What I Learned From The Philippines

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#PHILIPPINESTAUGHTME

I recently spent a month in the Philippines visiting my good friend Lani’s family. Now Lani last went home to PH in 2008 and when she came back, I told her I was going with her the next time. Little did I know it would be almost a decade later, but here we are. We traveled to Baclayan, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Bohol, Cebu, Batangas, and Manila, Philippines.

The path changes direction at any moment.

Just when you think you’ve got everything figured out, you’re comfortable, you’ve got your plan and you’re working on it, God says, “nope”. My trip to the Philippines was one big resounding “NOPE”. Randomly, one day in the midst of our Baclayan visit, doing absolutely nothing but shooting the breeze, a thought popped into my mind.

I could leave my life back home and live here. The thought shocked me and all of these questions followed:

Could I be far away from family and friends for a long time? Could I end or change my creative projects? Could I give up convenience of American life? Could I give up my favorite foods?

Could I take bucket baths daily? Could I deal with unstable internet? Could a boat replace my car? Could I survive typhoons?

Could I find a way to support myself financially? Could I be myself without coming off as disrespectful? Could I adapt to a culture that is very different from my own?

These thoughts let me know everything in life is transient. If you can imagine it and are willing to work for it, it’s possible. So, am I moving to the Philippines? I’ll let you know.

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It’s possible to live even more simply.

My friend tried to warn me that things were very “simple” in the province and I think I was prepared for the most part. I probably should’ve downloaded more books before I left, but mostly I managed well.

Here’s the reality of the situation:

Black and brown outs. No microwaves or ovens. Rooster alarm clocks. Hand-washed clothes. Electric fans. Bucket baths disguised as showers. No running water at times...

I really came to understand the value of water. There was no water on demand unless it rained and we arrived at the beginning of the dry season. Otherwise someone had to go to the well or go to another island to get water. Drinking water had to bought or boiled. Since coming back, I’m definitely more conscious of my water consumption.

We ate some variation of the same foods everyday and it was good. There was no daylight savings time which I appreciated. No HBO NOW (#GoT) and the internet wasn’t strong enough to watch Netflix or even visit other sites besides Facebook.

We entertained ourselves by visiting people, taking walks, playing dominos and cards, drinking, swimming, drinking and swimming at the same time, karaoke, talking, reading, and sleeping. It’s hard to not be social, but you can find some time to be alone.

My life was very simple for 27 days and I loved it!

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You can still be generous even when you have little.

Generosity is not just measured by how much money or things you can give. It’s also about a generosity of spirit. The ability to give your time and effort to someone.

I talked about the simplicity of life above, but I also have to be careful not to confuse simple with easy. It was humbling and a blessing to see how hard the family worked to provide for us and their own families. We were very well taken care of.

Additionally, I just saw people give and give. The selflessness displayed was inspiring and refreshing.

Respect is important.

This isn’t only a Filipino thing, but they do it very well. Respect is a deeply embedded cultural value that goes beyond what I can understand just from being there for a month. One simple way to show respect is how you address your elders and strangers. Nearly everyone has a title. For example, when speaking to or of an elder sibling, cousin, you say Ate (f) or Kuya (m).

Also, when you encounter your elders, you “mano” them. Mano is when you grab the person’s right hand and touch it to your forehead. You are asking the person to bless you. This gesture was very powerful to see coming from American culture. Mano-ing someone is asking them to honor you with their presence, experience, and wisdom.

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Your family will find you wherever you go.

I really didn’t know what to expect going on this trip. I travel for cultural experiences, but I’ve never lived with someone’s family. I’ve know Lani for over 10 years and have spent time with her stateside family throughout the years. Still, I wondered, “What would her family be like? Would we get along? Would they accept me? Is 30 days going to be too long? Would I offend them unintentionally?” I also may have been first black person to visit their village.

I needn’t have worried at all. Actually, I was not prepared for the amount of love and acceptance I received. I never felt like an outsider even though I didn’t know what they were saying half the time. I was told that I “fit” there was a blessing to hear. I gained a whole new family.

Unfortunately since my return, we lost a member of our family. On August 5th, Tita Jovie (below, center), the person who mainly took care of us while we were in Baclayan, passed away unexpectedly. In the wake of this tragedy, I have grown closer to my family there.

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LIVE.

The last lesson I learned is this: STOP WAITING TO LIVE. You can’t stop change or the inevitability of death. Let go of everything that is holding you back and LIVE.

With my plans and God’s will, I’m going back to the Philippines. Something there is calling my spirit. Whatever is calling your spirit, go after it.

 

 

Want to see more of my Philippines trip? Watch:

 

 

Lessons I Learned From Cuba

Lessons I Learned From Cuba

As I prepare to head to the Philippines next week, I'm feeling nostalgic about my first international trip, to the island of Cuba. I had the opportunity to visit Cuba in 2004. At the time, it seemed like a once in a life experience, but with relaxing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Americans traveling to Cuba has become more popular in recent years. I thought I would revisit my time there and share what I’ve learned. Fortunately, I always keep a journal. I’ve kept hold of it for 12 years now, but perhaps after publishing this post, I will let it go.

Change is constant.

U.S. media has painted a portrait of Cuba as a place stuck in time, cut off from the outside world. Sure, there are many old, crumbling buildings and cars to be found in Cuba, but it is NOT stuck in the past. This wasn’t true even a decade ago. Not everyone in the world acknowledges the U.S. Embargo and many countries (Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, China) trade with Cuba in all industries. It seems the only people who are stuck in the past about Cuba are Americans.

Nothing or no one is exempt from change. You either embrace it or be dragged by it into the next phase of your journey. For Cuba, that means normal-er relations with the U.S. that may open up avenues for partnership and also, exploitation.

I think one of the main critiques of these new relations is that Cuba will become America’s playground again like it was prior to the revolution. I don't think the Cuban government would allow that to happen again and it's unlikely major changes will occur while Fidel and Raul are still alive.

You will survive with less than expected.

The food at our hotel (Saint John in the Vedado neighborhood) and the restaurants in the surrounding neighborhoods was not that great.  There were exceptions like the media noche sandwich we had at a small cafe up the street, the churros we ate for breakfast on our way to class sold by the fine churros man a few blocks over, and Coppelia, the largest ice cream parlor I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard the food selection is better now that paladares (restaurants in people’s private homes) are more prevalent, but we weren’t aware of them at the time of our visit.

I washed my clothes in our bathroom sink, which was fine because I only brought a rolling duffel bag with me in the first place. As I stated above, this was my first international trip and I was nervous about having my luggage lost or packing items that might be stolen, I didn’t want to pack a lot. I wasn’t even a minimalist then, but common sense told me to pack light.

I wore the same clothes over and over again, ate the same food over and over again, but it didn’t take away from the experience. It probably enhanced it because I was just open to whatever came. Leading me to my next lesson:

Cuba does minimalism well. It has too.

While Cuba is not stuck in the past it still has very limited resources. Cubans are industrious because it’s required for their survival. You don’t keep 50 year old cars running without recycling. Many things are saved for reuse later. I was able to give my leftover medicine, hygiene products, and other stuff I didn’t need to take back with me, away to someone in need I befriended while there. So while they don't necessarily get rid of lot of things, they efficiently use what they have and that's still minimalist.

There is no such thing as a post-racial society.

Not even Cuba could accomplish this, although Castro claimed the revolution eliminated racism (and classism) in Cuba. The racial and socio-economic stratification is apparent. The maids in our hotel, the attendant at Casas de las Americas, the prostitutes and homeless on our block, were black. When me and the other black girls went out to a dance hall, we were assumed to be prostitutes. We were followed and questioned by a police officer when we visited Cojimar Beach and asked to show our identification. Time and time again, Cuba reminded me being a black person, and specifically a black women, is not a privilege in this world. 

Traveling with a group is not always the best option.

This was a study abroad trip sanctioned by a special license from the State Department, so traveling solo wasn’t an option. I had a few friends and classmates on the trip with me. Two things annoyed me the most: 1) People’s attitudes of entitlement and prejudice and 2) My friends not wanting to explore more during our free time.

I wish I could back in time and tell my 20 year old self to just go for it solo, but you live and learn. I didn’t feel confident or completely safe exploring the city alone at that time and was not interested in hanging out with some of other folks on the trip because of 1) above.

I haven't written off group experiences completely, but I don't plan on taking this type of guided trip again. I'll be traveling with a small group of friends to the Philippines who are Filipino and I'm hoping to have a more personal, immersive experience. I also plan to return to Cuba in the next year or two, and you better believe I'll be doing things my way.

Walking is the best way to learn a place.

I didn’t get my license until I was 28 so I have a lot of experience with this. Even though my friends weren’t up for exploring as much as I wanted to, we still ventured out. You get to know the city intimately and discover hidden ways that can be overlooked when riding in a vehicle. It also forces you to develop a sense of direction. This trip was prior to cell phones with GPS and wifi capabilities. This lesson isn't really specific to Cuba, but it's important if you want a richer experience of any place you go to beyond the surface. 

Cubans are everything.

Everyone says this and it doesn’t make it any less true. Geographically, Cuba is beautiful, but the scenery has nothing on the people. They are very attractive, intelligent, wise, hilarious, kind, and I could go on. In other words, they’re human.

There is a habit of exoticizing the people we encounter in other countries. Even culturally aware people do this from time to time. Re-reading my Cuban diary, I know I’m guilty of this. The truth is Cubans aren’t the first or last people to live under extreme austere conditions (see Iran, North Korea, and history in general). They have done what people do when faced with adversity, adapted and innovated. It doesn’t make them any less or more beautiful, intelligent, resourceful, or spirited than any other group of people.

I fell in love with Cuba because it was my first international travel experience. I have hyped the experience in my head and to others for a while now, but in recent years, I've been able to reflect on my visit to Cuba more critically. 

On one hand, every place has its unique qualities, but on the other hand, it is what it is, and humans are humans everywhere. My goal with each travel experience is to continue to have an open mind, learn about the culture i'm embracing, live in the moment and then let the moment stand.

Happy traveling!

How to Have a Minimalist Summer

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How to Have a Minimalist Summer

A part of the minimalist lifestyle is valuing experiences over things and summer is the perfect time to put that into practice. Here are several ways to have a more minimalist summer.

Do Nothing.

Embrace the art of doing nothing. This may be a difficult task for some. “Do nothing” is not a literal suggestion unless that’s your absolute goal. It really means do less than what you’ve been doing. It means not doing anything that can be described as “busy”. Put your to-do list and agenda aside. Follow the days where they take you. Chill. 

Do a few things.

Take advantage of all the free time you have including vacation time, flexible working schedules, lunch breaks, evenings, and weekends. Also, these things don't have to cost a lot of money to accomplish.

  1. Catch up with friends and family. If you’re like me (introverted and hates the cold), you only go out the house when absolutely necessary from mid-November to mid-March. I’m more social when it’s warmer outside. Hit up those cookouts, family reunions, and take some random road trips. Put in some face time.

  2. Declutter. It’s popular to “spring clean”, but the summer is another great time to finally go through all of your stuff. It’s also the best time to have yard sales and make some cash. Clean out your garage, attic, and any other place that’s likely filled with stuff you don’t need or want. Cleaning out areas of your home may save you money on your energy bill. It’s just a theory, but it seems logical it would cost you more to cool your home when you have more stuff per square foot. Your cooling system works more efficiently when air can flow freely.

  3. Plan at least one trip or event where you can learn, be inspired, or have an adventure. Do something you’ve never done before. Check your local media outlets for festivals and other special events nearby.

  4. Go embrace nature. Visit a park or sit under the tree in your backyard. The weather makes this an awesome time to explore the environment. Pick up a few pieces of trash while you’re out there. Get caught in a rainstorm. Try to find some constellations. Jump in a lake.

  5. Read. I once read 30 books in one summer. Take your mind for a walk and get lost in some stories. Mix it up between fiction and non-fiction to keep your mind wandering. Pay your local library a visit or fire up that e-reader.

 

I LOVE summer. This summer I’ll be visiting the Philippines for a month, working at a summer camp for a few weeks, planning the launch of Black Minimalists, hanging out with family and friends, and doing a whole lot nothing during and in between.

 

#BLKMINCHAT: May Recap

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#BLKMINCHAT: May Recap

This month's chat was focused on minimalist travel, how to travel simply and inexpensively. Our host, Charmaine Griffin shared lots of useful information based on her experiences living abroad in South Korea and traveling around the globe. We saw many new participants in this month's chat and dare I say, it was our best chat yet! Check out some of the highlights below. 

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To open, where have you traveled:

Traveling + packing minimally:

Travel hacks + tips:

Tips on saving for travel:

Traveling solo or with others:

Inspiration for traveling:

Be sure to go to Twitter and search "#blkminchat" to see the full conversation which includes more info about flights, accommodations, where we're traveling to next, and much more. I have listed some of the sites mentioned below.

Skyscanner

Agoda

Hopper

Airfare Watchdog

The Flight Deal

Hostel World

Join us for our next #blkminchat on minimalist eating with guest host, Charl of That Girl Cooks Healthy.

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Catch up on the other Black Minimalists twitter chats

Black Minimalists: Niambi Wilson

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Black Minimalists: Niambi Wilson

Niambi was featured in Black Minimalists on the Web Part Two

What drew you to minimalism and what are your goals in living simply?

I have always been drawn to minimalism, but I would have to say that my interest in minimalism peaked when I entered college. I would have to move everything that I owned in my tiny little Mazda that I had at the time. This forced me to only bring the things that I valued the most or the things that were of the most importance.

After a while the things that I left at home I totally forgot about and that showed I didn't really need them. At that point I began to get rid of anything that I could go without using for months at a time.

My goal for living simply is to utilize everything that I own. I never want to own something that is of no use. I do not like having excess when there are people who are in need and who are lacking the basic necessities of life. My goal for living simply is to use any excess funds, clothing or time I have to serve and enrich the lives of others.

You have lived and worked in the Dominican Republic, and now you're in Ecuador, what advice can you share about how to travel abroad inexpensively?

My advice for how to travel inexpensively is to basically teach English abroad or volunteer. Doing so will ensure that your housing is taken care of and food is provided for you. I would absolutely advise you to avoid any program that forces you to pay copious amounts of money for your services. I believe those programs turn into poverty porn for the wealthy so that they feel like they have done humanity a service by paying to witness the hardship of others.

Make sure you save up for a plane ticket and if you want to fly rather inexpensively, you may have to travel during the weekday and you may have to deal with long layovers but it's worth it. If you're low on cash make sure you go to a country where the exchange rate is favorable to your dollar. Stay away from touristy areas as the prices are ridiculous and the atmosphere is purely artificial. If you're looking for an authentic experience I suggest that you go to an area with a very small or no expat community. 

What are your top tips for traveling minimally as a solo adventurer?

My top tips for traveling minimally are to basically travel with a carry-on only and enjoy. I usually purchase heavier items such as sheets, bedding, towels, and other bulky items when I get to the country I will be residing in. Also, be sure to check the weather. You do not want to bring clothing that is inappropriate for the weather or the culture.

Speaking of packing light, what are your thoughts on avoiding "Bag Lady" syndrome a la Erykah Badu, on your life journey? Has minimalism influenced your spirituality and worldview?

How to avoid bag lady syndrome. Wow. This is a tough one, but this is how I avoid bag lady syndrome. As a minimalist I make sure that I do not carry baggage both physically and emotionally. If there is anyone or anything in my life that does not serve me then I get rid of it.

If there are any unresolved issues in my life with family or friends I make sure to address them and move forward. I make sure to live each day like it is my last day because I have seen the fragility of life. I have learned that most of the things that we worry about or ponder incessantly really don't  help us in any way.

Minimalism has influenced my spirituality and worldview in ways that I couldn't have imagined. I can see through the veil that I call the matrix. I can see how personal human interaction is being replaced by technology. I can see clearly how the news perpetuates propaganda and feeds the public whatever it sees fit. I can see how consumerism is being glamorized. I can see these Europeanized standards of beauty being pushed.

I could go on an on but these things are so crystal clear since I've cut the excess from my life and focused on the essence of life which are positive relationships, giving to those in need, connecting with nature and connecting with the most high to name a few things.

Experiences and relationships are very important to minimalists. How do you enjoy your time abroad while maintaining a strong relationship with your husband and family who are stateside?

I enjoy my time abroad while maintaining strong relationships by using FaceTime and WhatsApp. It's like I never left. Most, if not all the friends I have, I have had for many years so the bond is strong. I could probably not speak to anyone for a few months and we could reconnect like we always do. If you have a lot of weak ties and new friendships I do think that distance would sever the relationship.

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Traveling while black can be an eye-opening experience. I know my time in Cuba and Mexico were interesting socio-cultural experiences, can you share your experience as a black American woman in Latin America?

My experience being a black woman in Latin America has been a mixed bag. Let's start with my experience living in the Dominican Republic. Honestly this place felt like home. I was surrounded by other individuals who were just as loud, friendly, and talkative as my family back home.

I experienced a sense of community and belonging that I had never felt before. For once I didn't feel like the minority. Everyone assumed that I was Dominican until I began to speak. Something interesting was that people would look very perplexed when they realized that I could speak English. I realized that they had never been exposed to a black American. Living in the Dominican Republic, I got to see other members of the Diaspora and I realized how similar we are and how we all have a spiritual bond.

Let's go on to my experience in Ecuador. My experience here in Ecuador has been the contrary to my experience in Dominican Republic. Here most of the people are fair skinned or they are native Ecuadorians. There are only a few Afro Ecuadorians. So I do get many stares and I have been made to feel uncomfortable by the intensity of the stares.

I have been blatantly disrespected in some instances. For example, I have been asked when inquiring about something if I am there to sell something and I have also been jumped in line at the grocery store. The native Ecuadorians are awesome though! I love their style, their brown skin, and their spirit. Also, they treat me like a human being instead of a spectacle.

The colonization of the minds of many is so apparent here and it's refreshing to see that some people aren't tainted with negative propensities to make others feel less than. However my encounters with Afro Ecuadorians has been extremely pleasant. Whenever I run into an Afro Ecuadorian it's an instantaneous love and an instantaneous connection. There are greetings and there are smiles.

Overall I really love my people and I would love to travel all over the world just to connect with those of the Diaspora. To encourage them and to take part in their way of life and to see how they have made the best of what they have.  

You made a video about skipping Christmas and encouraged people to do something to improve the conditions of their community. How has minimalism influenced your perception of and involvement in your community?

The less I have the more time and effort I can put into building up the morale of my people and treating those who are having a hard time like true kings and queens. 

What does being a black minimalist mean to you?

Being a black minimalist means getting back to my true essence, getting back to my core and honoring my ancestors. I want to be a reflection of what those before me worked hard for. I want to reflect true love, inner beauty, connection with the most high and a spirit that is pure.

Being a black minimalist represents the peeling off of these negative stereotypes that have been allotted to my people. It means stripping away consumerism. it means stripping away useless technology. it means fostering positive relationships. It means using the gifts that we have all been given and sharing that with our community.

Is there anything you would like to add and where can we learn more about you?

Make your life count. Much love, peace and prosperity 🏿️.

YouTube: Niambi Wilson

 

Learn more about Black Minimalists.