Puerto Rico: In search of the light of the shining star

My little Mami

My relationship with Puerto Rico always feels complicated. And subsequently so are my trips there. I often have this sense of being in a space that is quite familiar, yet distant and foreign, which probably isn't particular to me. I think many of us first-generation mainland US-born Puerto Ricans have this sense. Linguistic barriers and bi-racial/ethnic identities further murky the waters of a clear sense of what Puerto Ricanhood means for me. I didn't grow up speaking Spanish, although it was often spoken around me for a number of years. My mother struggled as a child when she arrived in the United States* in the 1950s. Unable to speak English she was kept out of school for a year and attempted to teach herself with her neighbors' schoolbooks. Growing up discriminated against in the North Ward and Ironbound sections of Newark, New Jersey, she was adamant that I wouldn’t have similar troubles with English, which centered on a false belief that bilingualism causes language difficulties as opposed to reinforces cognitive abilities.

*A de facto colony of the United States I prefer to speak of Puerto Rico as a distinct nation

2010 Throwback: Me at University of Puerto Rico Protest. Check Video of event where police used pepper spray and brutally clubbed demonstrators with batons and shields. 

Like my mother initially with English, I’ve struggled to gain fluency in Spanish. A glutton for punishment and determined to master the language, I decided to conduct essentially all of my ethnographic dissertation research in Spanish. What a damn nightmare. But before I officially began this work in Cartagena, Colombia in 2011 I spent the summer in Puerto Rico. And one of the greatest frustrations at the time was speaking to people in Spanish and having them respond in English. This was done primarily in San Juan and sometimes by people who clearly couldn’t even speak English as well as I could Spanish. It just threw sazón on my wounded ego. 

But a noticeable shift happened during this trip to Puerto Rico in March. My challenge with Spanish has always been an emotional one, hardly about actual retention and processing. I only came to realize this while studying Portuguese in Brazil in 2001 and finding it easier (even though it is technically more difficult than Spanish) due to the lack of pressure and guilt. Since 2010 my time living in Colombia and Chile has helped to markedly improve my Spanish. While it is still an uphill battle towards what can technically be called fluency, or hell good grammar at times, my confidence has improved dramatically since 2010. So feeling a bit more like didn't have to be ashamed when I spoke brought about a comfort that allowed me to see the island as much more than an ancestral home. It started become more of an extension of myself. 

The journey began with my mother and I rolling out in typical goofball fashion. 


We kicked it with our amazing friend Sonia who has become so much like family to me over the years. And of course we hit up various beaches around the island because well hell, my soul is tropical and as my girl Marci said, “@machetesymiel is always on the damn playa. I like my fish frozen and shaped like stars muchas gracias.”


Mami, me and Sonia (Hey, Sonia!!!!)

There's always a laugh to be had with this one trying to take Usies. Oh mothers. 

There's always a laugh to be had with this one trying to take Usies. Oh mothers. 

I just have to throw this in here because my mother’s obsession with basketball kills me and comes out at the most random of times. This is us at Walgreen’s buying sunscreen on our way to Luquillo Beach.


I visited the town of my mother’s birth, Dominguito, located in Arecibo. By coincidence there was a festival going on and I had brought the family tree I’d obsessed over last year. I was determined to find information about my great-great-great-great grandfather, Jose Ramon Larrieu y Despiau, who was apparently mayor of Arecibo in the 1800s. There’s a legend about him that sounds like some shit straight out Love in the Time of Cholera, well probably because he and bunch of other members of my family all died of cholera. Given his French ancestry my fear is still that our family was plantation owners who fled to Puerto Rico from Haiti during the revolution. I can neither confirm nor deny this potentially shitty historical background. I ended up running into a woman who was selling her book on Arecibo history and I had to point out that she’d missed my great X4 grandpapa. It was a pleasant exchange in my opinion but my mother has since used this incident as an example of something that is just "very typical Melissa.”

(Video Disclaimer: I had not spoken Spanish in 3 mos. #TheStruggleIsReal)

Me, my mother and Sonia hung out in Arecibo for a while. Some of it was quite beautiful and being there was refreshing. 


#CarefreeBlackGirl Puerto Rico


But there was this other side to being in Arecibo that reflected the struggle of the island, one that tourists don't see or care to see. I was struck by the emptiness of the center of town on a Saturday and the abandonment of so many properties.

Yet even amongst the abandonment there were people still trying to make a life in spaces that had lost a sense of vitality, in some ill way like a fetus trying to grow and survive in a mother who has passed on.

First cousin once removed with first cousin twice removed. I think that's how that goes. 

We headed to Dominguito and visited my mother’s first cousin who lives in the house once owned by my great-great-grandmother, Concepción “Concha” Rodriguez. I spoke with Junior and other family members who lived nearby about the family tree and although I’d met a few of them before I didn’t feel as connected as I did this trip. I had a sense of who people were, going back for generations, and that made their faces light up. I listened to stories of our family and looked at artifacts of my great-grandmother’s.

Great grandmother, Concepción “Concha” Rodriguez

My great-grandmother's Singer sewing machine


Wait, is that antique bottle called, Old Colony?? 

My mother went back home and I got to spend a few more days basking in the glow of the island. I got to spend time with people who I have grown to appreciate (one of whom will at some point be featured in the memoir... LIBRO!) and see places I’d known over the years.


El Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico 


View of La Perla, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Image of political prisoner, Oscar López Rivera

Piraguas cart 

Where Kola Champagne was created. San Juan, PR


Wonderful San Juanero artist, John Melendez, whose light-hearted nature makes me crack up every time I see him






I was on a quest to buy this serigraph this trip. I first saw it during my summer in Puerto Rico and I had to have it. I shopped around for it and sadly couldn't find it for purchase this time.



However, I did manage to come up on this gem of a silkscreen that I had to cop for obvious reasons. 


"Machete Boricua" by Novo 69/80


The struggle for a place in the world is one that is constantly being battled by Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans everywhere. Puerto Rico was one of Spain’s longest held colony (if not the actual longest). It was then almost immediately seized by the United States in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American-Cuban War and has been a de facto colony ever since. Now the island is deep in the throes of a major financial crisis (for a breakdown, check out Ed Morales’ article). As Morales points out, the colonial experiment has clearly failed. American imperialism has rendered Puerto Rico neither foreign, nor domestic. The Immigration and Nationality Act gave Puerto Ricans statutory citizenship, yet the nation remains in limbo without the rights of sovereignty or true US citizenship stemming from the 14th Amendment and statehood. As I struggle to find my own place on La Isla del Encanto I can’t help but to wonder what does all that's happening now mean for its identity and its future? What future will Puerto Rico carve out for itself? What will continue to be imposed upon it? What role do people like me play, those of us who have Puerto Rico in hearts but a life outside of it? My hope is that the we'll see the light before my issues with identity become meaningless because there will be no unique Puerto Rico with which to connect.  


La Bandera, battered and bruised, but still flying


The "Oh Sh**, I Traveled To 10 Countries In 2014" Review- Part 8 Kyoto & Tokyo (#9 Japan)

This is it (breathy MJ voice), the very last installment of my 2014 travel year review. I'm still behind two trips for 2015 and will be leaving to travel for 5.5 weeks next week. But I'm pleased to have gotten this far. I will not have this blogging lag... AGAIN! (in my mind that time I just sounded like Eddie Arcadian)

So I roll out of Tokyo and take a bullet train to Kyoto.

Welcome to Kyoto!

Now for some reason I immediately became turned around when I left my hotel. Lost, I wander down the street. What do I stumble upon? In true Machetes y Miel fashion, a protest. I don't know why this happens as often as it does. I think I'm somehow lured to all the emotion and passion of those fighting for a cause. This particular event was an anti-nukes protest in front of the Kansai Electric Power Company.


Anti-nukes protester. He and his sign are oddly super adorable given the circumstances.


My goal was to get to Guion and Sanjo for shopping and somehow I made it even though I was wayyyy further than I thought.

Teramachi Shopping Arcade

children in kyoto at mall

Can I just tell you that the vintage chain CHICAGO is pretty much my everything?? I hit up the one in the Teramachi Shopping Arcade. Do yourself a favor and make this happen when in Japan. They've got all types of vintage, from Hawaii 5.0 shirts, to 70s booty shorts, to fly ass Kimonos.


Now I'm not Japanese but I'm going to venture to say that this shit is insensitive. But maybe it's just me. 

Obligatory McFlurry Abroad Pic

Kyoto Tower

Yasaka Shrine

The next day I hopped on the bus and went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Nijo Castle. It was lovely, in spite of the fact that it started to rain buckets right after I arrived. 

The rest of the day reminded me of the potentially interesting turn of events that can transpire when you're wandering the world alone. I got on the bus to head to my next destination and heard two guys speaking English. Somehow we struck up a conversation and before I knew it we were hitting up shrines, cemeteries, temples and bookstores and dining together (Hey Calvin & Tony!). Our first stop was Nanzen-ji Temple.


Me at Nanzen-Ji Temple. See, new friends mean no shitty selfies! Hooray! 


Then on to Ginkaku-ji Temple

Me at Ginkaku-Ji

Me at Ginkaku-Ji

My awesome traveling companions, Tony and Calvin, interior design & architecture students hailing from China via Canada and Canada. 

My awesome traveling companions, Tony and Calvin, interior design & architecture students hailing from China via Canada and Canada. 

Next stop, Honen-in Temple

Internationally known




Colonel Sanders kyoto

I was fairly templed-out by this point (no offense). We hit up a bookstore which sounded interesting online, Junkudō










What would Colonel Sanders say about this? Hmm, probably something racist.

And speaking about race and racism, I was actually quite taken aback by what it felt like being a Black person in Japan. For one of the first times in my life I actually felt raced in an unfamiliar way. Now Japan is one of the most homogeneous societies in the world, so it's not as if I felt I belonged. On the contrary, I felt very much an outsider, but an invisible one (which I wasn't a huge fan of either). But walking around as a person racialized as Black is typically about more than just being different. It is this constant feeling of being perceived as othered AND simultaneously lesser. Obviously the degree of this is very location-contingent and based on your awareness of what's happening around you. My time in Japan was limited. But I came to sense that anti-Black racism might be a bit less pervasive there than in places I've traveled around the world. It might be experienced differently or revealed in ways unbeknownst to me, but it was nice to walk into places and not feel that my Afro-descendancy would automatically be deemed as categorically inferior. People were exceptionally nice. Of course they could've been talking shit behind my back but I appreciated the overt kindness everywhere I went.

GHANA chocolate sans cartoons of people from Africa. Kudos.

GHANA chocolate sans cartoons of people from Africa. Kudos.


Even the packaging of this chocolate, presumably derived from Ghanaian cocoa, caught my attention. Note how it's not simply called "Afrika Dark Chocolate" as the German company Balhsen did. According to them "In the heart of Africa you will find an incomparably aromatic cocoa bean." Where the hell is the heart of Africa? #AfricaIsNotACountry Note how there's no caricatured brown person depicted on the front to connect the person's flesh to the brown color of chocolate (I'm looking at you Nestle). It might seem minor, but these kinds of advertisements and packaging produce, reproduce and reinforce associations we have about attributes and groups of people. And it was refreshing not to be bombarded by such imagery, if even for a spell.  

I also marveled at the co-existence of cultural practices or ideologies that I would consider somewhat contradictory. For example, the scary/cute dichotomy pictured below. On the one hand you have a culture that has produced bad ass Samurai Warriors, a culture that has also historically been ruthless when it comes to combat and has practiced genocide. Juxtapose this with the obsession with all things hyper-adorable and I don't know whether to be worried or get my teeth checked for cavities due to all the sweetness. 

You don't want it wit' Samurai Takayama Hikokuro. 


I never thought I'd say this, but this is some cute ass rice -->>

Also fascinating to me was the fact that it's a non-tip society yet Japan had by far the best customer service I'd ever seen in my life. Maybe they pay fair wages. But even that wouldn't necessarily produce better treatment of customers. I also watched as parents appeared to dote on their children, yet you don't hear about Japanese children behaving overly "spoiled." A number of people discussed with me the way that Japanese culture has a particular affinity for all things new. For example, houses are not expected to be passed on to family members, but instead you are supposed to build new homes. Heirlooms are not favored, which is one of the reasons the markets are amazing because people are getting rid of awesome shit (also may be a function of limited space). So you have a culture where people don't believe in things lasting for a very long time, yet there is also this emphasis on quality and a tangentially-related value, a reverence for the elderly. I'm sure everything has a sociological and historical root that I'm unaware of but I found it all so interesting to dissect. 


In the cut in Kyoto


The night right before I met Tony and Calvin I ate alone and remember thinking how much I wanted something very basic like dinner conversation. So I was particularly pleased to be able to dine on some great Okonoiyaki with these guys. 

The next day I headed out early on the bus to Arashiyama, determined to find this bamboo groove I'd read about.

Women in traditional dress in Arashiyama

My fav pic of the trip

My fav pic of the trip

I'm lost in the woooooods (straight Bon Iver style) 



It's sort of tough to find your way when these are the guide posts. 





But eventually I somehow made it!


"Deep thoughts-Deep woods" selfie


Then it was back on the bus to the Shinto Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine where I climbed all the way to the top, like a G. 

I appreciated the hell out of these directions. Let's hear it for squats.


Long-legged in Japan problems



Back on the bus I went.

The next day I returned to Tokyo via the bullet train. Ya know what? It's fast.  


In Tokyo I hit up Toji Temple and Kobo-San Market.


The artist behind my beautiful handmade screen


The Japanese are NOT about that darker skin. Gloves, umbrellas, long sleeves, skin brighteners/whiteners, whatever it takes to keep it light. 

Japanese Brownness Prevention 

These products are from Muji but they don't seem available on the US Muji website. Don't know if whitening is supposed to be synonymous with brightening but it would appear that it's NOT just about brighter skin. 


I kicked it in Ginza, the 5th Ave of Tokyo.






I hit up the humongous Uniqlo in Ginza. My favorite part, this sign. ---->

After the ground toilet situation I know that sometimes you just need a little help with unfamiliar territory.




My last night in Japan I had a bit of a moment... 


A bag in Ginza that was talking to me.


It's been real, Nippon!!!

The "Oh Sh**, I Traveled To 10 Countries In 2014" Review- Part 7- Yokohama & Tokyo(#9 Japan)

Here it is (a groove, slightly transformed...my bad, force of hip hop habit), the second to last installment of my 2014 Travel Year Review. Aw yeh, aw yeh (Rock dat! See what I mean...). 

So I made my way from Prague, Czech Republic to Tokyo, Japan via a 5 hr layover in London. Once again my short term goal was to sleep when I could in order to stay awake when I arrived in Tokyo at 9am and not lose a day. Because my conference was in Yokohama I had to make my way from Tokyo Narita Airport to Yokohama via train. There are various kinds of lines in Japan making it particularly challenging to navigate initially. Multiple train companies mean that if you decide to buy an unlimited card for one system it may not actually take you where you want to go because another company may operate that line you actually need. Not fun or convenient, but manageable. I stayed at a very bare bones spot called Hostel Zen, small single room with a shared bathroom. Nothing to write home about. The first two days I did the Yokohama and International Sociology Association conference deal. 


Yokohama, Japan






This is what the subway map looked like.

Japanese Subway Map

Lost in Translation, the Afro version 

Lost in Translation, the Afro version 





And subsequently, this is what I looked like. If you don't know what this look is, some would call it "confusion."

The conference opened with some sociologist zingers and Michael Burawoy dropping knowledge of sorts.

These performers did their thing. 


The next day I played conference hookie and ventured out into Tokyo. It was both cool and exhausting. And not exhausting necessarily because of how tired I'd been from traveling to four countries in Europe before my arrival, which was only made worse by my overpacking. And not just because of all the people dipping and diving around Tokyo, because come on, I live in NYC. But just what it took out of me to navigate such an unknown space alone. I think it's important to punctuate this a bit, not to cause travellers' panic, but because it's crucial for many as they venture out dolo in the world. I've discussed this before. Understand that it's not uncommon to feel a sense of unease. Just leaving the hotel takes a certain degree of courage, figuring out how to get from A to B, how to feed yourself, how to work through being such a visible outsider, how to be someone in a strange place. All of these feelings had been swirling around within me and at this particular point I really became officially over solo travel.

But hey, I was still fortunate enough to be in Japan. Gotta keep it moving. I did just that and ran around Tokyo. First stop, Shibuya.

Shibuya selfie



Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan


Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. I couldn't tell if these were those "Black Style" folks I'd seen footage on. Their color was bananas. Well I guess more like coconut shells technically but you catch my drift. 

All I know is that this woman's face behind them sums it up.

You never know what kinds of stories you'll hear when you're abroad. The nature of the circumstances leads you to converse with people you may not have otherwise. This is Catherine Fisher. She and I struck up a convo over accessories in a department store. The article I hold in my hand came out the day before we met. She'd just released her book, I Am Catherine Jane, which details her survival and fight as the victim of rape by a U.S. Navy sailor in Yokosuka. I told her I would share her story. 

Me with Catherine Fisher, author of I AM CATHERINE JANE

I ate then made my way on foot from Shibuya proper, I guess you could say, to the Harajuku section of Shibuya. I captured this video on the way because it is distinctly what I call a "sound of Tokyo" in all its cutesy and kind of annoying splendor. 


Before I went deep into the Harajuku neighborhood I went to the Shinto shrine Meiji Jingū, something completely opposite of the above video. It was this peaceful, green oasis in the middle of the city. 


Me with Barrels of Sake Wrapped in Straw at Meiji Jingū


These were the personal prayers and messages of gratitude for the deities enshrined at Meiji Jingū which I could actually read and stood out for various reasons. 


Shrine Selfie. Wait, that sounds disrespectful. I mean that is what this is though, but...I don't know. 


Then it was off to the fashionable and festive, Harajuku neighborhood of Shibuya. 


Smells like teen spirit, Tokyo


I call the next series of pics "???"

And these are from the "you're welcome" collection.

Women Only Subway Car in Tokyo, Japan

I rolled back to Yokohama on the "Women Only" car which I'd discussed in the article I wrote on street harassment for The Shadow League some time ago. It was a reminder of what things have been put in place to protect women from the sort of unwanted touching I'd experienced on the subway car in Chile.  


The next day I distributed my work at the ISA conference in Yokohama.

Pokemania lives on

Pokemania lives on

I'd always thought the Pokemon thing in Japan was exaggerated. Turns out, not so much. They really do STILL love them some Pokemon in Japan. It was everywhere.

During the wee hours of the morning I wrote the only blog post I would come to write while actually in Japan called "Scars." I think the shit is deep, but what the hell do I know? 

I always appreciate a good travel mash up. Meeting up with the Danish girl I met in Ecuador in Copenhagen. Kicking it with my Colombian crew in New York. Hanging tough with one of my New York besties in Cairo, Egypt. I had two great mash ups in one day in Japan. You may recall this lovely cast of characters from the Vienna, Austria trip only a few weeks earlier. We all met up for lunch at the conference. 

One of the things I noticed in Japan is how often I saw people wearing things that were written in some seriously grammatically incorrect English. At one point I thought maybe it was purposeful, but in the end I thought not. Here the urban sociologists are posing in front of the trendy Urban Research Make Store. Wait, huh? Yeh, I don't know either. 

Later that night the mash ups continued as I got to kick it with my fellow urban sociology, PhD hustling cool kid, Nelson, in Shimokitazawa and Shibuya (Soon we'll be in Italy! Woo hoo!). 







Next stop, Kyoto!!

The "Oh sh**, I traveled to 10 countries in 2014" Review- Part 6 (#8 Prague, Czech Republic)


The  day after I left Vienna I was off to Prague, aka Praha! I was going to take the train again but everyone advised I take the Student Agency buses which were a fraction of the price and to some even nicer. I was so happy I did. They were exactly right.

I stayed at Miss Sophie's which was really lovely. I wandered around by myself the first day.

I hit up a bookstore and learned how to write Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Kenya in Czech and now you did too. #YoureWelcome 

This ad just spoke to me because I have long felt that I can Bey like no other.


The next day I was fortunate enough to take the walking tour provided by the hotel with the fantastic Tony. We worked our way around the city.

Once the official tour was over Tony took us somewhere that the lush in me genuinely appreciated: a beer spot where each person controls how much beer they serve themselves and everyone has individual tabs. Brilliant? Or evil? You decide. 


Oh and to make matters even worse there was a competition for drinking the most beer between the tables. Yes, we killed it.


We then went on to one of Prague's "straight-friendly" cafes.  


That night I rolled out with a group of adorable queer fellas to a gay bar and then a club. There were some cuties up in that party. And every few moments I would catch myself thinking, “Hey, why isn’t he paying me any attentioooo, oh right. Fudge.” But I had such a cool time and in the morning I was off to Japan!!


The "Oh sh**, I traveled to 10 countries in 2014" Review- Part 5 (#7 Vienna, Austria)

Me on a train from Budpest to Vienna

My time in Vienna was simultaneously fantastic and senselessly annoying. The annoying elements are definitely LIBRO material and speak to so many of the other frustrations in life at the time. So let’s get to the less deep shit for now. I left Budapest and headed to Vienna via train. Here’s my first tip if heading to Austria from Hungary: pay to have an assigned seat. I had no idea that was really an option because the woman at the ticket counter didn’t inform me. And I found myself wanting to later return and tell her about herself, because what that meant was almost the entire trip I was on edge thinking someone would board and force me outta my seat. And since this wasn’t Alabama and my name isn’t Mrs. Parks I was gonna have to raise up out. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but it was anxiety producing.

I was in Vienna to participate in the Marie Jahoda Summer School of Sociology  at the University of Vienna. We weren’t put into housing and I decided to stay in the Wombat´s City Hostel The Naschmarkt   because, while it wasn’t very close to the University of Vienna, it seemed to be close to other places of interest, like the Naschmarkt. When I got to the dorm room at the hostel I casually checked the mattress for any signs of bed bugs. Tip #2 that I’m sure many of you know: always check the hell out of your mattresses when you stay in hotels, especially hostels. I’ll get more into this in a few. I explored Vienna a bit on my own that first day.

Hey, little Black girl in Vienna!

World Cup watching

World Cup watching

I don’t know what the hell this is about, but it looks a whole lot like cultural appropriation and racial insensitivity but maybe this is something Viennese that I’m totally culturally unaware about. One of y’all tell me. 


Oh and this one too…


That evening I met the two women sharing the hostel room, a psychologist from Brazil and a Québécois chef for Cavalia, which apparently is like the Canadian Cirque du Soleil but with horses. The next morning was the first day of the program and I made my way there via train. Public transpo in Vienna is on that honor code shit. You are required to purchase a ticket but there aren’t any turnstiles or people to show tickets. If someone stops to ask for your ticket you’ve gotta be ready to whip it out. But all it took was for me to see a few of the people I’d met who lived there enter sans ticket for me to just start rolling like them. I’m not saying I’m proud of it but man, the Euro was hurting my dollar holding pockets. 

The program was set up so that we spent our days listening to one another’s presentations on our various projects in our doctoral programs, had lunch in different places and a few evenings had things scheduled. I don’t know what it was about this group but we all genuinely bonded (Hey, Summer School Crew!). I felt like we all had gone to university for years together and not just spent 4 days running around Vienna like the less romantic version of Before Sunrise. By the end I had new buddies from the US, Austria, Namibia,  Germany, Greece, Italy, Albania, Turkey, Romania, Serbia, Hungary (sorry if I'm leaving anyone out!) and learned all different types of interesting information about the development climate in cities in these countries and more.

For our first lunch we went to Gangl.

And for dinner we all took a few trollies/buses to what is apparently the only vineyard located in a capital, Heuriger (Tavern) Zadowsky. This is where I had my very first Vienesse Spritzer, which of course I had to say over and over again in my best Viennese accent as I was properly taught.

We had a lovely time but in true-Valle fashion I had nothing prepared for my presentation the next day and needed to get back to the hostel to work. I was up all night, laying down for about 2 hrs then hauling ass to the university. My presentation was too long, as usual, and I ran through it likely confusing everyone, especially all my non-native English speakers. But when I was done I felt like I could conquer the world and could more importantly, eat, drink and be merry without the burden of work. We all kicked it after, exploring the city, then drinking and rapping for hours. Super cool.

Oh cuz suddenly I'm so mature??


I feel that if Nas and I saw one another in Vienna we would've fallen madly in love so I was deeply saddened to be missing this show by but a few days. #OneDayBooOneLove


So I get back to the hostel late and see the chef from my room in the lobby and she’s like, “have you been to the room yet?” Um, no. “We have bed bugs.” WTF!? No exaggeration: bringing bed bugs back to my home is one of my GREATEST fears. So it’s around midnight maybe and I’ve got to wash allllll of my clothes and put my suitcase in their freezer after it’s been sprayed with pesticides, just thinking, "is this my life right now?" This went on for hours. It was awful. I didn’t know if I’d gotten bitten but knew that sometimes bites can take a while to show or I may not react at all. The only good thing was that I had so little sleep the night before so hadn't been in the actual bed much. The Brazilian woman on a different bed apparently got to' up. I was over WOMBATS. They said I wouldn’t have to pay for the night. Ya think?? I spent hours trying to find somewhere else to stay. But it was the wee hours of the night and was having no luck. I changed rooms and couldn’t even stay for more than one night in the new room. I found one spot that I could only spend one night in a hotel. I had to go to the university in the morn then come all the way back to change hotels at lunch. Ridiculous.

We all spent the afternoon touring the Museums Quartier area.


 Here I am not buying whatever he is selling about gentrification.




Then we listened to a lecture by Ash Amin, who was participating in the summer school.





Then the gaaaaaames began! We took the bottles of wine from the event and just had a ball in the Museums Quartier.

I went to the new hotel and had to pack up allllll my shit the next day. We had our presentations at the Museums Quarter. One of the people attending the Univ. of Vienna was an awesome dude from Guatemala (Hey, Estuardo!!) and when I told him what the deal was he offered to let me stay with him for my last two  days. And I moved everything for a THIRD time to his spot and totally missed all of the afternoon presentations. Ugh. This was me looking and feeling like I was gonna pass out from exhaustion.


That night we headed out to Leopoldstadt (I believe was the neighborhood) to watch the Brazil v. Germany soccer match.

On the way I saw this street sign. And of course my "racism" bell goes off. Ding! I confer with those who speak Viennese/German and they confirm that this does indeed mean something related to black or little nigger or something that's a definite #racefail. I recall someone telling me later she got into an argument with her mom about it before. Can anyone tell me the exact translation again?

We get to the bar to watch the game. And if any of you saw this game you know why we all looked like this…(great shot, Nikolav)


Watching Brazil vs. Germany World Cup match in Vienna


The shit was a tragedy. But it served Brazil right for displacing so many poor people to carry out these games! Yep, I said it. Hmph!

We all then made our way to Bricks where before I knew it we were hopping around and going HAM. Hilarious.

Our final day we had a few more presentations, lunch and said our farewells.

And of course we had to close with our soccer stance, in honor of the World Cup. 

The "Oh sh**, I traveled to 10 countries in 2014" Review- Part 4 (#6 Budapest, Hungary)

I  headed from Copenhagen, Denmark to Budapest, Hungary on July 3, 2014. The problem with writing this retroactively is that there are particular planning headaches about which I can’t give you great detail because I only vaguely remember them. Hell maybe, that’s for the best. But I’d like to help you avoid similar headaches if possible. For this Euro/Japan adventure I had to make reservations for 5 different spots (stayed in 6 places by the end) and because I can be a littllllle, let's say persnickety, I had to spend a great deal of time weighing between different locations and costs. But guidebooks and websites can go a surprisingly long way, even though they don't compare to the word of someone whose opinion you trust. 

So for those of you that don’t know, Budapest is the capital of and largest city in Hungary. Budapest was once two separate cities, Buda and Pest, before unifying in the early-mid 1800s. I had no clue and it only became clear when I was fortunate enough to have a friend of a friend tell me the following when looking for accomodations:

"She should probably look for a place around the 5th, 7th, 13th or some parts of the 8th district. Main thing: She should look for a place in Pest, not Buda."

The city is broken up into hella districts so this was quite helpful info.  I settled on one of the two Maverick hostels, Maverick City Lodge (24-26. Kazinczy Utca). It was cute, clean and hip and worked for the two nights I was there. I didn’t do much the first night but catch up on sweet, beautiful sleep.

The next day I met up with my fellow Columbia University doctoral candidate sistren, Yesenia, and her partner, Mark, and we ran around Budapest 'til we basically tuckered ourselves out. We stopped at the Jewish Quarter which was near my hostel. 


We made our way to the Danube River across the Chain Bridge and saw Buda Castle.

From the other side of the bridge we walked around historic Castle Hill in Buda.

These definitely required some historical context which we were clearly lacking. 






We saw the lovely Matthias Church...

Matthias Church





And that this is encouraged...


And why not get flipmode style on the edge of the Chain Bridge over the River Danube? Why not?


In search of a café I came across more folks of the African Diaspora getting their hustle on. And I love it but hmm, "Afro Exotic Beauty Shop"?? But hey, I don't know what it takes to make a way for a person from The Continent up in Hungary.  So let me not knock your perpetuation of Afro-exotification. As long as there's not some European behind the operation like, "yeh, let's call it that!" :-/ 


And of course here we have what should seem like a sadly familiar representation of the Black woman if you've read other posts of mine. Cofesa is a Spanish company apparently. In this one she's sort of Josephine Baker meets Aunt Jemima. Womp womp. 


Later that night we went out to eat with a woman studying in Budapest, Natalia, and then hit up what is part of a very cool looking bar scene in Budapest, the ruinspub. Is this part of some gentrification/displacement process? Don't know but it definitely has all the trappings of it. I hope not though because they were so damn funky. I believe the one we went to was Szimpla Kert "Simple Garden" (VII., Kazinczy u. 14.) one of the oldest and most popular ruins pubs in Budapest. Why I don't have any of my own pics from the spot, I don't know. 


But it looked something like this...

Budapest was a lovely city from what I could gather from my quick visit. It was great having cool company to explore with for a bit. I know that there was so much more to see and I really wish I had hit up one of the classic spas. Maybe there will be another opportunity one day to get my Budapest bath on. 

And I'm not ashamed to say that in the end, one of the things I appreciated most was seeing this in a restaurant...