question facing Venezuelan@s right now. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I mean there is a constitutional referendum on the table. The people will rise as early as 3am on Sunday morning to walk down to their local polling center, and wait in for hours to exercise their right to vote not just for politicians that will hopefully represent them, but on possible additions to their Constitution. It's been difficult to find a balanced website that has the complete text of the reforms online in English, but this one has each article as it appeared in the last constitutional reform in 1999, and the proposed amendments:

This site is biased against the reforms, and explains (to me in very reactionary language) why they think each one is regressive.

I don't know much about what people outside of this country are learning about this process, but if what I am seeing in the online English-speaking press is any indication, about 80% is incorrect, and about 80% of that 80% are straight up lies. Meaning this is a lies and damn lies situation.

The coverage from here is pretty balanced actually, if one bothers to use the remote control. There is an explicitly government news station, and an explicitly opposition party news station.* It is the same situation with the newspapers. The problem is actually the internet. Venezuelans that support the Bolivarian Revolution tend to be poorer than people in the opposition. So the vast majority of the voices you see online are anti-Chavez and anti the direction of the country. This is a problem, something I'll be posting about next time.

Anyway, you've probably seen a lot of anti-government protests on television. You probably read a story about a 100,000-strong demonstration that happened in Caracas yesterday. The article probably included a lot of details about exactly what is wrong with the reform, repeated that Venezuela is headed for a communist dictatorship, and predicted that there must be close international monitoring of this vote. The article most likely did not say what people who are for the reform think. On television, you saw a vast sea of people from all walks of life. Today, there is a small chance you read about pro-reform demonstration that also took place today, with a turn-out in the tens of thousands. Most of the article discussed what opposition activists think. All you saw on tv from today was Chavez's speech if my instincts serve me.

Well guess what? I live here. I WENT LOOKING for the opposition protest yesterday. I wanted to go and see what it was like, how many people would show up, and listen to what they had to say about why people should vote "No." BUT I COULDN"T FIND IT. I'm not saying it didn't happen. It did happen. But the press is trying to make it seem like the only kinds of demonstrations of significance that happen here are anti-government and anti the reform. Today, you could not be in downtown Caracas and not know that there was a "Sí" rally, not know "how to get there" because it was everywhere. It spilled off of the main avenue onto several side streets where most people were wearing red clothing (the pro-Chavez color) and packed in so closely that cars got stuck trying to get through. It was packed with people for more blocks than I could count. It was huge...and underreported and misreported.

I didn't believe how biased the reporting is in the US about Venezuela until I came here and saw these things for myself. As conscious and media-skeptical as I am, I was sucked in by some of the lies myself before I came. It's truly incredible how far these media corporations will go to twist the truth to please their own interests. If there were 100,000 people at the opposition rally, I'm Queen Elizabeth. If there were only 100,000 people at the pro-Chavez rally today, I'm Darth Vader.

The past 2 days are only one example of this. But we saw this before in 2002 when the US media tried to portray the coup of a democratically elected president by a small group of (white) elites as a restoration of democracy. They put their feet in their mouths when the poor people of Venezuela shut the whole country down until the President they elected was back. We see this over and over again. Seriously people, I'm done with the news. I'm done.

I'm not writing this because I'm 100% behind Chavez. I'm not writing this because I'm 100% behind all of the reforms: I am NOT. Unlike a lot of people with cheap opinions I've actually read them all. (In fact, I received a free copy of the reform text on the second day I was in the country. All I had to do was exit a subway station; someone is passing them out everyday. Don't believe the "polls" saying that people are uninformed.) I'm writing this because the people of Venezuela are behind what is happening here; even if you don't like Chavez, at least support what the people here clearly want. At the "Sí" rally, the people I talked to said that whether someone is voting sí or no, they encourage everyone to go and vote because it is their right.

A little story: I have a BIG computer problem right now that I won't go into. But I had to go to the rich eastern area of Caracas ("No"-land) to look for a specific part. There was a mall there with several electronics stores. I thought, "whatever, a mall." Especially since I spend most of my time in the west of the city, where many people live in pretty dangerous housing (ex:lots of victims of mudslides here) I wasn't prepared for this mall. Chicago people, think Oakbrook or Water Tower. Except there are 6 (SIX) full perfumed floors, with stores like Armani Exchange. And a Cinnabon and Church's Chicken sitting next to each other in the food court. And who did I find at this mall? People went from the opposition rally straight to the mall to SHOP...at American stores, or at stores selling overpriced imported products. Huh? Okay, I get it. I guess they're afraid that if the reform passes, the Ipods (which, by the way, are 2x more expensive here) will leave the country. No, seriously. This one dude had his "VOTA NO" flag with him in the mall.

Before that, I was really giving the opposition the benefit of the doubt for being more complex than being mostly rich folks. Ask my friends here who I was debating with. But after that...I'm kind of eating my words.*

Bottom line: I have some definite criticisms of the reforms, but I support the people of Venezuela, and the current Administration definitely seems to be empowering them. And honestly, whatever I feel about Chavez, if the opposition got back in power, a comparison is that it'd be worse than bringing back Ronald Reagan. Don't believe me? Read up on the history of Venezuela and tell me this country was better before 1999. Let's debate. And if you think it was better, tell me who it was better for.

To balance out the link I posted above, here is a pro-Chavez link explaining the logic and history of the constitutional reforms. it also provides excellent background, definitely check it out: http://dilated_rebel.gnn.tv/blogs/25909/A_must_read_on_Venezuela_s_Constitutional_reforms_in

*edited on Dec. 2nd to add: I realized that this paragraph makes Venezuelan tv seem more balanced than it actually is. There are actually several news channels here, but the ones I know of that provide coverage in support of the current administration are the government-owned stations.

*another Dec. 2nd edit: I was at it again today. Another person living in the US (but that lived in Jamaica most of his life) was ranting about the vapid and reactionary reasons why the middle classes will tend to vote no, and that he was really interested to know why on earth some poor people who will vote no are thinking. I told him about my friend, a young man from a poor area, who said that he was going to vote no today. I thought that he had very valid points. I was going to state them here, but I realized that I didn't give a complete breakdown of reasons why people are voting yes. Because there is so much coverage for the voices of people like my friend, I'm choosing not to. But the point is, not everyone who voted no today were the elite who are seeking to hold on to their position.

Palabras del dia:
hervir = to boil
agredar = to add (ie - agreda mas agua a la sopa)
la broma = the joke
la ola = the wave

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Adventures in Hair Politics

Nov. 13th, 2007 | 01:16 pm
location: Cuarto 112

Even as I was planning this trip, I figured that if I'm going to be in Caracas for 6 months, I'd have to investigate the hair situation in terms of availability of products, braiders, and visibility of women with "natural" hair. Because for those of you who have never seen me, not only is my hair "natural" but it is a natural. A big one. El Novio warned me that rocking the Angela Davis will probably draw a lot of unwanted attention, and asked me not to wear it like this too often. Of course, I asked him if he wanted me to slap some of the creamy stuff on my head...he chose to ignore me. Then I suggested a sew-in and at that point he might have just gotten up and walked out. Hell, at least my hair is "natural" under the weave with the second option. So I showed up with my double strand twists that, especially after a wash, make my hair look like it's much shorter than it is in reality. And I still get a lot of attention. There are a lot of black women here, but unless their hair is long and "wavy," (even sometimes then) they straighten it.

We arrived on Friday morning, and as a shameless people-watcher, I observed everyone very closely, trying to figure out how I fit in. I started in the airport where we waited on our connecting flight to Caracas. There were about 50 passengers waiting, and the majority of them would be "white" to most passing observers in the US, and would definitely be "white" in Venezuela. I noticed one browner-skinned woman with a short hair cut that could possibly have been a loose afro if she would let it grow a bit. El Novio wondered if this was a representative sample of who would be in Venezuela, but I doubted it, and I was right. I said, let's think for a moment about who would be going back and forth to los Estados Unidos. These were the kind of people that lived near the supermarket we ended up at on Sunday (Sunday story coming up), in the eastern part of Caracas. There is an American Airlines booth sitting there as soon as you walk in.

Over the next 2 days we saw hundreds of people on the streets, in the subway, and on the busses. Right now we live on Calle Libertador, which is a very wide and busy street that runs past Plaza Venezuela. Out of everyone, I had seen a few women with cornrows, and maybe once or twice someone had very thin box braids that ended in straight hair. I didn't see women with hair resembling anything like mine until Sunday.

On Sunday we attended the second day of a week-long international book fair of publishing companies mostly from all over Latin America. It was outdoors at el Parque del Este. In addition to the opportunity to buy rare or specialty books at discount prices there were also numerous lectures, panels, and readings mostly of a political nature. We attended two of these, one on Venezuelan foreign political policy with concern to gender issues, and the other on the release of a book of Malcolm X's speeches. So it was here among bookworms, internationals and students that I saw about 6 or 7 other black women with natural hairstyles. I have definitely thought before about the intersections of black women, class, and choice of hairstyle, but I've been thinking about it a lot more since I've been here.

Why, in the US, is "natural" hair more of an option for women who have been college-educated? Aside from the centuries of psychological warfare on our sense of beauty, my fear is that it's also become associated with being bougie, and is presented as inaccessible and that only a certain kind of person is supposed to wear their hair that way. Even so, the country I've been in where I felt most at ease in my afro was South Africa, even more than when I'm on the South or West side in Chicago. There, I observed that there wasn't much of a difference that economics or formal education in whether women living in Johannesburg wore their hair permed or natural.

Back at the park, I approached a couple of them with braids to find out who did their hair. The first young woman was about 18 years old, and was working the fair. It was in long box braids, that also had strands of blonde weaved throughout. I remembered wearing mine just like this when I was 18. She said that she did it herself, and gave me her phone number. The next woman I approached was closer to my age, and wore her hair very similar to mine, except mine is 2-strand and hers is 3-strand. No extra weave involved. She spoke a little English, and came to look at the books. She was there with another black woman who wore her hair in decorative cornrows. She also gave me her number, and offered to braid my hair sometime soon. The next woman wore beautiful locs, and ended up being from New Jersey. She had been living in Venezuela for a couple of years and was excited to meet another black woman English speaker.

I saw another woman today in the subway. Something about her coded her as Haitian, not Venezuelan. I'm not sure what exactly. But she was older, about 50 (but black don't crack, so she could have been 60), with a nicely shaped short fro with a few patches of gray around the edges. She was beautiful...I wondered what the consequences are for her choice of hairstyle. I haven't found out yet.

Palabras del dia: las sobras - leftovers; la patilla - watermelon

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Fall Colors

Sep. 13th, 2007 | 02:10 pm

liberation is love
brought to you by the isLove Generator

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9 to 5

Sep. 7th, 2007 | 05:10 pm
music: um, Dr. Dre & Snoop thanks to a houseguest

Next week, I will have reached rock bottom.

When I was 20 years old, I decided that one of my goals in life was to always have jobs were I could wear jeans and gym shoes (sneakers for you east coasters) if I wanted to. I'm *officially* a failure.  I even clicked on one of those Yahoo! "news" headlines about the "new officewear dos & donts"...and proceeded to read the entire article.  Because all of this shit is new to me.  I didn't even know that it's not okay to wear jeans to a job interview (unless you're a white dude named Brett; in that case you can wear flip flops).  So according to Stacy London, host of TLC's "What Not to Wear," it's okay to not wear stockings if it's warm outside.  Thanks Stacy.

The temp agency hooked me up with a gig that is supposed to last right up until I leave the country at the end of October.  I'm worried that I'm going to hate it.  If my fake boss starts squeezing her $12 an hour privileges, I'm going to have to go back to the days of passing out iced coffee to gym junkies.  I don't like being broke, but I also really like waking up whenever I feel like it and reading a book and not having the life sucked out of my weekdays.   Back down to earth now. 

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Aug. 29th, 2007 | 10:51 pm
music: got in a weird mood to hear classical music - mozart, funeral march*

It's the first time in 3 years that I've been out of steady employment, as in, I know my paycheck is coming in 2 weeks, and I know how much it's going to be.  Not that I've been rolling around in piles of money from my Fortune 500 office in the sky, but thinking about October rent is making me a little nervous.  I got hired at a temp agency, and have upped my applications to stupid promotional gigs to "as much as humanly possible," but with those you don't always know if you've got the job until a day or two beforehand. 

Waiters, and waitresses, just how do you get by?  I went up to Bennigans (might be a chicago thing...), the one right across from Millenium Park and asked about a job.   Yeah, they're hiring, but your paycheck is like $80-120 a week?!  Including tips!  Huh?  I made more than that working parttime at a Barrel of Crackas!  Serving the after-church crowd! You know those folks are cheap!  If you can't get decent tips there...I just don't know. 

So anyway, I'm trying to come up with little penny-pinching practices here and there.  For instance, I've taken inventory of all the food presently in the apartment, and am coming up with plans and combinations to eat every single morsel.  For next month, I'm going to try to downgrade my phone to less minutes.  I'm going to clear out my trunk in my car to save on gas money.  No, I don't have cable, but I should probably cancel my Netflix subscription, it's $8.99.  And yes, I'll be headed to the Department of Human Services for food stamps on Friday.  What else can I do?

*no I'm not depressed, okay?  just in a weird classical music mood like it says.

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