Category Archives: Life

A Survivor’s Advice: Listen to Your Body

“Know your body and don’t ignore when something seems wrong,” breast cancer survivor Raynette Cameron advises. “It could be a headache – it could be a pain in your pinky toe – don’t ignore it,” she warns. Raynette knows first-hand. She noticed a lump near her collar-bone just days after being declared healthy following her annual wellness exam. She went back to the doctor immediately. The lump was stage-three breast cancer. After successful treatment, Raynette is hoping her story can encourage others to better manage their health and perhaps save their own lives.

“We’re having too many people dying of breast cancer and when they look back they may have had a lump for two years and they just ignored it,” she says. “You don’t have to die from cancer. Early detection is the cure,” she says. But it’s not just for cancer, she says. People should pay attention to any sign of discomfort in their bodies and get it checked out.

The hesitation to go to the doctor may be cultural, Raynette notes. “Especially for West Indians – men and women – we don’t want to go to the doctor.” She says a lack of insurance or money should never be a deterrent from going to the doctor, because there are programs available to help with medical expenses. “And those that have insurance, why wouldn’t you go get a wellness exam? It’s free with your coverage!”

After six rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and 24 radiation treatments, Raynette returned home to St. Thomas Virgin Islands in August 2013 from Louisiana where she was treated. Now she is adjusting to her “new normal.”

“These hot flashes are so rude,” Raynette says with a laugh. “They show up at any time, unannounced.”

Hot flashes are just one of the side effects that Raynette experiences. Her balance, eyesight and memory are some of the other things that have been affected. “To survive breast cancer you have so many things that come with survivorship,” she says, noting that she is now post-menopausal as a result. She also wears a compression sleeve on her left arm to prevent the swelling known as lymphedema. “I had 18 lymph nodes removed,” she says, explaining that it was required for the aggressive state of the cancer. On the bright side she says, “I got me some new boobies. And this time I got to choose exactly how I wanted them.”

Uncharacteristic of many people, Raynette was very open about every step of her ordeal.
“I was never quiet about my diagnoses. I posted my diagnoses three or four days after I found out,” she says. Facebook was where Raynette shared her highs and lows with family and friends.

That openness has drawn many to Raynette, both for advice and support. “I’ve been holding some hands,” she says, explaining that she has accompanied several women to mammogram appointments. Others she has had to force, she says jokingly. “I dragged my sister to get a mammogram as soon as she turned 40,” Raynette remembers. Three of Raynette’s aunts are breast cancer survivors. And her paternal grandfather died of colon cancer. So she took no chances with her sister.

“People are afraid that it (a mammogram) hurts,” she says. “But so what! It’s only for two seconds and it can save your life.” Raynette says four of her close friends and family have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past year. She has since gotten genetic testing for “BRCA 1 and BRCA 2” also known as the breast cancer genes. The tests came back negative.

Now Raynette is focused on giving back, whether that means sharing her story, accompanying someone to a doctor’s visit or raising funds for the USVI chapter of the American Cancer Society (ACS). Proceeds from her “No Tears, Just Prayers, Cause God Got This,” branded products are donated to the ACS. What started as slogan that Raynette used to comfort her family following her diagnoses has turned into a noticeable brand. One day after undergoing a series of testing Raynette and her family were walking through a mall when her mother suggested that they inscribe the mantra on a baseball cap. Her father decided to make several of the caps so that his daughter could sport different colors after her chemo treatments. They were so cute that Raynette posted them on Facebook. The rest is history. She now sells branded hats, visors, head bands, t-shirts and other accessories.

This October, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Raynette also hosted another fundraiser. “I needed to make this fun and bring awareness,” she says. “This year I wanted it to be all about giving back.” The result was “Paint the Porch Pink,” a party on her patio where all invited guests wore pink. Over 50 people attended, including eight breast cancer survivors. Vendors were invited to sell their products and a percentage of all sales were donated to the ACS. Next October, Raynette says, the event will be open to the public at a larger venue.

Her long-term goal is to establish the ‘Ray of Sunshine Foundation’ to bring about breast cancer awareness and to support people with the disease.

In the meanwhile, Raynette continues to thank God, her family and her doctors. As part of her continued monitoring she must undergo screening every three months that includes chest x-rays, sonograms and lab work.

“At my check up in September my doctors said, ‘You are a walking miracle.’ I never take that for granted,” she says, tears streaming down her face.

“I am a survivor first and foremost,” Raynette says, “a woman of faith, perseverance and a fighter.”

“If I can do this (beat cancer), anyone can too.”

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Breast Cancer: A Survivor’s Story

She found a lump near her left collar-bone on Aug. 28, 2012 – just days after her annual check-up. On Aug. 29, she went back to her doctor, who said the lump looked like a muscle strain but ordered a sonogram to be sure. The sonogram came back inconclusive and she took an MRI. The MRI revealed a mass, so she took a biopsy.

Raynette A. Cameron has always been meticulous about her health. As an adult she never missed a dentist appointment or her annual women’s wellness check-up. She even got her first mammogram when she turned 40 years old, as recommended. So imagine her utter shock when she was diagnosed with aggressive stage three breast cancer – a few days after she had been given a clean bill-of-health following her annual wellness exam.

“The doctor said, ‘It’s not good news Raynette. It’s cancer,’” Raynette recalls of the day her physician of 12 years gave her that life-changing news. Shock! It’s the only thing Raynette said that she felt after receiving the diagnoses.

The National Cancer Institute defines cancer as diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. According to the institute, there are more than 100 different types of cancer and breast cancer is the second most prevalent in the United States – prostate cancer is the first. Breast cancer represents 14 percent of all new cancer cases in the U.S. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is observed nation-wide in October.

“I’m an advocate for getting yourself checked out – doctors’ visits, those annual stuff, the dental appointments every six months,” Raynette said. So even with all of the testing, cancer was the last thing on her mind. “The shock was like: Me? I’m on top of my health…I go walking off and on….I watch what I eat,” she says. “It was like ‘what do you mean,’” she recalls. “The shock was just tremendous.”
The first few days after the diagnoses were hard.

“I cried for two days,” Raynette says. “Then I felt a calm that said ‘stop crying and get to work.’ With that I just put all my energy into what I needed to do to live.” Soon she was on a plane, from St. Thomas Virgin Islands where she lives, to Florida.

Raynette comes from a large extended family who took her diagnoses hard. She notes that her family is also a prayerful family. While Raynette had dried up her tears, her family’s gloom continued.

“I had to tell them ‘look, if you can’t call me without crying, don’t call me – text me, send me an e-mail, but let’s not have these crying fests,” she remembers. “I would say to them, no more tears, let’s just pray.” Out of that came Raynette’s mantra, which took her through chemotherapy, radiation, three surgeries, a near-death experience and recovery: “No More Tears, Just Prayers, Cause God Got This.”

Raynette decided to seek treatment in Louisiana, where her father and step-mother live. On Nov. 30, she spent her 41st birthday in surgery receiving her chemo port. The lump that was four centimeters when it was discovered, was 12 centimeters by the time she began chemotherapy. For Raynette, chemo was not the nightmare that some other cancer patients experience. She lost all of her hair four days after she began chemo. Her appetite followed. But she took her medication “religiously” and never experienced nausea or vomiting. She continued chemo every three weeks to complete her six treatments.

After completing chemo came another shocker. Raynette’s doctors told her they had to remove her left breast. “I told them they would have to take both,” Raynette says, without skipping a beat. In May 2013 she had a bilateral mastectomy. During the surgery she remembers waking up to a team of doctors hovering over her. They asked how she was doing. When she replied she was fine, they told her they were taking her back into surgery. It was only after the bilateral mastectomy was completed and she recovered did Raynette learn that massive hemorrhaging caused her to “slip away,” during the surgery. “They had called a code blue,” Raynette says.

After recovering post-operation, Raynette started radiation. “Radiation took more out of me than chemo,” she remembers. Still she found the energy to return to St. Thomas for the annual Relay for Life – twice; in June, but the event was postponed, and then in July for the event. She did 24 of the initially scheduled radiation treatments because third-degree burns to the treatment area caused her doctors to cancel the last two.

“By July I was convinced I needed to come home,” she says. And on Aug. 28, 2013, exactly one year after she discovered the lump, Raynette returned back home to St. Thomas – cancer free.

After successfully completing treatment, Raynette’s oncologist had a stark confession. “She said ‘we didn’t think you would make it,’” says Raynette. “It’s miraculous as aggressive as it was, it didn’t spread,” she notes. “That shocked the crap out of my doctors.” Because of the severity of her condition, she was also a case study at the hospital in Louisiana.

“I’ve always been a fighter,” Raynette says from her St. Thomas office at Bellows International where she is the director of Human Resources. So she treated breast cancer as any other opponent that wanted to take her down – she fought it.

“I couldn’t think of having my mother, father and siblings having to bury me,” Raynette says. “I had to give it my best shot. I never asked why me,” she said. “Because why not me. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate.”

Part II, “Breast Cancer: A Survivor’s Advice” coming

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The Unplanned Fast

(Written August 18, 2014)

I was so amped up about getting to work today! I got up extra early (in spite of going to bed late). I actually did a “before-shower-workout” – about five minutes of exercise before you shower – that I had been meaning to start doing for months now. And I cooked lunch. I usually bring my lunch to work. Today, though, I had to prepare something to go with my eggplant parmesan. After cooking I packed my lunch bag early. I got ready in record time. And I was ready to leave the house early! On the way to work I had a long talk with God. This talk was longer than usual, perhaps because I was early and didn’t have the regular drive-time pressure. As I spoke to HIM, thanking HIM for his blessings and praising HIM for blessings to come, my heart filled with gratitude.

I pulled up at work, all chipper. Then I realized that I forgot my lunch bag at home. I was so upset. The strange thing is that when I’m rushing, I never forget my lunch bag. I started thinking. I knew that I’d be too busy to leave campus today. And I said to myself that maybe I should fast (abstain from food) for the day. But I was joking. With only some green tea in my stomach, I was already hungry. And although I was on good time, leaving to buy breakfast and lunch would only put me back. So I hot-stepped into the office – ready for the day.

At my desk, I decided that I would fast. That I would try to continue the connection I had earlier with God – despite the busy day I knew was ahead. I’ve been fasting on and off for many years. I haven’t been too routine within the last 4 years, as I had in the past. I usually fast for spiritual reasons. For me it’s sacrificing the physical, for connection with the spiritual. So I like to prepare myself physically in advance. Today however, gave me no preparation. Interestingly, just a few days ago, a colleague told me that she was fasting as part of an observance of a Catholic holy day. That gave me even more encouragement for today.

Later as I drank some cold water, it tasted so good. It was like the best thing I’ve ever consumed! I thought about how important water was to me since it was the only thing that I had. I thought about all the people around the world who didn’t have clean drinking water. And I silently prayed….

Because fasting is spiritual, I rarely speak about it. Scripture tells us to “appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy father which is in secret.” (HB Matthew 6, 16-18) But I wondered how common fasting was now and personal rituals around it. I’m quite aware of the Muslim holy season of Ramadan. I also know that some Christians fast during Lent. But I wondered about less structured forms of fasting done by individuals and families.

Do you fast? Do you encourage everyone in your family to fast? At what age do you allow your children to fast? Do you fast with groups? Or is fasting for you individual thing? How does fasting work for spouses who are of different religions or faiths? In what other ways do you connect with God? Let me know. I want to hear from you!

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I Enjoyed Taking People’s Things; and Having Mine Taken

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I really hate wearing clothes. So I wear as little as possible, until I really need to – like when I must leave the house. The other night while looking for something comfortable to make a store-run, I came across a black yoga pants I took from my cousin Shoija. Returning from Europe this summer I had a layover in Atlanta and stayed with her. Rather than unpack all of my stuff looking for something to wear, most of which needed to wash, I asked her loan me something comfortable for the night. (FYI, I had lots of clean underwear. I usually overpack those.) She brought me a whole stack of clothes. I chose a yoga pants and t-shirt. Remember now, I hate clothes. And I hate long pants. But after a transatlantic flight wearing jeans, that yoga pants felt good! So good that I told Shoija I’m keeping it. She gave me a look as if to say, “aren’t you going to ask first.” But I didn’t.
So I chuckled to myself the other night, at the memory. Not so long ago, when we were children, we took each other’s stuff all the time. I remember cousins taking my clothes, shoes, hair accessories…. I took things from them too. And it was never a problem. Actually, if I had something that one of my family members liked more than I did, I would usually give it to them before they had a chance to take it. And vice versa. That was the norm for us cousins who were around the same age. Some things were off limits though, like gifts and expensive jewelry. Heaven forbid I took something that one of my cousins’ boyfriends gave them.
We saw this among our parents. My mother and her sisters always took each other’s stuff – and it was never a problem. The adults also always gave us something to take whenever we visited – be it food, groceries, a new bra, a head-tie, money. My Aunt Keturah once gave me an engagement ring that she had found! Once we left with their homes with something, they felt good.
One time in high school I tried to explain to a good friend why I didn’t have a particular accessory. A cousin had “gone with it,” I told her. She couldn’t understand how someone could “go with” something that was mine without asking, even after I explained that my family did that all the time.
I think that it was outside influences over a period of time that caused things to change. As we became older, we became more possessive. We started saying things to each other like, “if you want something, next time ask.” Soon it seemed like we started valuing things more than each other. Like we preferred to have something safely tucked away in our closets, never to be used, while someone else needed it. We allowed the ways of the world to be the ways of our lives.
Things are just that – things. The only value they have, is the value we give them. The Bible says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6, 21) Where is your treasure? Is it among the earthly things that we know will soon rot or fade away? Are we so caught up in what society tells us is valuable, that we prefer to store them up rather than put them to good use or give them to someone who can put them to good use?
That night in Atlanta with Shoija reminded me of how we were as children, when things mattered less and people mattered more. Matter of fact, she stared offering me more clothes to take – all the while trying to convince me to change my morning flight so that I could spend an extra day with her and the family.
I’ll probably hardly ever wear that yoga pants. But the memory of how I took it from my cousin, like we did when we were children, will always bring g a smile to my face.

Are You Suffering from “Harden’ness”?

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As a child growing upon the Virgin Islands when we wouldn’t listen to and obey adults, we were accused of being “harden.'” The word was used often to describe defiant, disobedient children who would not take instructions from adults, no matter what. It was synonymous with unruly children. I think that all of my peers were told by an adult “yo too harden,'” at some point in our childhoods. Surely if adults called you “harden'” it was not a good thing. It wasn’t until, I got older that I really understood the word – which is actually hardened, with a “d” at the end (that we in the VI never pronounced). The real word – hardened – is an adjective that can be used to describe anyone, not only a child, who is so set in their ways that nothing can change them. While it’s not usual to hear the term used towards adults, it very well can be. As adults sometimes we make up our minds – and because we have declared a stance on a particular subject, or because we have always been doing things in a certain way – nothing can change us; we become hardened. It’s ok to change. It’s ok to change your opinion. It’s ok to change your lifestyle. It’s ok to change your plans. It’s ok to change your feelings. It’s ok. None of us should become so hardened that we are unwilling to change. But even worse, none of us should become so hardened that we do not listen to God. Lots of times the Most High shows us that we should do things differently. That we should behave differently. That we should think differently. That we should live differently. But we don’t; and we remain hardened. In reality we are no different from an unruly child who refuses counsel from someone wiser. The thing about hardenedness is that deep down we know that we should change. Sometimes everything and everyone in our lives show us that we should change. We know that we are being defiant for no reason, or that we are being defiant against good reason. Listen to your inside voice. Listen to God. Suffering from “harden’ness” is a choice. Let’s choose not to suffer.

9 Signs “He Ain’t the One for You”

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Love, trust and respect are foundational elements for good relationships. When a foundation is built sometimes everything else falls into place – but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Here are some of the signs that I’ve observed that indicate that your boyfriend isn’t the one for you. Life is short. Don’t settle for mediocre when you deserve awesome. Before I begin, let me say that if he’s abusive to you – he ain’t the one for you. Abuse comes in many forms. The most common are physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and financial abuse. Queen, an abusive relationship cannot honor and serve you. An abuser must first acknowledge his actions and seek help from a professional and a higher power. No amount of love from you can change an abuser. Change can only come from the abuser himself.

1) He cheats (and cheats again, and again)
Unless you are in a polygamous relationship or have made exceptions to include other people in your relationship, you expect that your significant other will be faithful. Some men report challenges in remaining monogamous in a long term relationships and sometimes they cheat. It’s your call if you want to forgive and remain in a relationship with a man who has cheated on you. Cheating hurts. I know this because, well, I’ve been cheated on before. If your man can put you through the pain of cheating on you – then do it over and over again – it signifies that he doesn’t mind seeing you hurt. Nobody who loves and values you would want to see you hurt. So honey, if he cheats on you, he ain’t the one for you.

2) You two are not sexually compatible
Some folks may downplay the importance of sex in a relationship. They’ll tell you to find someone whose company you can enjoy even after you’ve grown too old for sex. And they are right to some extent. A good relationship cannot be based on sex alone. But while you’re young and healthy sex will be a major part of your relationship.Compatibility goes beyond the frequency of the act itself, to include each partner’s likes and dislikes, and expectations. No matter how good of a person he is if you are not sexually compatible, it will lead to sexual frustration. At that point there’s an opportunity for therapy or other professional help. However, if you’re always sexually frustrated, he ain’t the one for you.

3) You can’t be yourself around him
You may have found the perfect man, with the perfect job, and the perfect house. He may have a perfect body, perfect smile and perfect values. Even though he may be perfect, you should be comfortable being you; or else you are deceiving him and living a lie. If you can’t wear t-shirts and jeans when you two go out because he prefers you in heels and a mini skirt; or if you have to hold back your boisterous snort-like laugh when you catch a joke because he hates it … You catch my drift. Sooner or later if you change the core of who you are to please a man you will have regrets when you realize that even you, can’t recognize who you are anymore. If you can’t be yourself around him, he ain’t the one for you.

4) You have opposing values
In a relationship, all values will not match up perfectly. If your core values differ drastically, no matter how much you compromise, your relationship will have problems. It’s important to find a mate with similar values. If you value hard, honest work and your boo is always looking for a get-rich-scheme, this may be a challenge later on. This is especially important if you want to start a family, because when children are involved the stakes are higher. If you hate liars and your fiancé is a compulsive liar, if your have children it’s likely that you’ll be upset that little Jr. is becoming a compulsive liar too. If you and your partner’s values are opposite, he ain’t the one for you.

5) He doesn’t support your goals and dreams
Your true soulmate will be your biggest cheerleader. If you decide you want to be an astronaut, he’ll move with you to Houston to attend Johnson’s Space Center. In life you should feel like there are no limits to what you can accomplish – because really, there are no limits. Your man should not impose limits on your dreams. He should be the one encouraging you, even if everyone else has given up on you. So if you find yourself with someone who regularly reminds you of what you cant’t do or who tries to otherwise discourage or divert your goals and dreams, he ain’t the one for you.

6) His total happiness depends on you
We all want to feel love and wanted. We want to know that our presence makes a difference in someone’s life – and that’s great. The fact is that we are not responsible for another human being’s emotions. If your boyfriend cannot have a happy moment unless you provide it, or if you get blamed for his various emotional states, he may have deeper issues that you cannot fix. If all of his moods are based on something that you did or didn’t do, my love, he ain’t the one for you.

7) He doesn’t think that you’re totally awesome
No one is perfect. You know that. And your boyfriend knows that too. But that shouldn’t stop him from from feeling that you are the most awesome person on earth. If you’re with someone who thinks that you’re ok, that’s ok. But your life partner will think that you are awesome – and he’ll want to tell everyone too. There is someone out there who will accept you as you are, flaws and all, and think that you’re awesome too. If you’re with someone who doesn’t, he ain’t the one for you.

8) He doesn’t like your mother
I got this one from my late Aunt Keturah. She always used to say: if a man doesn’t like your mother, he can’t love you. I’ve found this to be mostly true. Sure there are some mothers who have been intentionally or unintentionally damaging to their children. In these cases, your husband may not like your mom. And let’s face it, some people are just unlikeable. But if you get along fine with your mom and your significant other can’t stand her, he ain’t the one for you.

9) No one in your inner circle can stand him
Now we don’t get into relationships for our parents, siblings, other family or friends. We look for someone that provides the type of relationship that we want. Sometimes our close family and friends may not like our significant other. And that’s ok. But when all the people who love and care for you cannot stand your boyfriend, that’s usually a sign that he’s a jerk. If a man manages to turn-off all your friends, your parents, and your family on both your mother and father side of the family tree, they can probably see something you can’t. Do some reevaluation: he ain’t the one for you.

Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Conclusion

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Getting Back Home
I was restless on my transatlantic flight back to the US. I had missed my family and was nervous about my cousin’s health. I also felt bad about leaving the trip early, even though it was only one day early. Everyone was sleeping when I left and only my boyfriend had known of my last-minute decision to leave. On the airplane the remote control for my inflight entertainment was broken. I couldn’t scroll through and the only thing I could watch was a children’s channel or Life of Pi. I had spent an enormous amount of time trying to fix the control. I had even had a flight attendant reset my screen. Unable to settle my mind, I decided to watch Life of Pi. It was one of the best movies I have ever seen! Everything happens for a reason. There was a reason that was the only movie I could see. The most important theme I got from the movie is that no matter what we may face in life, once we have the insatiable desire to overcome, we will. Praise God. In that moment, I knew that my cousin would be fine – that she would fight for her healing.

Landing back on US soil felt so good. That was an unexpected emotion for me. Back in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport around noon I was disappointed to find only two US Customs agents to receive US passport holders. Now this is the type of service that, unfortunately, I have come to expect in the Virgin Islands. But I was quite surprised to meet a long line of international travelers returning home and having to wait so long to go through customs because so few agents were available. Nevertheless it felt good to be in familiar territory.

When my cousin finally picked me up, she had some good news. Our cousin was recovering rapidly! I had a layover in Atlanta and cherished the opportunity to spend time with family. It just so happened that my uncle and his family from Chicago and other family from Bermuda were visiting Atlanta. It was a mini reunion of sorts. I was tired bad! But the night in Atlanta was filled with family and fun. I left out for St. Thomas the next day.

I hadn’t even arranged for someone to pick me up from the airport. But hey, I was home. I should be able to find a ride one way or another. I was glad when my dependable cousin was able to pick me up. I can’t explain how good it felt to see my children and mom, even though I had been gone for only eight days. My oldest had baked a welcome home cake for me! Home sweet home!

Conclusion
Travel, travel and travel some more! I like seeing and experiencing new places and cultures. Still, my fear of long flights and limited financial resources made traveling a challenge for me. But like anything else, we can come up with a million excuses of why we “can’t,” or we can simply do it. Now international travel won’t happen instantaneously for most people. It will take planning and saving. But it’s worth it. On my travels through Europe I saw older couples – some looked to be in their 80’s, younger couples – some toting babies in their arms, entire families – with three generations traveling. There were travelers who were wheelchair bound. There is no excuse not to travel and expand your world view. Even though I live on an island, I promised to never limit myself to an island. So get those passports. Renew them if you must, but make it a point to see and experience something new.

Accommodations
Having heard of hotels in France with no air conditioning, no irons or other amenities that we are accustomed to, I was a bit concerned about what to expect. We stayed at Marriott properties throughout our visit and each had met or exceeded our expectations. The Marriott London Arch was the best. Service was great – the concierge spent almost an hour helping us to get the best cab deal on our 4 am departure from London.

Food
There were bakeries everywhere in Europe! I love sweets, and tried out quite a few desserts, but surprised myself with the restraint I used to not eat all desserts in sight. I didn’t notice too many obese people, perhaps because portion sizes in Europe were smaller than those in the US. And in Amsterdam just about everyone rode bikes. I wasn’t totally impressed with the food. Like anywhere else, there were good restaurants, and there were not-too-good restaurants. My best foods were a ravioli dish and the Josephine Baker drink in France, and the waffle and ice cream dessert in Amsterdam. I’m pretty easy to please and like learning about new cultures, so I had an easier time with food than some in the group.

Random
• The Charles de Gaulle Airport in France had, by far, the most sophisticated public bathroom that I’ve ever seen.
• We traveled within Europe on Easy Jet. It was easy and economical.
• Plan for the money conversion. The Euro and Great Britain Pound are stronger than the US Dollar. Do the math early for good budgeting.
• Check the weather of your destination before you arrive. And be sure to pack more than a denim jacket – even though it’s summer!

Now go get those passports and book some travel!
This island girl’s firs European adventure was awesome! Love and blessings!

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Amsterdam

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The “Red Light District” is Real

If I thought London was cold, I was in for a surprise – Amsterdam was colder! When we finally made our way out of Schiphol Airport I wanted so badly to get into a vehicle to escape the cold. My denim jacket wasn’t helping me at all. But the group proceeded to spend the next 20 or so minutes in front of the IAMSTERDAM sign. Then we missed our first bus to the hotel. We decided to take public transportation because the bus took us right in front of the Amsterdam Marriott where we were staying. We were lucky this time to be joined by my boyfriend’s sister who lives in Amsterdam. In addition to being such a warm and fun person, she also spoke the native language.

After checking-in and dropping off our luggage, we decided to head out for something to eat. For me the temperature was so cold that I considered staying in. To make matters worse it started to rain just as we left the hotel. We went to a nearby Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. The wait for a table was long and the food was expensive. But the food was good and we got so comfortable that we didn’t want to leave. Our 3:45 am wakeup call earlier that day probably also had something to do with our sluggish mood.

We finally left to explore the area. A member of our group had been patiently waiting for this leg of our trip to experience the “cafes.” From since we were in Paris he had been waiting for his “medicine.” As we walked around I was startled by the electric trams which seemed to appear out of nowhere and drove through what I thought were pedestrian walkways. We walked in and out of stores in the drizzle. The day was wet, cold and dreary. Four of us headed back to the hotel, while two set out to find the cafes.

I crashed when I hit the bed. After about two hours I woke up and called around to see what the group was doing. They were asleep. Grateful, I went back to sleep again. We woke up a few hours later and headed out. It was night by then. And I wanted to see the Red Light District.

The hotel’s surrounding area had blocks and blocks of stores, which were all closed. The city looked like it was asleep. The further away from the hotel we walked, the more the nightlife came alive. There were lots of bakeries and other eateries, which I had grown accustomed to seeing in Europe. Out of the blue our friend who had gotten his “medicine” earlier walked into this eatery. This move was new to us because he was not a fan of sweets like the rest of us were. He ordered a waffle with ice cream and began raving about how good it was. He offered everyone some and they all decided it was great. It was already cold, and the thought of ice cream made me feel even colder, so I passed. But when he went back and purchased a second one, I decided to try it. It was the best dessert I tasted in the whole of Europe! And I had been eating a whole lot of dessert since I landed in France. The waffle was nice and warm – slightly crunchy on the outside, nice and soft on the inside – lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. The ice cream had a smooth caramel, butter pecan, vanilla flavor. It also had a few candied nuts. It was awesome! It was one of those things that you just want to eat slowly, to savor each bite. And I’m not a foodie. But that dessert did it for me. I could have gone back to the hotel and called it a night.

I guess I wanted to see the Red Light District, because in my mind it couldn’t be real – legal prostitution where women are displayed in window fronts selling their bodies! From afar we saw the red lights. We got closer, and I was still in disbelief. The women on display looked like Victoria Secrets’ models. They were slim, beautiful, fully made up and wearing some of the sexiest lingerie. The fact that they were selling their bodies still didn’t seem real to me. The guys in my group asked their price. It was €50.

Then we walked by a set of stairs and saw a man leaving a room zipping up his pants. Wow! It is real. How did these model-type ladies make it seem so easy? Was it easy to have a career as a sex worker? Continuing to walk around we saw more red lights on than off. I guessed that it was a slow night. But for each window where the lights were off and the curtain was drawn, I got this weird feeling.

Beside the sex for sale, the nearby area offered strip joints, live sex shows and the cafes. The night was beautiful. But watching groups of young men stroll the area deciding their pick of women had me thinking conflicting thoughts. First – this is true freedom, when a woman can choose the career that she wants. Second – this is truly sad when a woman must sell something so precious to make a living.

The further away we walked from the main area the women in the windows changed. They were no longer Victoria Secrets’ models look alikes. They looked like the girl next door – panties and bras, cheap wigs and in some cases cellulite. We decided to head back to the hotel. The walk back was especially cold.

At the hotel I used my Magic Jack app to call home. My mom sound worried. One of her nieces had suffered a stroke a few days earlier. While the whole family was praying for her and her recovery seemed miraculous, my mom wasn’t dealing with the situation too well. Mom herself had undergone surgery two weeks ago. I decided to fly back home the next day.

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: London Part 2

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Bolt, the Queen and the Marble Arch

Usain Bolt seems to be a really popular guy in London. As we made our way around the city he was featured in quite a few advertisements. Go Bolt! Equipped with our complimentary hotel umbrellas we headed to the famous London Bridge. Apparently the London Tower and the Tower Bridge have replaced the London Bridge in prestige. All this time we had been singing about the London Bridge falling down, I had expected the London Bridge to be a bright, shiny part of the city’s history. Instead the Tower Bridge was the main attraction. We visited both, just for the fun of it.

Our next stop was Borough Market – an open air market that sells everything from fresh Parmesan cheese, to candied nuts. There I had the best honey, cinnamon roasted cashews. The vendor sold trays and trays of candied this, or yogurt covered that – and he allowed me to sample all that I wanted. I had to consciously make myself walk away from the table. We were told that we had seen only a fraction of what the market had to offer, because it came alive on the weekends, not on the Tuesday that we were there.

Catching the “tube” (metro/train) we made a second attempt at the Buckingham Palace. We had a nice stroll through Green Park on the way to the palace. I don’t know what an average day is like at the palace, but to me, the place was packed. Does the Queen really live there? We hung around taking pictures at the palace and the Victoria Memorial.

On the way back to the hotel I was delighted to find a roadside fruit vendor. Back at the hotel we dropped off our day’s purchases, then headed back out to wander around the Marble Arch area.

The group settled on Middle Eastern cuisine for dinner. My boyfriend, whose culinary taste had been hard to please, wanted something more familiar (hint, American franchise food) so we continued along.

It was a nice stroll in downtown Westminster. As we reached the end of one street – we saw it – the Marble Arch. What is it with the Europeans’ fascination with arches? My companion decided to eat at a McDonalds. While he was ordering I noticed veggie burger on the menu. It was part of the deli menu. Veggie burgers at a McDonalds? I had to inquire more. I didn’t feel like eating a sandwich. But I was encouraged to try it to see if I liked it. And I liked it. It was lettuce, cucumber and mayo on a wheat bun, with a chickpea burger. The burger tasted like falafel, which I had earlier at a Middle Eastern restaurant. The mango smoothie was pretty good also. That was my first time eating lunch at a McDonalds since I stopped eating fish at age 19 (I stopped eating meat at 15). I really enjoyed the stroll, as there was no pressure to make it to any particular destination.

Heading back to catch up, with our friends, we encountered a long line in Restaurant. We joined the group, who had finished their meal. All of us were in high spirits and decided to do a group toast. As we sat there sipping on champagne, we were getting mean looks from the people who were waiting in line. This was strange, as everyone we encountered in London was really nice. I asked the server if the restaurant was always so popular on a Tuesday night. He explained that it was Ramadan and the fasting ended at sunset so every evening was packed. We soon ended our celebration and headed back to the hotel.

At the hotel we made arrangements for transportation to the airport. We were leaving out from London Southend Airport, which was more than an hour from the hotel. We had an early flight to Amsterdam.

Stay tuned for more on my European adventure.

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: London Part I

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The Eye and the Rain

I never cared to visit London until the 2012 Olympics. Of course after the country was put it in an international spotlight, I wasn’t the only one interested in going. (Now I can’t wait to go to Brazil! But Brazil has always been on my travel wish list.) My first impression after landing in London was “why is it so cold.” We traveled from France to London via Easy Jet to London Luton Airport. It felt like 60 degrees when we got off the plane. London Luton is like the airports in the Virgin Islands. We walked off the plane, down the stairs, unto apron, then into the airport. When the cold morning air hit my face, for a second I wondered if it was summer in this part of the world. Then I remembered that France was a hot 90 something degrees. Putting the chill aside, it felt good being in an English-speaking country. We were able to negotiate our cab fares! (The little things we usually take for granted.) After reaching to the hotel we set out to find something to eat.

On our first stroll through the Marble Arch area in Westminster, England we were startled by the loud horn blowing on a delivery truck as we crossed the road. The group hurried across the street but the horn blowing continued. We looked back to see a Dominica flag in the truck, driven by two men – one wearing a visible Gucci chain. For those who may not know, a gold puffed Gucci chain is a trademark piece of Caribbean people, specifically Virgin Islanders. It’s a surefire way to identify a Caribbean person; it’s right up there with the hibiscus earrings. We started waving and shouting “ehhhhyyy” at the guys. It turns out that we were not being run out of the London street, but instead given a real island-styled “hail up” – and it felt really good. The truck kept on its way, and we kept on ours – wondering if and how the drivers recognized us as island people.

The guys in our group wanted to go to Brixton in southern London, where we were told has a large Caribbean population, for some island food. But we were too hungry to venture all the way down there at the time. We ate at Giraffe’s then headed out to sightsee.

While we had found many historical marvels in Paris, I found the Eye of London to be a modern marvel. It’s described as a revolving observatory. In essence, it looks like a gigantic ferris wheel. A misunderstanding with my boyfriend had dampened my spirit a bit as I rode on the Eye. But the 360 degree views of London from aboard the eye were a must see. I had been looking forward to seeing Big Ben. But after I did, the Eye stole all of Ben’s glory.

As we were leaving the Eye it started to rain. And I was unprepared. One couple in the group was equipped with a complimentary umbrella provided by the Marriott Marble Arch where we were staying. As she said, “If a hotel offers a complimentary umbrella, that mean it rains a lot.” We waited out the rain a bit, then decided to go ahead with the rest of our sightseeing. Passing by several double decked sightseeing busses, we came across the iconic London phone booths, then headed for Buckingham Palace.

It started to rain on the way to the palace. Then it started to pour. The group had to decide if it made sense to continue or to head back to the hotel. Since we were nearly there we continued. The experience was pretty cool, as my boyfriend and I walked and talked – in the rain. The palace wasn’t too much fun in the rain. We plotted our way back to the hotel.

Luckily for us, the wifi at the Marble Arch Marriott Hotel was pretty good. We used our extra time to check in with family and friends back home.

For the first time in days, I got a full night’s rest!

Stay tuned for more on my European Adventure.

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