Here’s my truth, my experience: no one really cares if you’re solo traveling. Well, not really; they do care. They’re often in awe of your bravery, and if you’re a black female, your boldness in forsaking your friends and family for yourself.
For my first solo adventure, I chose the Crescent City to test my boundaries. In the words of my grandmother, I was looking for Obeah—voodoo for the non-West Indians. I chose NOLA for no other reason other than I’d never been and wanted to prove to myself that I was brave.
Here’s the thing, I was not as terrified as I thought I should have been. Like I said, no one cares if you’re traveling by yourself. They’ll have some annoying wonder in their eyes, they’ll tell you to be careful. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my twenty-five years as a Guyanese woman, is that trouble only comes looking for you when you go searching for it. Don’t invite it into your life. But what you need to be is open, experience everything, and don’t look back.
Joy & Kathy
As a young black woman, I tend to do things by myself. Unusual. I travel 8 hours, round trip, to watch New York City Football Club play at Yankee Stadium. I pop into bars to have a few drinks, or watch soccer. I go to concerts alone, comedy shows, movies. Everything society judges you for and will happily tag the word lonely on your skin.I don’t like to bother with people. It’s a hard habit to break when you’ve spent a majority of your life living in your head, unable to really express yourself to others. Despite this, I try invite people into my lonelyworld, to keep my body open, and when they smile, I return their warmth with kindness.
My first two hours in New Orleans, I met two older white women, Joy and Kathy, blonde, their ages etched into their faces, but covered enough in makeup. Joy was the talkative of the two; she wanted to know everything about the City, and the barmaid—a fierce woman who answered every single question, who knew the city like she did the back of her hand, carefully corrected Joy’s inaccuracy, while mixing drinks upon drinks for wet, hungry customers. She would tell Joy what places no longer existed, what did or did not changed in the City. Kathy was more like myself, quiet, concentrated on her drink, caught up in her phone ever so often, but could not escape the talkative nature of her friend. When she smiled, her eyes crinkled, but the smile never quite reached her ears, much less her eyes. She held back.
She was me.
But I did not want to Kathy. Sitting in Café Beignet on Bourbon Street after six hours of traveling, heavy bags under eyes, growling stomach, and an innocent wonder in my face, I told myself, I would not close myself off from New Orleans. I would invite strangers into my trip. I would learn.
You cannot go to New Orleans, a city destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, a city where a majority of itself is still rebuilding, where the population is cut in half, and not learn about the history. A good way to learn: Tours. I chose a cocktail tour with a lovely tour guide: Joe. From learning about Absinthe, Sazerac, Pimm’s Cup, Mint Juleps, Blue Fairy, origin of Cocktails, and arrival of the French and Spanish in shaping the physical structure of the City, I was caught between a world of excitement and remembering the images of black men and women on flooded roof tops.
Standing outside of Tauaques, I could not escape flashes of the hollow faces and eyes on my TV screen of people who had lost everything, the lines outside Hurricane Help Centers as people waited for simple necessities, Kanye West’s George Bush doesn’t care about black people. Sometimes the world forgets just how terrible mother nature can be, Joe did not forget, or wanted anyone to forget the amount of people who died, how the city was destroyed beyond what anyone thought could happen, how the City reenacted Tennessee William’s A Street Car Named Desire famous “Stella” scene but replaced Stella with “FEMA” to show just how little the government did to aid the city. Remembering Katrina was a sobering thought in a heavy moment of privilege. I, like thousands of others, was a tourist traveling in and out of the City, spending money on tours, cheap drinks, listening to the street bands, and filled with sympathy for those impacted by the hurricane, but could not truly understand just how impacted the City was because I did not live there. I only read new papers, watched a news, and maybe said a few prayers.
But a Mint Julep later, I’d forgotten about the suffering, and gotten myself ready for New Years.
Fur Coat Needed
I was probably in my early twenties when I was aware of my body, of my looks, my thoughts about my looks. I’ve always been a girl with a slim, narrow, no shape, figure. I have been self-conscious about my weight, which is where I think my habit of eating very little comes from. I didn’t develop a confidence in my physical self until I was maybe twenty-two or twenty-three, aided by the help of makeup. When I started to break out severely, my confidence tanked. I spent a lot of my time watching YouTube videos about skin care routines, how to cover up dark spots, I wore heavy foundation, powder, the whole nine yards. I was what my mother called a Jumbie—the spirit of a dead person. Though the words were supposed to be harmless, they stuck to my skin when I took off my makeup and the real me came back. December of 2017, I changed. I stopped wearing heavy makeup, stop wearing hundred dollars of Sephora skin care products on my face, saw a dermatologist, and for three months went without makeup. I let my skin breathe. I looked at my body, looked at my skin, and realized, I was beautiful.
But sometimes a girl has to stunt. My makeup wearing years haven’t faded away, I can still do a full beat using tinted moisturizer, setting powder, powdered contour, highlight, and blush. Except this time, I knew my beauty was valuable with and without makeup. For New Year’s, I rocked a shimmering purple thin strap dress, simple hair, bold red lip, and purple eyes. I took myself to Curio—not my first time eating dinner alone, but certainly for New Years. I treated myself to two glasses of wine, a cheese board, oyster linguini, and happiness. I didn’t care about the eyes on me, though for every eye I met, I smiled. I had conversations with my friends via text about how fucking beautiful I looked, though it wasn’t my dress and makeup that made me feel beautiful—but they certainly helped.
It was my confidence to defy my own fears, the questioning stares. It was my confidence in thinking that if a younger version of myself could see me now—miles away from home, dressed to impressed, and celebrating New Year’s solo—they would be proud. But having a fur coat would have made the stunt even harder.
What Happens in NOLA, Leaves NOLA
Two strange shots poured in my mouth, two edibles, a Hurricane, and walking up and down Bourbon street drinking later, I found myself in a club—the last fearful step of my solo adventures—playing hip-hop. I’m sure it was a 90s song that lured me in. But I found myself at the bar, ordering a Blue Moon, and enjoying myself. I opened myself up, danced alongside people, and I didn’t care that I was in a club alone; my liquid courage had gotten me out of my head so I could simply enjoy the night. I mean why else celebrate New Year’s on Bourbon Street if you’re going to live in your head?
But Bourbon Street is a crowded street. You have to push your way through, saying excuse me, and your apologies if you bump into someone the wrong way. Someone should have told the old white man who refused to let me pass, despite my patient pleas of excuse me, that choosing to walk down Bourbon Street on New Year’s, surrounded by drunk people was not the move. My anger reared its head, my fists clenched—I only wanted to enter the club playing Reggaeton to use the bathroom—as he repeatedly refused to let me pass . Typical. White. Male. If it was not for the stranger beside me with, “I hate white people. Let her the fuck through,” I would have lost my patience, my accent would have been out, and I would have been the angry black drunk woman on the street cussing out some middle age white man who very clearly out of his element.
A small moment, yet one where I needed to physically remove myself from Bourbon Street because yet another white person had managed to invade my serenity, had managed to once again remind me the fucked up state of this country: a person of color, scratch that: a black woman can be patient, and kind, and respectful, and in return, our patience and respect is bombarded by the sheer ignorance and rudeness of those with white skin just because.
Happy New Years.