Did You Breathe Today?

Finding the delicate balance between embracing a more relaxed lifestyle, and engaging my skills to achieve my creative and financial goals has been at the top of my mind lately. Even though I am a little over a month into this journey, the pressure of finding discipline is ever present and real. Just because I am on the road living a nomadic life doesn’t mean I don’t have responsibilities. It doesn’t mean I don’t have debt, and it surely doesn’t mean I don’t need to earn an income. But I've come to realize that my “impending doom” is all in my head. I’ve already landed my first freelance contract and, all things considered, I am doing just fine.

Being a stranger everywhere I go limits the amount of outside pressure I feel, the need to compare myself to anyone, and the urge to conform to westernized societal norms. The fear of falling behind doesn’t exist in some ways, but definitely exists in a couple of other ways. Not many people I know are doing what I am doing, so as far as my circle goes, I am in a league of my own. And because of this, I am quickly realizing that finding and TRUSTING my own pace is paramount. I set the tone for each day, leaving me to figure out how to be disciplined but fluid. How to work hard but to find joy in the work. How to approach creating content as a priority but also as therapy. How to be where I am, as I am. Though these things were all important in my old life, disappointment seems heavier now that I am the only person I report to. I gave up everything I know to travel the world and reunite with my higher self while creating soul moving content and manifesting life changing experiences. The thought of not accomplishing any of that because I couldn’t find the discipline is heartbreaking.

In the same breath, how is it possible to feel so present, to feel mesmerized by the seconds in a minute? Everything slows down. Life is more vivid, and more pleasurable. Despite fleeting moments of overthinking, I have not been so present and so content in a long time. Downtown Los Angeles feels like a lifetime ago. This doesn’t feel like a new chapter, but more like a highly anticipated sequel that took so long to create that we need a refresher to remember all the parts that lead us here. There are faces and memories I keep close to my heart but so much of it is a blur. Cleansed like God’s breath after a Nicaraguan rainy day, I am made new in every moment.

A few nights ago while drinking wine and watching the most amazing sunset over Playa Maderas with fellow travelers, the conversation turned to the reasons for the difference between this version of ourselves and the way we are when we are back home. I didn’t add anything to the conversation, but as I listened to others share, this question dug into me. I honestly didn’t have anything to say at the time, but the longer I sat with the question, the more some things came to mind. I know the obvious answer is because in a new place you can be who you are without fear of reprisal from the people who “know” you. But could it be something else? Could it be that we used other people’s perception of us as an excuse not to be who we really are? Did we choose to sit back and become a pool of shallow water, reflecting much and contributing little? Did we suppress our nine year old selves in order to belong?

As a solo traveler, there is little need to belong because I always stick out. The way I act, dress, speak, eat - it's all different. And as a traveler locals accept me as such; different. No one is expecting me to fully conform to their cultural and societal norms and in a few days/weeks I will be gone. As long as I respect traditions and etiquette, I’m good money. Comforting, right? And in terms of other travelers, it’s like a revolving door of people. I am not saying I don’t crave connections or the connections are superficial. I just feel like the connections I am making are coming from a more raw and natural place. In the past few weeks I’ve had some of the realest, deepest conversations with people I will probably never see again and gone on a random adventure with folks that my path would have never crossed otherwise. I guess what I am saying is that we are different while traveling because we are truly present with each interaction. We are open.

I can safely say, I have always been a bit of an odd ball. A risk taker, if you will. But even I have felt the need to do the “right” things. But I also know that you (unlike me) don’t have to be dragged by life or completely get off your path to realize that you must be who you truly are unapologetically. Like a good friend likes to remind me, “Don’t forget to breathe.” When the overthinking starts, I breathe. When the debt back home comes knocking on my door, I breathe. When I taste fear crawling back up my throat, I breathe. I close my eyes and breathe, then I open them and remember that I am on the trip of a lifetime, creating my truth in each moment. My only job is to be present and manifest.

“A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she "should" be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Did you breathe today?

Testimony

(c) Ima Djie
By the time I called the barber to shave my hair off, looking in the mirror was unbearable. Everyday I woke up, looked at myself and felt disconnected. The person who was looking back at me no longer represented the person who I felt like. I know this sounds pretty dramatic especially since it’s just hair.

But is it really?
(c) Ima Djie
As short as it was, it felt like the height of the past. Dry and coarse it didn’t take to coconut oil like it used to. It was almost like it knew its time was up. The first time I shaved my head, my father sat me down to talk because he thought I was going through a life crisis. That wasn’t the case back then and it isn’t the case now. If anything, I am going through an evolution. 

Taking the new lessons I’ve learned and peeling back the layers of a programmed false self, I am open. I am not reinventing myself or just refreshing my look, I am setting the table for a reunion. 

Once again I am ready to see me raw and unobstructed. Stripped of anything the world may use to define me. I want my outer appearance to match my inner mien. Unapologetic, empowered, bare, wild. 
(c) Ima Djie

(c) Ima Djie
Feasting on my soul’s journey, I want you to see me as whence I came. Wiggling from the womb, crying out from the joy that it is to breathe deeply.

Inhale, exhale, my lungs burn from the shallow pool of a closed chapter.

Inhale, exhale, the divine holds me close to her bosom.

To you it may only be a fashion statement but to me, it's my testimony.
---
(c) Ima Djie
The photos used in this post are from a beautiful collaboration with Ima and Peta, two amazing creatives I met in Los Angeles, for Peta’s jewelry line Unbiased.

Ima Steinsvik Djie is a Los Angeles based photographer who is currently experimenting photographing solely with film.

Peta Johnston, a curious New Zealander found herself in Los Angeles via the way of Spain in early 2012. With the drive to pursue all things design and sunshine and a background in fashion plus a masters degree in design and innovation management, Peta has applied her diverse skills to the nonprofit sector, fashion, event production, service and consumer product industries.

Unbiased
Unbiased is uniquely designed stackable jewelry that strikes the perfect balance between complex design and simple elegance. The designs can be worn individually, stacked or interestingly integrated with other pieces, any which way we are unbiased.
Designed and manufactured in Los Angeles, California.The complete collection will be launched throughout 2017.
(c) Ima Djie

6 Ways I Downsized My Life To The Travel World

The decision to downsize my life and set off to travel the world was an easy one. I have no children, no significant other and no major commitments to keep me in one place. So with no true anchors to think of I only needed to get rid of all my stuff. If you are looking to do the same thing here are a few ways I got the job done:

1. Part Ways

The first and most important thing you have to do when downsizing is deciding what you want to keep. For me this was easy. I knew I was leaving my apartment with one carry-on suitcase and a backpack.That was it. OK maybe it wasn’t that easy. What do you do when you have 5 favorite dresses but you only have space for 1? And it better be a versatile one. And what if I want to trade out clothes after a few months? Do I send a box to my mom’s or a friend’s?

After much contemplation I decided that very few items needed to be kept in storage (meaning mom’s or a friend’s); only winter clothes, a few sentimental things (journals, photos, etc.) and important documents. Everything else will have to find a new home.

2. Sell furniture in a forum you trust. 

video
A glimpse into my loft 

Let’s face it, selling furniture/household items was not fun. Between posting, reposting, chasing down leads and waiting for people who never showed up, the process can make any sane person just want to open a window and throw everything outside like it was an ex-lover’s favorite things.

Like that wasn’t enough stress, as a single woman and living alone, having random people show up to my house was a huge safety concern. Because of this I decided to only use forums I was familiar with. Groups on Facebook I’ve chatted in before, my own FB page and FB’s marketplace were my go to’s. Facebook was my go to for selling everything. Being able to check a person’s profile or knowing that we have common friends eased many of my fears.

To take precautions further, I only gave away my building address (not apt #) to most people and met them downstairs if they purchased Items that were easy for me to carry. When I sold my large farm table to a young man, I asked a friend to hang out with me when the purchaser wanted to come by. I also tried my best to schedule meetings in the mornings before work or the early evenings.

Being safe while inviting strangers into your home should be your number one priority. Don’t let desperation cause you to put yourself at risk. 

3. Donate towels, sheets, pillows and blankets to an animal shelter.

This was a daunting one for me. What in the world do I with my old towels, sheets, blankets and pillows. Most things I have I knew I could sell but who the heck wants my old dingy towels? Thank God for Google! Not knowing what to do I looked up ways to recycle these items. Out of all the ways to reuse these items, donating them to an animal shelter made the most sense. Animal shelters use these items for animal bedding, to dry them after cleaning and other necessities. I’ve never been a pet person but definitely brings me comfort to know that my old blankets can help provide a comfy home to animals in need. 


4. Sell, Trade, Pass Down & Donate Used Clothing

From what I’ve read donating used clothing to thrift stores can be tricky. Most clothes you donate never make it to the sales floor. So in order to minimize the chances of my clothes ending up in the landfill anyways I tried these options first.
  1. Sell/Trade: Crossroads Trading Company is one of my favorite thrift stores in LA. They do an amazing job of curating items people will actually buy again. Knowing that I buy most of my items directly from designer showrooms, I knew heading here first would be a good bet. Better yet, with the money I made from the sale, I bought my carry-on and backpack for the trip. Can you say win-win?! 
  2. Pass Down: During this process I totally forgot that I had a little sister who loves fashion as much as me and wears the same size, but while rattling off my list of to-dos she quickly reminded me fi ship some of di clothes dem. PERF! 
  3. Donate: Most of my clothing and shoes (and some household items) went to the Good Shepherd Center for Women and Children. 

5. Sell Books To A Used Bookstore

Since living in DTLA, I have completely fallen in love with the Last Bookstore. Growing up I loooved bookstores but I’ve never been in a used bookstore, I thought they were just fun mystery locations in fantasy films. The Last Bookstore is everything in a mystery movie come to life and then some. It married my love for books with an adventure. So when looking for a place to give my favorite reads a second life, I knew exactly where to go. What you get for the books isn’t much but it's a lot better than nothing.

My sis got me packing cubes for my bday and for this trip!

6. Give It Away for Free

When all else fails list your stuff for free. When I was down to the wire and less than 24 hours away from jumping on a plane, I put up a sign in my apartment lobby and listed all the items I had left for free. At that point just the mere fact that someone was willing to come and physically move things that I no longer had the energy to haggle with people for was enough for me. I was beat!

I wish I could say I made it through this whole process with minimal waste but to my dismay, I think a fair amount of items still ended up in the trash. I really felt I failed the whole mission of minimal waste because of it but I can say I gave it a hell of an effort. 
__________

If you enjoyed these tips and have any of your own to share, let me know in the comment section.

Answering The Call

My soul is answering the call within.
The call to hug women from another lifetime
To stare deeply into a stranger's eyes knowing our histories are linked but now reunited in this century
To eat with laughter and gratitude mangled with fractured sentences finding refuge in the company and leaving the nuance of language
The knowledge of knowing we swam in the same womb once, suckled at the same bosom, ran through the same luna forest
I’m answering the call of the past, the future and my lost family
Calling me to reunite, welcoming me, pulling me to all the homes that I knew and yet to know
The whispers of my sisters across the seas are becoming a brewing ocean I cannot ignore. 
Boarding.
Standing on the shores of San Juan Del Sur. 1st stop of many.
Do you remember a time when you answered a higher calling? Let me know in the comment section below.


My Solo Female Travel Journey: Day 1


Waiting for the shower to warm up only to realize, “baby that shower never getting warm”, coupled with the imagery of me slathering on a shiny layer of sunscreen and spritzing on bug spray is what I would call the symbolic moments marking my new life as a nomad. To think that just a couple of days ago I was walking the grimy streets of DTLA plotting my exit and now I am here in Nicaragua plotting my journey.

A journey not of self discovery but more like a reunion. I’ve always had a strong sense of self, who I am, why I’m here and where I’m going but somewhere along the way to big dreams and career goals, the little voice that was leading me became softer and softer. After a series of jarring situations from being in the hospital to random people coming to me and telling me that the universe wants me to know that I am off my path, I felt like my higher self was doing everything she could to hang out with me again. Like a baby in distress screaming to get it’s mother’s attention, she wailed. Everything became uncomfortable. I needed to do something. I needed to strip away everything that was a distraction and get back to me. When I finally decided to leave, the call to travel was so compelling that I became afraid that if I stayed my true self would be lost forever. It was time to bet on me and be willing to lose it all.
When I finally decided to leave, the call to travel was so compelling that I became afraid that if I stayed my true self would be lost forever.Tweet: The call to travel was so compelling that I became afraid that if I stayed my true self would be lost forever. http://bit.ly/2rUs
Walking through the streets of San Juan Del Sur looking for a local breakfast spot, I was very shocked at the amount of hipster looking shops and restaurants that speckled this tiny town. In some ways I felt like this was just a beachy version of a trendy LA neighborhood, just a little cheaper. I had no expectations of this small fishing community but I never would have envisioned this; trendy bikini shops, streets lined with loud four wheelers and tons of pubs. For a moment I felt weirded out because it felt too familiar. In some ways when thinking about a trip to a place I’ve never been, I had a Jane Goodall vision of myself trekking through the bush lol. But duh Donalee you picked the town where digital nomads call a base, what did you expect?!


Wrap & Roll - Crispy fried chicken mixed plate $4.00
With hunger knocking at my gut’s door I gave up my search for local food and picked a Hawaiian spot to chow down. Yep, you read right: HAWAIIAN. Since it’s only day one and knowing that I would have plenty of time to find my spots, I didn’t let the disappointment get to me. Even though it wasn’t what I was looking for, it def hit the spot and Kenny, the owner, was a great local insider to talk to. He has been in San Juan Del Sur for 10 years and even though it has changed a lot from a simple fishing village to a tourist hot spot, he still thinks it's a great base for any Nica traveler. And even though I’ve only been here for a day I agreed. He gave me a few tips before sending me on my way with my leftovers wrapped in foil.

As I walked through the town center I couldn’t help but hear patois! This is the second time I’ve bumped into a patois (garifuna) speaking Nicaraguan and I couldn’t help butting into his conversation and introducing myself. In a country where I know no one, these small moments help me feel at ease. I may never see this man again (fun fact I def did lol and he gave me the biggest hug!) but in this moment of familiarity all the strangeness of travel subsided and we were connected.

This is why I started this travel journey.

Oh but what would life be without contrast? For every moment of familiarity, there were times of utter confusion. At first when people asked if I know Spanish I would answer, “Enough not to be scared.” All that confidence went out the window less than an hour after my patois connection when I needed to buy eggs at the market. I was confused, the market lady was frustrated, we repeated each other hoping to make the next understand. In the end she just took my dollar and flashed me off. Sigh. Yep my Spanish sucks.

Towards the end of the night my housemates and I went out for sushi. Yep. SUSHI. Needless to say I did not partake, at this point I just wanted street meat but I wanted to hang out and possibly make friends. Although, I became fast friends with one of the guys (we went for a walk in town before the meetup and we went for beers and chatted for a good bit), I couldn’t help but feel like a fish out of water. Most of the folks residing at the co-living space for digital nomads (people who work remotely) had a few weeks of friendship established by the time I got there. So for the majority of dinner I sat in silence and just took in the scene.

Still super grateful for being there, I also felt intimidated. Here are folks that are fully established in their respective fields, and here I am barely knowing where to begin. And if the feeling of not fitting in wasn’t enough torture, the question I got asked after my name was, “So what do you do?” I effin hate that question. I left a world where that was the only question that was asked at social gatherings and if you didn’t do something that could help the inquirer, you were immediately of no value to them. I was left wondering does anyone (other than the young man I hung out with earlier) actually want to know who I am, why I’m here?

Deciding to not give in to discomfort, I took a deep breath, sipped my $1.36 Toña beer and listened. I’m happy to report that after a couple of beers and bar hopping, I was able to break the ice with my housemates. A couple of them also assured me that I will have this digital nomad lifestyle figured out in no time.

As I sit by the pool reliving these moments I have no beautifully crafted philosophical quote to end this post. But I can say that even with the uncertainty of this journey I feel at peace.
Have you ever done long-term travel? Share some of your first experiences in the comment section below.

Granny's Verandah

My entire childhood can be found painted on the walls of my maternal grandmother’s house. I’ve heard that memories start at around age 4 and even though I left Jamaica at 7, most of who I am was built in those short memory years.

It was there I learned that there is a fine line between responsibility and freedom. Waking up every morning and going to catch water from the community pipe for our drums before running off into the bush to play for hours. It was there my curiosity and sense of adventure came alive, creating worlds between trees and embodying different characters among friends. Not only did we dream up towns but we built them too. Using whatever materials we could find, nature and trash included, we built homes and shops. Walking, climbing and picking the feast of the wild. Our bellies were full with laughter and fruit.

On my grandmother’s verandah is where I learned to shell peas, wash naseberries and stockpile almond seeds. It's where my friends gathered to suss (gossip) and where we combed our hair. When the evening came it also became our boundary, God forbid if we got our feet dirty after the night’s bath!

Sleeping in granny’s house is where I learned to hate the dark. After the lights of the kerosene lamps went dim, it was only me, the blackest night, the sounds of my family breathing and the occasional rat scurrying across the roof. One could only pray that sleep would come quickly to save me from my own imagination.

But the same zink roof that amplified a tiny creature’s footsteps into the ugliest beast’s hooves, is the same roof that made the music of a rainy day. The sweetest choir lulling one to rest. Do you know the sound of country rain? From the first drops rushing everyone to take the clothes off the line and open the lids of the drums, to the downpour of heaven persisting on your stillness as you wait for mother nature to complete her lovemaking with the earth. Then there is the pitter patter of the end trail of her joy giving way to the community coming alive again. Oh to know nature in this way, to wait on her, to praise her.

It was my grandmother’s house that taught me about change. When we migrated I expected to come back to everything just as I left it. But nothing stays the same, for better or for worst. My friends changed and so did I. On visits, our conversations became a hungry how are you, hoping to connect again, desperate to find common ground, but the truth is we never really did. I moved from the simplest of life to the complex world of the US. A place with so many layers and intricacies that I was trying to understand and navigate. How do I explain to them that it’s nothing like the movies and things were hard. Not hard in a country life way but in a systematic stressed out way. One is not better than the other they are just different. Different in ways that I couldn’t explain.

Eventually my grandmother’s verandah disappeared, along with a few neighbors and family members. Etched into my memory these oracles and monuments haunt me. Every trip home there is a new change. Even though the physical changes to granny’s house (added rooms, a new patio, indoor kitchen and bathroom, running water and electricity) were all good things, the selfishness inside me cried with each new concrete block. Why did they change the verandah, of all things? It’s too different.

Selfishness aside, every change became a testament of my family’s resilience and hard work. We made it somehow. Fighters, scholars, hard workers, lovers. The only way to get beyond the poverty that rural life can bring is to fight. Fight to earn a living, fight for an education, fight for a better life, even if it means leaving where we love; granny’s house.

Some of the best years of my childhood can be found painted on the walls of my granny’s house. Pass the new front room and step into the heart, the core is the same. This house that taught me about change and love. The house that speaks to my adulthood. My family built a solid foundation but oh do we know how to renovate, decorate and make additions.

Coming home is like hearing the call for dinner after a romp through the bush. Leaving the memories of what was to face the reality of what is, then feeling the warmth of stew peas and rice filling a hunger that you forgot you had.

Mountain Fog

The Blue Mountains breathed life back into me. When planning my trip home, I knew I needed the mountains to be first stop and I needed spend a significant period there. I packed books, sweaters (way too many sweaters), palo santo, sage, and notebooks. I had many ideas of what to do when I got there. I wanted to make the best use of my four days. I wanted to return from the mountain changed and clear. It happened, but not the way I planned. 

As we ascended the mountain, full of anticipation and ready to be cleansed of the weight of the “real” world, I was also relinquished of my plan. We arrived at dusk in a cloud of damp fog that held up the belly of the rain just in time for us to pull into the driveway. As if God herself was welcoming us with tears of joy, the sky burst open and bathed us.

After the fire was lit and we brewed our first of many cups of coffee, we sat, drank and marveled at the beautiful rustic setting we would call home. It didn’t take much for me to realize that this was the whole point of the trip - to do nothing. To allow the windows of my soul to study every moment, every tchotchke, every leaf, every star and every dew drop.

I became obsessed with being present. Filling the spiritual void with stillness and gratitude, I no longer craved food. One of my fondest memories was running through the garden in the rain. I’ve never seen lushness like this before - the flowers drooped under the weight of the morning rain and the colors! They shone deep and bright under the giving sky. I felt like a child discovering nature for the first time. And even though I shared this scenery with my travel-mate and a few hundred townspeople a couple miles away, in this moment I felt like it was my special secret. My wonderland.

On one of the nights I dragged my friend to lay under the stars. Armed with blankets and a little bit of fear, we used the lights from our phones to guide us to the perfect patch of grass. Laying back waiting for our eyes to adjust, we giggled. It was pitch black at first and the night's ominous sounds caused us to wonder if this was a good idea. As soon as the doubt arose it was calmed by the magic of the stars. Shining like our hopes and dreams among the black void of space. We instantly understood who we were. The space between earth and sky melted and we became astronauts. 

When there wasn’t silence, there was warm communion. Woman to woman we stripped ourselves bare and unpacked. Offering nothing but honored listening, we took refuge in the dialogue. How did two Queens allow programmed reality to dull the jewels in our crown? Worshiping, witnessing and reuniting, we kissed our reflections, gathered our robes, and descended.
Worshiping, witnessing and reuniting, we kissed our reflections, gathered our robes, and descended.Tweet: Worshiping, witnessing and reuniting, we kissed our reflections, gathered our robes, and descended. Read more here http://bit.ly/2ooa6vA
The fog released us just as it welcomed us, thick, misty and full of hope.