Tag Archives: St. Thomas

King of Caribbean Comedy: The Rise of Majah Hype & the One Thing He Wants Caribbean People to Do

It’s almost 10 p.m. on a cool fall night in Charlotte. The best old-school reggae music is playing, the venue is almost packed to capacity and if this was a dancehall or party – they place would have been turned up already. But the crowd isn’t here to dance. Everyone is anticipating the start of this show to see Caribbean comedy sensation Majah Hype in his debut North Carolina performance. When he touches the stage, he lives up to all the hype and more. People pull out their cell phones to record the authentic, raw and hilarious performance that only Majah Hype can deliver.

“I don’t do jokes on Haitians no more,” Majah Hype begins his set, taking the crowd into his hilarious explanation. His stand-up comedy is different from the sketch comedy that catapulted him into the hearts of fans everywhere, but it remains the same in many ways – it is authentic, presented with passion and totally funny.

Majah Hype began his comedy career around 2012 after being laid off from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York, where he was a licensed electrician. His sketches started simple enough. He would say, “Jamaicans be like….,” “Haitians be like…,” “Trinidadians be like…,” then go into full antics of someone from that particular country and post it to social media. His accents, dialects and mannerisms were so real for each impersonation, everyone wondered which Caribbean country Majah Hype was from and what was his background.

Majah Hype was born in the Caribbean and grew up in New York. We know that his first name is Nigel, but that’s about all he’ll reveal. Keeping his nationality private forces his sketches to remain original and allows him to connect with people throughout the Caribbean and the diaspora because he’s not pigeon-holed as one nationality, so everyone can identify with him.

His videos garner thousands of views and hundreds of shares within minutes of posting on social media. On those pages, people from all over the world connect through humor and culture. Many commenters remark of his ability to lift their moods. Some say they check his pages daily waiting for his videos.

In an interview after his Charlotte performance, Majah Hype said his goal is to unite Caribbean people throughout the world.

“We need to really support each other because strength is in numbers,” Majah Hype said of Caribbean people. With millions of people in the Caribbean and millions more of Caribbean people throughout the world, the levels that can be attained through mutual support is unlimited, he said.

“There is no Caribbean celebrity that has a million followers that we created. We didn’t create Rihanna. We didn’t create Nicki Minaj. We didn’t create Foxy Brown. There’s no entertainer that has a million followers. I see a big problem with that because there’s more than a million Caribbean people in the states alone. We need to support each other more. We need to help each other rise as a people,” he said. “We need to big up each other. We need to big up every nationality. And that’s why I started this movement, because strength is in numbers.”

Majah Hype has evolved greatly, creating dozens of characters from all over the Caribbean – starting with the likes of Grandpa James and De Ras, to everyone’s favorite Mitzy with a Z and Petty-Ann. His sketches are full scenes with him starring as each character.  Majah Hype’s character development and story lines are so deep, you would think that he has writers on his team. On the contrary, everything comes from the mind of Nigel.

“Everything you see on social media is me,” Majah Hype said. There are no screen tests and nor rehearsals. “I don’t write any skits. I never pre-record any skits. I wake up in the morning and I just do what I do.”

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And if you thought that Majah Hype could only impersonate West Indians, you are wrong. He has created characters like Charlie and Mable, Bobby Bunz, and most recently Shawn and Tanya aka “Are You Dumb.” Majah Hype wants to keep his fans entertained. “I always think of reinventing myself. People nowadays, their attention span is real short, so we always have to bring something new to them,” he said.

Now selling out shows across the United States, United Kingdom, Caribbean and aboard specialty cruises, Majah Hype is a household name in the Caribbean and the diaspora. His first movie “Foreign Minds Think Alike,” was based on his characters. He has also starred in the web series, “Money and Violence.” He has gotten endorsement deals, most recently for Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie. Majah Hype said he’ll continue growing his brand and expanding his acting career. He didn’t know what to expect when he began in 2012, but he’s putting in the work to become successful.

“Whatever is for you is for you,” Majah Hype said. “God gave me a talent and I shared it with the world and we are where we are today.”

Tips for the ladies: when attending a Majah Hype show, be sure to wear waterproof makeup. You will laugh until you cry!

For more information on Majah Hype and his shows visit the website www.majahhype.com.

 

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All Invitations Aren’t Created Equal… Henry Smith said “Yes” to an Invite to Sail the Atlantic

 

WW at Dock in Las Palmas
The 49-foot Wind Walker, center blue, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a round-trip voyage from the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Fall of 2016.

Henry Smith doesn’t have a boat captain’s license. But when he was asked by a former co-worker to help sail a boat back from Spain to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Smith said yes. “Since I’m retired I have the time,” reasoned the self-taught sailor. The thought of spending days at sea crossing the world’s second largest ocean didn’t intimidate Smith. Instead his first thoughts were on the fitness of the vessel, the competence of the others who would be sailing and how he would fare in small, confined space with people he didn’t know closely. Soon he told himself, “I want to have this experience. I’m going to have fun.”

Smith’s wife Peggy had no apprehensions about the trip. “I’ve seen him sail, so I know what he is capable of,” she said. He has sailed before to Anguilla, St. Martin and Antigua.

“He’s been sailing so long that I have confidence

HS in Cape Verde
Henry Smith in Cape Verde prior to sailing the Atlantic.

in him that he’s not going to put himself in danger,” she said. “I was not afraid.” With Peggy’s support and his experience, Smith was ready for the adventure.

“To sail across the Atlantic was new, but I wasn’t at all a stranger to sailing,” Smith said. He has been on, around and in the water most of his life. Smith was born in Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI) to a father who was a carpenter and built boats. The younger Smith got his first boat when he was a child.

“We always lived close to the sea,” Smith said. When the family moved to St. Thomas, USVI, he had access to a bay in Bovoni on the eastern end of the island. Smith observed that his parents never objected to him and his brothers spending time in the water. But the children needed express permission to romp through the neighborhood.

“I could go by the shore and spend all day and they didn’t have a problem with it,” Smith remembered with a laugh. He would take his row boat along the coastline. “I got to know the east (coast) of the island really good,” Smith said. “I’ve always found a way to be around boats.” Smith pursued a career in water resources management, earning a Ph.D. in civil engineering with specialties in water resources planning and management and hydrology, and Juris Doctorate with a concentration in environmental law.

Since retiring from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in 2015 as director of the Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR), Smith adopted an even healthier lifestyle than he practiced before – walking four miles daily, eating better and getting regular medical check-us. He was physically and mentally prepared for the voyage.

Glenn Metts is owner of the 49-foot offshore cruising boat Wind Walker and had made the north Atlantic crossing months earlier. He asked Smith to help captain the boat back to the Virgin Islands because one of his crew members was not returning to the Caribbean. The two had also previously raced together in a Rolex Regatta competition. Metts, who has a master boat captain’s license, said that preparation is the single most important aspect of an Atlantic crossing.

“Going off shore is extremely strategic,” explained Metts, who had begun planning the trip since 2014.

“Strategically speaking, it was one of the most complicated things,” the UVI professor of Management and Entrepreneurship said. “The preparation is so tough.”  It required multiple redundancy plans for mechanics, power, water, food and first aid. “If you get hurt, even for a simple thing, you can die,” Metts noted.

Metts also has been sailing since he was a child growing up in Florida. Always up for a new adventure, he planned this trip because, “I wanted to go across the ocean on my boat,” he said. He was on sabbatical when he set sail, and used the opportunity to collect data for his case studies.

Smith met the crew of Metts and his friend in Spain in November 2016.  From there they sailed to the Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands then to Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands before they began the south Atlantic voyage. The three each had different “watches” where each person would have full responsibility for sailing the boat safely and on course. Smith’s watch was 2-7 p.m. and 2-6 a.m.

The morning watch was the hardest, Smith said. “At times it would be totally black.” He made sure to get plenty rest prior to his watch and to plan activities. Often he would journal or read on his Nook to ensure he wouldn’t fall asleep, ever aware that although it seemed they were alone in the wide ocean, they could come upon a tanker, meet drifting shipping containers or other debris, encounter bad weather or stray off course.

He soon fell into a routine. “Get up in the morning, there’s ocean. Go to sleep, there’s more ocean,” Smith said. Each morning the crew planned for the day ahead and each member briefed the other before handing off shifts.  “I didn’t pay much attention to what the days were,” Smith said. “That probably would have driven me crazy.” His idyllic free-time at sea was a departure from his hectic schedule at UVI where he held several senior leadership roles – sometimes simultaneously – during his 26-year career at the institution where he also earned his undergraduate degree in marine and environmental science. At UVI Smith had secured the institution’s largest grant – a $20 million National Science Foundation grant – to support VI-EPSCoR.

Sunset
The sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean.

Across the Atlantic on Tortola, Smith’s brother Bennett –  also an avid sailor – tracked his coordinates and monitored the weather. Smith sent his wife and daughter regular e-mails, accessible via the satellite internet. There were a few weather squalls and gear failures. “We dealt with them like they were routine matters,” Smith said. “Sailing for that length of time and in those conditions, the weather will change and equipment will break.”

One of the highlights for Metts was experiencing a whale breach.  The two men were on the deck one morning when Metts noticed something. “An eight-story whale comes straight up from the water and crashes down,” Metts said. Smith’s back was turned to the action but the expression on Metts’ face alarmed him. “Glenn’s eyes got big, wide, and his mouth dropped open,” Smith recalled. By the time he turned around the only evidence was a huge splash. “It was unbelievable,” Metts said of the sight. Other highpoints included seeing pods of dolphins.

Although there are challenges every day while sailing, Metts said that south Atlantic crossing back to the Virgin Islands was much smoother than the north Atlantic crossing to Portugal.  On the first crossing, they came upon a storm with 30 foot waves and 40 knot winds with 4.6 seconds between waves. “They (the waves) were very close together,” he said. The wind was behind the boat and there was a danger that the boat could broach, Metts said. They needed to change direction. “Doing this in that type of wind was very difficult,” he said. The crew battled the waves for hours. “That was the most stressful time,” Metts said. “I was very uncomfortable.” Eventually they changed direction and sailed out of the storm. Nothing on the south Atlantic crossing could compare to that, Metts said.

When they reached halfway across the ocean, each made a note-in-a-bottle that they released to the waves. The notes contained their contact information, so if recovered, the locator can contact them and report where it was found. As they got farther across, they bet on who would spot land first. “That happened on my watch,” Smith said with a laugh. “I just kept peeping and looking and staring,” Smith said. Often high waves were mistaken for land. “I then saw this wave that never went away,” Smith said. It was the hills of St. Maarten. As they continued to sail, they spotted lights from the BVI. “It was really very nice to see land,” he said. “It was nice to pick up the phone and call somebody,” as they got within cell phone range. But instead of celebrating then, Smith maintained his composure to sail the boat toward their goal.

It was rainy as Smith took the boat through the waters near St. John on Dec. 20. 2016. The weather cleared up by the time they approached Mangrove Lagoon on St. Thomas. There they were met by a small welcoming party with one member blowing a conch shell to greet them. Among the crowd was Peggy’s smiling face. “Everything just went perfectly,” Smith said. “It felt really good.”

Crossing the Atlantic was a big accomplishment for Smith, whose first significant solo sailing adventure was as a high schooler sailing his 12-foot boat with a 14-horse power engine from the eastern end of St. Thomas to West End, Tortola –  and back.

Smith noted the irony of accumulating an additional 3,000 miles crossing the Atlantic. “If I were to go to a charter boat company, they would not rent me a boat,” he said, because he doesn’t have boat captain’s license. So, about that license. Smith has no desire to obtain one right now. But he is looking forward to new sailing adventures.

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Vicious Cycle of Gun Violence Consumes the Virgin Islands; Psychologists say use Emotions to Activate Change

It was one gunshot. Lenora Rochester was in her Contant Knolls apartment on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands when she heard the sound on that Thursday evening of Dec. 10, 2015. She was not very alarmed, as gunshots are heard in the neighborhood from time to time. But a few moments later came knocks to her front door – and her life changed forever. The news was devastating. Her son Kadeem John Sr. was shot. Rochester woke her daughter and they hurried to find John.

“When I walked out (the apartment) I didn’t have any emotions or feelings,” Rochester says. Her only thought was “I can’t believe he got shot.”

When Rochester arrived at the scene and saw someone holding pressure to her son’s bleeding chest it became real. “He looked lifeless,” she remembers. “I started to cry.” Between her uncontrollable tears while making calls to notify family members, a police officer put her in his patrol car. “I kept asking ‘is he ok, is he ok,’” she recalls. The only response was “stay in the car,” she says. She stayed put then the ambulance arrived. But instead of driving behind of the ambulance to the hospital as Rochester imagined, she heard something over the police scanner. “They (the EMTs) radioed for the medical examiner,” Rochester says. “I realized that he was gone.” She jumped out of the car to see her son. “I was trying to go to the body, they (police officers) were pulling me back. They said it was a crime scene.”

In that moment Rochester says she felt a rush of emotions – the most dominant being anger. “I was angry,” she recalls. “I was totally angry.”

Rochester describes her third son as a “fun child” who was always smiling – so much so that his friends gave him the nickname “Smiley.” He never got into trouble and had no apparent enemies, Rochester says, so she couldn’t imagine why anyone would kill him. A mariner with the Merchant Marines, John lived mostly on a ship at sea. He had come back to St. Thomas for holiday break. The family spent Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico. John returned to St. Thomas on a Tuesday. He spent the next Thursday at his aunt’s home and was returning to his mom’s home the evening when he was killed.

With support from family and friends, Rochester made it through to Dec. 23, when she laid John to rest – just a day before he would have made 24 years old. “It was just sad,” Rochester says of burring her son. “It was terrible. I was just crying a lot.” On Dec. 24, members of John’s 2009 graduating class of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School held a candlelight vigil at the spot where he was killed. It was then that Rochester began her fight for justice for John.

As homicides continue to rock the territory, Virgin Islands Police Department Commissioner Delroy Richards held a press briefing to address the issue following the July 30, killing of Bria Evans. At the Aug. 1, briefing Richards confirmed 36 homicides in the American territory. The number continues to grow: two police officers were discovered shot to death on Aug. 11 and a firefighter was shot to death on Aug. 19.  The national murder rate is 4.5 killings per 100,000 people per year.  At 39 homicides so far, the U.S. Virgin Islands – home to about 103,000 residents, is one of the most murderous places in the United States.

The homicide problem in the territory is multilayered. Many people point to the infiltration of guns into the territory along with the retaliatory nature of gun crimes.

Psychologist Anissa Moody says the problem in the Virgin Islands rests on two major issues: poverty and a distorted view of masculinity. KadeemYoung men are not given a healthy understanding of masculinity, says Dr. Moody, a professor of psychology at the City University of New York.

Often Caribbean and West Indian masculinity don’t allow men to experience and express a range of emotions, she explains. The males are “angry and aggressive or not,” she says, and emotions are not largely communicated. The community has no rituals around the development of young men, where they are taught a sense of self and expectations are set, she continues. Toughness – and in extreme cases violence –  is seen as the foundation of manhood. Many young men are ill equipped to handle conflict and manage their emotions. That, coupled with easy access to firearms, results in a vicious cycle of violence that cripples the entire community.

At the briefing Commissioner Richards confirmed the “retaliatory trend that exists in the territory” asserting that, “someone that the victim is close to will retaliate.”

In the minds of many young men “death doesn’t seem that bad. Your masculinity means that you fight to the end,” says Dr. Moody, who is also columnist for Ebony magazine and BlackDoctor.com. “Adults glorify these deaths by how we respond,” she says, noting that along with the rest in peace hashtags on social media victims are often remembered as “soldiers.”

“The violence is not experienced as loss,” Dr. Moody explains. “There is no ritual around it. The ritual becomes revenge,” she says. “Each death triggers another death and reaffirms this feeling of helplessness. Because of how often it happens, the more likely it is to happen,” she explains. “The worst part is that this is part of the community behavior. It’s part of the ritual of development for many boys in our community. It’s what we do. It’s part of our life rituals. It’s a cycle.”

The more killings happen, the more the community becomes numb and less likely to take action, Dr. Moody says. “People think that repeated experiences (of violence) will sensitize you. It doesn’t. It does the opposite. It desensitizes you,” asserts Dr. Moody who was born on St. Thomas and raised on St. Croix.

The parents, children, spouses, siblings, and friends who are left to bury the victims of gun violence often deal with their pain by hiding their emotions. Trauma after trauma has created a collective “emotional grave yard” in the Virgin Islands, Dr. Moody says. Not to mention the cumulative loss of potential that dies each time someone is killed.

Psychologist Carla Hunter says that the grief response is individual – the stages and length of time are different for each person. The stages of grief are denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Studies show that the grief response to violent death has an added component. The study “Trauma and bereavement: examining the impact of sudden and violent deaths” by Stacy Kaltman and George A. Bonanno, reveals a correlation between violent death and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the study “violent death results in the development of PTSD symptoms over and above the normal grief response and thus may contribute to a more severe grief response.”

According to the National Center for PTSD, symptoms of the disorder include reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, negative changes in beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up (hyperarousal).

As Virgin Islanders deal with trauma at home, they are also confronted with trauma on the mainland. Recent killings of African-Americans by police officers, many of the scenes caught on camera and shared on social media, is dealing a double whammy on the psyche of many.

Watching these acts repeatedly on the television and social media “can take over you,” and induce anger says Dr. Kia Fisher, a clinical therapist at Potter’s House Treatment Center in Atlanta. “We have to take a break from it (watching traumatic videos),” Dr. Fisher adds. She points out that she is not suggesting that the community ignores the problem. Dr. Fisher suggests people who feel anger should redirect their emotions to empowerment by taking positive action. “Take baby steps toward change,” she says.

Dr. Moody says too many people in the territory are stuck at the individual level when it comes to problem solving. “This is a community sickness, this type of development in our young men,” she says, suggesting that the community unites to bring about healing. “You know what we can do about it,” she asks. “Take action,” she says. Do not accept things as how they are, she says. The shift in masculinity should start at home and extend into the schools. Children, especially boys, should be reaffirmed with a sense of identity and purpose.

“We tend to reaffirm overt talents,” in sports, academics and music, Dr. Moody notes, but all children should be reaffirmed for their potential. While constantly being reaffirmed, children must be provided with positive opportunities for development and growth. Leaders must emerge for the community organizing necessary to connect resources.

Regarding poverty –  the other main contributor to violence – elected officials must work to bring about economic prosperity in the territory. The correlation between poverty and crime is proven. The higher the poverty level, the more crime. Additionally, youth programs need to be funded, expanded and duplicated throughout the territory Dr. Moody says. Resources must be provided to parents, especially single parents. Parents should also be vocal about what the community needs, she adds.

Drs. Moody, Hunter and Fisher all suggest that people feeling overwhelmed by traumatic events should seek professional help.

“People don’t have to be in crisis to seek help,” says Dr. Hunter, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “When you realize that you’re behaving in a way or thinking in a way that’s not typical for you, you should seek help.”

Dr. Moody takes it a step further, encouraging everyone to practice “good mental hygiene.” Just like most people have a primary physician, “everyone should have a mental health provider,” Dr. Moody says.

Rochester says her coping mechanisms have been prayer, support from family and friends, and “taking it one day at a time.” While she’s returning to a new normal, the loss of her son is still hard to process. “I’m still in disbelief,” she says.

From the day of John’s candlelight vigil, Rochester launched a personal campaign to bring “Justice for Kadeem.” On the 10th and 23rd of each month –  the day John was killed and buried, respectively – Rochester takes to social media. Some of her posts are in remembrance, but most have been asking witnesses of the crime to step forward.

In recent movement of the case, the Governor of the Virgin Islands signed documents to have the suspect in John’s killing extradited from New York to stand trial. Part of the shock for Rochester was learning that the suspect knew her son. “It hurts. Everything was hurtful,” she says.

Because extradition is just the first step, Rochester continues to “hold the faith” that justice will eventually be served.  In the meanwhile, she tries her best to “keep it together” for her other children and John’s son – Kadeem John Jr.

Rochester says she is no longer angry, but the pain of losing a child to senseless gun violence hasn’t gone away. “I’m still sad,” she says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.”

Two Days of Labor… One Amazing Gift

Cramps. “It feels like really, really bad cramps.” That’s how my friend Debra described the labor pain that she experienced and what I should expect with my first child. Debra, one of my best friends, had given birth on August 13, 2000 to her first child. My due date was late August/early September 2000. I never really had a firm due date because I wasn’t sure of the exact date of my last menstrual period. It was coincidental and helpful that Debra and I were pregnant with our first child at the same time.

Debra’s description of labor didn’t help me one bit. I never got cramps. Growing up my mom would tell me that I’m lucky to never experience the painful abdominal contractions that many women endure monthly. So as childbirth neared, the expectant pain was nothing I could prepare for.

A few months before delivery.
A few months before delivery.

By early September, my obstetrician told me I was past due. Nothing I did helped to induce my labor. At a visit to Dr. Ronald Nimmo on Tuesday, Sept. 5, he said my cervix started dilating. A woman’s cervix must be dilated to 10 centimeters before active labor – the pushing – begins. We went over the stages of labor and he told me if I went into labor overnight to call him then go straight to the hospital; if I didn’t go into labor by morning, I should check into the hospital at 7 am.

I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect. Suppose I went into labor overnight? Suppose I didn’t? You mean I’d still have to interrupt my sleep for a 7 am check in!? There were no contractions during the night. In the morning I decided I wanted to go for one last swim. My boyfriend Vibes advised against it. We needed to check in at 7 am and we didn’t have the time, he said. I told him I needed to feel myself enveloped in the cool buoyancy of the Caribbean Sea. So we went to Magens Bay. The air was cool. The sun had risen over a dewy morning. It was so nice! Vibes kept reminding me that we needed to hurry up. Against better judgment I submersed my entire body in the water, saturating my newly-done box braids. We had to hustle back home so that I could shower before heading to the hospital.

When we reached the hospital, about 90 minutes late, the friendly intake staff told me they had been waiting on me and welcomed us. Vibes gave me an I-told-you-so look. The only thing I could think of at the moment was that my hair was wet and it was making me cold.

I followed the nurses’ instructions putting on the hospital gown, getting hooked up to the IV and those things. When the doctor did his rounds a few hours later and examined me, I was still the two centimeters I was the day before. When he said:  “I can give you something to help you out,” I obliged.

The contractions started coming! The nurses kept offering me pain meds, but I was determined to have a natural childbirth. The contractions kept coming stronger. When I told the nurses I was ready to have my baby they said I was a private patient, so I had to wait until my doctor came back. What! I was ready to have the baby and they were telling me I had to wait! When the doctor finally came back for his afternoon rounds around 5 pm and examined me. I was still two centimeters! After five hours of contractions I was still dilated at two centimeters! Dr. Nimmo said he would give me something to stop the contractions. It was only then I realized my labor had been induced. Earlier when he offered to “give you something to help you out,” he meant an induction. I was totally upset. I never wanted to be induced. And I was hungry.

The contractions slowed within a few minutes and I was ready for dinner. When I told the doctor, he explained that once someone was admitted to the Labor and Deliver unit they couldn’t eat. Who the hell came up with that stupid rule! Now I was furious! “So I can’t eat anything,” I asked the doctor. He told me I could have as much ice chips that I wanted. If looks could kill, Dr. Nimmo would be dead.

The plan was that I would get my rest, and more than likely I would go into active labor overnight. The doctor allowed me to walk the halls while he was there. But as he was leaving he suggested that I rest. So I did. As soon as he left I told Vibes to go buy me some food. Vibes told me no. I was shocked. My wishes were his commands throughout my pregnancy. And now he tells me no? I asked him if he wanted me and the baby to starve. He still wouldn’t get the food. This was getting ridiculous. I was in labor all day and now I was starving. And my usually defiant boyfriend was on the doctor’s side.

I was totally frustrated! I decided to stop talking to Vibes. I buzzed the nurse and asked her to help me out of the bed so that I can walk. She said she couldn’t, Dr. Nimmo had ordered bed rest. I didn’t understand. The nurse explained that the doctor ordered me on bed rest so I had to remain in bed. This was beyond ridiculous! I reasoned with her that just a few moments ago I was walking up and down the halls. She didn’t budge.

This was torture. Starving. Bed rest. And I had to lie on my left side only. I don’t remember much about the rest of that night. I made up my mind I wasn’t talking to anybody!

Second Day of Labor

By morning I felt a bit of calm because I knew my mom would be flying in first thing from St. Croix. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my mom. She initially felt I was young to have a baby. But I already had a degree, a full-time job, some savings, no debt and lived on my own. I was overjoyed when she arrived. Surely she would be compassionate. Surely she would tell my doctor and nurses I needed to eat and to walk. Seeing her brought a smile to my face. I filled her in on everything that had happened. My mom brought an unbelievable comfort when I needed it the most. Then it happened:

“Betty!” Dr. Nimmo exclaimed when he saw my mom. She had been a nurse at the Roy Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas, where I was in labor, for about 15 years before moving to St. Croix. Everyone loves my mom. And I would soon find out just how much. Dr. Nimmo hugged my mom and they chatted a bit. Soon Vibes, who the nurses sent home for some rest the night before, showed up. That was a perfect time to voice my complaints. I was starving and wanted to get out of bed. The doctor agreed that I could get out of bed. Food, he said, I couldn’t have. My mom agreed. What! I began my protest. Vibes just watched as I argued with the doctor and my mom that I was pregnant had not eaten for a day. Finally Dr. Nimmo said I could have some sports drinks and hard candy. The sugars would provide energy for the labor, he said. Vibes headed out to get them.

And so it started. One by one all of my mom’s friends heard that she was at the hospital and began showing up to see her. One of the first was Denise. “Bettttyyyy!” Denise exclaimed when she saw my mom. The hugs, kisses and laughter ensued. Then Denise turned to me:

Denise: Nanyamka, how are you doing?

Me: *groaning* I’m in pain

Denise: Yea, that’s how it is with your first child. Just hang in there. We’re here for you.

Then she was back to the giggling catching up with mom. And that’s how it went all morning with my mom and her friends. Because I had to lie on my left side, my back was turned to the door. So many of her friends’ faces I saw only briefly when they came around to see me. While it seemed like the entire nursing staff at the hospital came to see my mom, I wasn’t allowed to have visitors in Labor and Delivery. But my friends kept calling. They kept demanding: did she have the baby? Was it a boy or girl? After a while the nurses seemed to be annoyed with their phone calls. “Can you take this call,” one of the nurses said to my mom. “I keep telling them I can’t give out patient information.” The contractions kept coming. Against what I had planned, I accepted pain medication when the nurses offered.

It was after 1 p.m. Dr. Nimmo was getting concerned. He told me if the labor didn’t progress, he would have to do a cesarean section. I protested. He explained that the baby’s vitals were fine, but I was in labor for over a day, partially dilated, couldn’t eat and if I remained in that state I could put both the baby and myself at risk. I signed the surgery consent forms and he allowed me to walk the halls. Both my mom and Vibes felt a cesarean section was an option. I didn’t! Nor did my dad, who was on St. Croix, but had been calling regularly. Vibes didn’t want to put me or his first child at risk with a prolonged labor. I could sense the fear in my mother as we weighed the options. She too had rough childbirths and had a cesarean section to deliver me.

I told everyone that could listen that I was not having a cesarean section. Ms. Maria Rivera, the mid-wife on duty sympathized with me. At the time I was dilated about five centimeters and the contractions were regular – as they had been all day. She told me that she’s not my doctor, but if I allowed her, she could help me. I had heard that line before. The induction didn’t work, I reminded her. She said no, she would massage my cervix so that it could dilate. I agreed. She said relax, suck on your lollipop (one of the hard candies I was allowed to eat), and by the time you are finished with the lollipop you’ll be ready to have your baby. I was unsure, but my options were few.

Ms. Rivera went to work while I sucked on my lollipop. Sure enough, as I had finished my lollipop Ms. Rivera announced that her work was done. When the doctor checked me, alas, I was dilated to 10 centimeters. It was time to push!

Dr. Nimmo assembled the team. It was a tight fit in my room with the doctor, nurses, Vibes, and my mom. Just as I had learned in Lamaze class, I pushed on the doctor’s counts. Vibes held one leg and my mother held the other. The doctor was down the middle. I pushed for about 30 minutes. But the baby didn’t come. The doctor gave me a 15 minutes break and I resumed pushing. I was annoyed with Vibes who was all up in my face screaming “push, push!” After about 30 more minutes of pushing – still no baby. The pain was excruciating and my back felt like it was splitting down the middle.

I kept telling everyone that I needed to squat. Or I needed to be on my knees. The doctor gave me another break from pushing. The baby had already crowned. Everyone could see a tiny bit of the head, but the baby won’t come down. As I was taking this second break from pushing I overheard a nurse telling my mom. “She ain’t really pushing. It’s the Demerol, it has her drowsy.” And my mother nodded in agreement. I was so pissed off! I had pushed with all my might! But I didn’t have the strength to respond with anything else but the rollong of my eyes.

The doctor told me we would try the pushing again and if the baby didn’t come we would go into surgery. I begged him: I need to go on my knees in a squatting position! He gave a command. The next thing I know the nurses had transformed the bed, putting up rails around the head of the bed. They helped me to a kneeling position on the bed, using the rails for support. I felt relief in my back immediately! Then I started pushing without the doctor’s count – and Vibes noticed. He started telling me I needed to wait on the doctor. Schupees! Whatever! Soon Dr. Nimmo’s commands to push caught up with me. After this third round of pushing, the doctor checked me and said it was time.

“The baby is coming. Let’s get her in delivery,” Dr. Nimmo said. I was confused. The baby was coming and I had to be moved? They put me to lay on my back and wheeled me out of my room into the most sterile-looking room I had ever seen – there was stainless steel and white tiles everywhere. Someone explained that it was the delivery room. In the delivery room I got a strange urge – I needed to vomit. Before I could fully explain it, the nurses had a basin to my mouth. I felt like I had lost all control of my body. The contractions kept coming.

The doctor instructed me not to push. Again, I was confused. I had waited two days to deliver this baby and now he was telling me not to push? Dr. Nimmo said that it was important for me to follow his instructions so that I didn’t hurt the baby or me. He said he was going to make a small incision to help the baby come out, but first I would feel a little pinch as he numbed the area. I wanted to push so badly, but Vibes gave me that look. Dr. Nimmo made the incision quickly and I was back to pushing.

“Push with all your strength!” Dr. Nimmo said. And I did, screaming at the same time. I glimpsed at Vibes for a split second and he looked like he would faint. The head came out! Instant relief! I stopped pushing. Then Dr. Nimmo started the count again. With a few more pushes I had given birth to my first child!

“It’s a girl!” everyone screamed. “Congratulations!” were ringing in from everyone in the room. And I exhaled. It was 5:25 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7.

As Vibes cut the umbilical cord, I was worried that he would pass out. They brought me my baby girl and I took her into my arms. At that moment I felt a love like I had never before felt toward another human being. Then they pulled her away. “We have to clean her up,” a nurse said. “We were only showing her to you.”

At that time I wanted to tell Vibes to keep a close eye on our daughter. I didn’t want any switched-at-birth mishaps. But no one could find Vibes. Dr. Nimmo told me I wasn’t done yet. I had to deliver the placenta. A few moments later I pushed it out. Dr. Nimmo began the process of stitching me back up. I could feel every stitch! I tried to close my legs and pull away from the doctor. A nurse told me “you want the doctor to do a good job, right? You need to open your legs.” I obeyed. The entire lower half of my body felt numb with pain.

Everyone was asking for Vibes so a nurse left the room to find him. “He out there crying,” the nurse said when she returned. “Give him a chance to catch himself.” The nurses all laughed.

Shortly after delivery I got a burst of energy. I started telling my mom of all the people she needed to call to tell them the baby was born. I started telling Vibes to look for distinct marks or features on the baby so we could always know she was ours.

“Rest,” my mom had told me. “You did good. Now rest yourself.” The nurse told me they would wheel me into a recovery room where I should rest for a while. I told her I wanted my daughter.

“She is fine,” the nurse assured. “She has her father and grandmother watching her.” All of a sudden I felt very cold. I started to shiver. The nurse covered me up. I was still cold. She told me she would get some warm blankets that just came out of the dryer. That did the trick. Being the daughter of a well-loved nursed served me well then and throughout my stay in the hospital.

Then, as if a switch inside of me had been flipped, I instantly felt tired – totally exhausted and drained actually. And I fell asleep to recover.

With my newborn.
With my newborn.

Editor’s note: As I fulfill my life’s purpose to “tell the story” I’ll soon be writing biographies, memoirs and other pieces that will require people to be open and honest with me about very personal aspects of their lives. I decided to share a very intimate part of one of my biggest transformational experiences – childbirth. If you have enjoyed this personal part of my story, I hope that you will trust me to share the story of others with you.  No part of this story may be reused, reproduced, or otherwise copied without direct written approval of the author Nanyamka Farrelly.

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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From Donoe to Doctorate, “Beep” Returns to Home Court

“I just wanted to teach math.”
Bertrum Foster, Jr. says, those words with such indifference that it belies his major accomplishment. Just wanting to teach math led Foster to a Ph.D. in mathematics.
The statistics for black males excelling in the sciences are dismal. They are even more grim on the doctoral level. His intent was never to bolster the statistics for black males, even though he did. Dr. Foster simply wanted to teach mathematics on the collegiate level. In order to accomplish that goal, he needed a Ph.D.
“I like math because it’s a challenge,” says Dr. Foster, also known to many as “Beep.” His passion for math began with 9th grade algebra. But his first passion was for basketball.
Like many young boys, Dr. Foster imagined himself playing professional basketball. But by high school he was 5’9″ and realized that his dreams of playing professional basketball were slim. But his love for the game continued. In 1995 he lead “Jah Youths” the basketball team founded in his Donoe neighborhood on St. Thomas to the Thanksgiving Tournament championship.
During that same time period, in 1994-95, he lead his Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Devil Rays boys basketball team to consecutive inter scholastic basketball championships.
After graduating high school, Dr. Foster took a break. He held several jobs in Oklahoma for four years before returning home and enrolling at the University of the Virgin Islands to take a shot at the men’s basketball team.
For him, getting a college degree was imperative. He remembers his first real job while in high school – stacking shelves at the Plaza Extra grocery store. “I would just watch the clock,” he recalls, mindlessly working until his shift ended. He would also watch the boss and think to himself, “I need his job.”
“The people who had the kinds of jobs I liked all had degrees,” Dr. Foster says. At UVI he remained a boss on the courts and in the books. In 2003 he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from UVI.
After undergrad Dr. Foster again took a break from academics, this time working in New York.
As time passed he got serious about his career, returning to grad school at Howard University. In 2013 he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Howard.
Being totally honest, Dr. Foster confesses that his carer choice first came about for the wrong reason: when as a university student he walked into the office of a mathematics professor who was playing solitaire on the computer. “I wanted to play solitaire at work too,” Dr. Foster says with a laugh.
But Dr. Foster learned that being a professor is no game. In addition to lecturing he has to mentor and advise students, grade papers, conduct research, get his research published, make presentations to academic groups, serve on committees and be at the forefront of curriculum development. “It’s definitely more work than meets the eye,” Dr. Foster says.
After serving as a professor at Montgomery College in Maryland and a lecturer at Howard University, Dr. Foster was recruited as an assistant professor of mathematics at UVI. Although it was challenging readjusting to the facts of life in the islands – high electricity bills, high cost of living and high crime: “Corned beef is $12 a can,” he notes as an example – Dr. Foster is happy for his circle of experiences.
His next goal is to become a tenured professor. And he still plays basketball – four days a week. Soon he will start coaching and training young men in the game. At 30-something years old, Dr. Foster is at the top of his game – a mentor in the classroom and on the courts. Sounds like a slam dunk!

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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: Getting There

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If six months ago someone had told me that I would be traveling to another continent, on a “buddy pass,” by myself I would have called them crazy. As a matter of fact, in retrospect, I am crazy, sort of. When my boyfriend invited me to go to Europe on a three-country tour with him and some friends, I told him that I would think about it. I pondered on it for a while, thinking that I won’t be able to find a sitter for my children and that my best option would be to pass up the offer. That was until I told a couple colleagues. One flat out said to me, “I didn’t know you were on drugs,” when I told her that I didn’t think I could make it. One coworker was especially optimistic. She kept telling me “you deserve it Nanyamka, and you’re going to go.” Every time she saw me she asked about how the planning was coming along. Every time I came up with an excuse, she found a solution. When she asked her regular questions “have you packed yet” and “so what sites do you want to see,” I dare not told her that I wasn’t sure if I was going, unless I wanted a scolding. Truth be told, it was because of this dear colleague that I made up my mind to go.

Eventually my boyfriend explained that he had secured buddy passes for the group, which meant we would travel for a fraction of the price – if we actually got on the plane. Buddy passes work on a stand-by method. If there are empty seats on the flight, pass holders get to fly, in order of priority. This was NOT what I had in mind for international travel. I mean, what would happen if all the flights were all full? But my boyfriend assured me that he would check the flights regularly and arrange my tickets through the airports where it was more likely that I get a seat.

Because of all this and the fact that I had so much going on at home and at work, I wasn’t excited about the trip. Actually, my friends and family were more excited than I was. That was until my boyfriend called from Paris. He went up two days before we did. At that moment I realized that this was a great opportunity and we would have a blast! And on that day, my ticket was purchased – two days before my departure.

The first leg of my flight was St. Thomas to Puerto Rico, but it was a regular ticket, not a buddy pass. In Puerto Rico, the agent told me, “just wait for me to call your name,” which gave me hope that I would get on my PR-ATL leg. In that flight I had the good fortune of sitting with a Virgin Islands couple who were heading back to Illinois where they live. We had an engaging, eye-opening, spiritual conversation. You know the feeling when God put you in a certain place at a certain time for a reason? Yep, I was meant to meet that couple.

The ATL-Paris leg didn’t seem too promising – I was number 12 on the stand by list – but I kept the faith. It just so happened that I met two of the other people in the group at the airport. We were the last three people called to board the flight. Whew, that was close. I had been mentally preparing myself for the eight-hours and 24 minutes flight. I don’t enjoy flying: sitting in a cramped seat for so long, the cold recycled air, being thousands of miles in the air with no control – I can go on and on. I respect airplanes and pilots. No matter how many flights I’ve taken, I still count it a miracle to be in a gravity-defying air-suspended machine. I pray hard every time I get on an airplane – whether it’s a 20 minute flight on the tiny Seaplane in the Virgin Islands or on a jumbo trans-atlantic flight. Because I had only slept for 90 minutes the night before, I hoped to catch up on my rest. Getting ready for international travel within two days was, well tiring.

I did rest a bit, but I had great entertainment. The Delta seat back multi media screens are awesome! I’m not much of a movies person. I prefer to read on flights. So before this eight-hour flight, I had never paid much attention to it. I had watched a movie or two on it, but never explored it further. This thing is amazing. Tabs features up-to-date movies, HBO, tv, music, games, sky kids and my flight. I watched “The Hangover II” and “This is 40.” For me, my flight is the coolest thing. There is a moving map that let’s you know, in real time, how many minutes you have to reach your destination and an map that shows the plane’s actual location. Channel 13, the R&B station was the bomb. Ok forgive me if I am going overboard with this, but all this time, I had no idea how cool it was.

The flight attendants are preparing for our second meal and we are scheduled to land in Paris in about an hour.

Stay tuned for more on my European adventure.

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