Many days, I have listened to the soulful tune of Nina Simone. Nina Simone the musical legend. Nina Simone the activist. This past Friday, I FINALLY got the chance to catch the documentary titled What Happened, Miss Simone. For several months I had been urged to watch the film on Netflix. However, I never had the time to fully dedicate my attention to the documentary until this weekend.
A new fan of her work, I was very interested to learn more about her. Like many people my age, I had heard her name and a few songs or two but it wasn’t until this past spring that I really began to dive into her music and learn more about her.
What happened, Miss Simone, is a beautifully put together documentary about Nina. The film was composed of interviews from Nina and those who knew her, as well as, pictures and journal entries. It was a perfect dive into the mind of young Nina Simone. The film brought attention to the loneliness of many gifted artists and the struggle to face reality and their creativity.
More than learning about the ingenious of Nina Simone and what made her tick creatively. The film discussed in detail the symptoms of mental illness. Nina Simone was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and had battles with depression her entire life. In the film, it was said that people had notice her mood changes and sometimes erratic behavior but it wasn’t until later in life that an actual diagnoses was made. The black community even now has difficulty acknowledging mental illness and the seriousness of it. It is still a taboo subject that is often ignored or downplayed. The film does well to acknowledge he illness without discrediting her as an artist or activist. There are some who have stated that, male artist are rarely menaced with the state of the minds after passing. I find this to be true, however, the need to discuss mental illness in the black community was outweighed this point for me.
This documentary is well worth the time. It gives a glimpse into who Nina was in her own words and through the words of those who experienced her. It also brought much needed attention to mental illness and how to deal with those who are affected by it.
If you have seen the film, what are your thoughts on it?
In 2011, I embarked on my biggest adventure yet. I was spending the summer abroad in Cape Coast, Ghana with 14 other Mizzou students. I must admit, going to Africa, was never on the top of my travel priorities. I had never gone out of the country and I always imagined my first trip abroad being in Europe and gallivanting in Paris. I knew that at some point, I would embark on a journey in an African country but never did I imagine Ghana as my very first travel experience.
I tend take things as signs, so when I saw the flyer advertising a service trip in Ghana three times, I knew that it was in the cards for me to go. My sophomore year of college, I had gotten more involved with service and had recently switched my major from business to political science. It all seemed to fit so perfectly together. I jumped at the chance. I had no clue how I would pay for the trip and I knew absolutely nothing about Ghana but I decided I would go, so go I did. (I highly recommend applying for the Gilman Scholarship if you qualify).
After struggling and worrying about how I would pay for the trip, it finally worked itself out (Thank you Jesus). I found myself on the longest flight ever (around 11 hours total) heading to Ghana. On my way from the restroom on the flight, a Ghanaian woman promptly handed me her baby and instructed me to sit in her so that she could go to the restroom. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it was the first Ghanaian encounter I had. In America, a stranger would not dare hand their child to a stranger but in Ghana, I found that trust was a given. Raising a child was a community task and this flight was no different. I learned about the trusting nature of Ghanaian people before I even landed.
Fast forward to landing. I arrived in Accra on a sunny June day. There was no bridge way from the plane to the airport. We walked down the steps of the plane and into the airport. (I later found out this was not uncommon anywhere. This was my second flight ever, the first being the shuttle to DC for this flight). Going through customs was kind of frightening for me. I had never been out of the country and no one told me what to do. I was surrounded by a rainbow of languages. A friend and myself, navigated our way through the airport to find our ride. We had been told very strict guidelines about how to conduct ourselves in the airport. We were told not to let a cabby touch our bags. If one touched our bags we would be obligated to tip him regardless of the fact that his service was unwarranted.
We searched for the escort from the organization called Proworld. My university had partnered with them for group internships. Proworld was a NGO that provided interns and funding from the interns to local nonprofits, schools and clinics. The idea was that we would help provide a sustainable structure for the organization we assisted. (yes, cue the American savior music).
We finally found our escorts without problem. We waited awhile for other Americans to arrive. My friend and I were arriving a few days earlier than the rest of the Mizzou students, so we were going to be with home stay interns for the next day or so. When we finally hit the road, we drove from Accra, the country’s capital to Cape Coast. The drive was long and tedious. Ghanaian traffic is notoriously bad so a trip that should have been about two hours took more than four. Luckily, I had a seat in the front of the 17 passenger van. I was able to get a quick tour of the country that would be my home for the next 5 weeks. I remember the dirt being so red and bright. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Driving between cities was like driving in between different worlds. Certain parts of Accra were adorned with multi colored mansions and buildings. Outside of the capital lie make shift shacks and homes barely big enough for one. While some of the sights were devastating, it still had a beauty to it that one could only understand when there. Businesses and homes were covered in cell phone logos. Children and women walked up and down the roads and through traffic selling water pouches, and plantain chips on their heads.
After driving for hours, we finally arrived to our pro world house (its been a long time, so I do not remember the name of my town L). We arrived late night and everyone was jet lagged. We ate a quick and short meal made by our house cook, Elizabeth. Then we all went to bed for what would be our first night in Ghana. I fell asleep dreaming about how the rest of my Ghanaian adventure would go.
What I was seeing was just a precursor to what I would soon know as Ghana. Ghana is a land filled with beauty, inspiration, and love as well as, poverty, oppression and despair. My trip to Ghana, thus far, has been the most enlightening trip I have had.
I am not much of a planner. As I have said in previous posts; life rarely goes according to plan, so I rarely make them. This being said, I learned a lot while in Europe about traveling and making arrangements. My previous abroad experience in Ghana was somewhat structured by my university. Also, in Ghana you really don’t have to plan. Everyone there is very laid back and lively. Ghana is inexpensive so doing things last minute doesn’t harm your budget at all. Europe is polar opposite.
In Europe, the better you are at making arrangements in advance, the better your chances are of saving money and having a smooth trip. For Americans, traveling within Western Europe can be costly compared to traveling in other places (our currency is generally worth less than the Euro, Pound and Franc). Learn from my mistakes and plan ahead if possible.
1. Peeing is not free!
Most major European cities charge for the use of public restrooms. In most train stations, malls, and attractions, you will pay about one euro or franc to use the restroom. This being said, keep your coins. Many European countries have coins that value up to 5 (euros, franks, pounds), so discarding these coins are costly. You never know when you have to go. Most small business and restaurants do not have restrooms for the public, so be prepared.
2.The Eurorail is trash
This is obviously based on my own experience but the Eurorail is not the money saver it seems to be. The Eurorail pass is very complicated and has lots of fine print. It costs about $400 -$500 for about 8 travel days. The countries you choose must all border each other and if those countries are not a popular ticket choice, you will need to order in advanced or get it online. Most major cities require you to reserve a seat, which will run you about $60 USD or more roundtrip. If you do not reserve seats earlier enough, you run the risk of the train being booked. (You can still board the train, but you end up standing or sitting on the floor.) If you choose to use the Eurorail, I recommend using it for Eastern Europe. The countries tend to be closer together and there is less need for seat reservation. The train can be time consuming if your destinations are not close.
3.Flying is the way to go
Flying in Europe is a dream. It can be very cost efficient to catch a flight, not to mention time saving. I flew from Geneva, Switzerland to London, England for $70 USD round trip and booked my ticket only two weeks before my trip. There are several travel sites that make flying cheap. I booked my flight directly through EasyJet (European Airline). There is also Ryan Airlines and Skyscanner.com is also a great way find cheap flights. Note: if you use these airlines, the only bags that are free are carry-ons. They can be very strict about the sizes of the carry-on, so check for measurements and do not push it. Also, give yourself plenty of time to get through airport security, some airports are very small and cannot always get through people quickly.
4.Booking a Room or Hostel
Hostels are popular among young travelers in Europe. Hotels can be really expensive, so it is worth it for your budget to either book a hostel or rent a room or couch from someone. Hostels typically house anywhere from 3-10 people in a room. (You can get a private or two person room but it isn’t cost efficient.) It sounds scary, especially if you’ve watch movies about Americans in foreign countries but really hostels can be a great environment. In Barcelona, our hostel was very clean, had free breakfast, lots of young people and was in the center of town. I met some very cool people who recommended restaurants, tours and activities. I even met a girl with the same name as me! However, book ahead if possible. In Paris, we did not book a room in advance and boy, oh boy did we regret it. We stayed in a shabby hostel that was questionable in cleanliness and their idea of a complimentary breakfast was the vending machine. Needless to say I slept on my sweater.
If you aren’t a fan of Hostels and prefer a more private experience, try using AirBnB. It’s a great website and app that is growing. Locals rent out a room or sometimes their entire apartment. I didn’t personally get to use it but everyone who I know that did, enjoyed it. If the host was there, they often acted as a person tour guide. I tried to use AirBnB but my procrastination made it impossible for me to book anything. Just because a space is available does not mean they will agree to you booking the space. Remember these are people’s home. They usually want enough to prepare for you. They need to check their schedules, so give yourself minimum a week to book (and that may be cutting it close).
5.Always bring a Student ID
Even if you are not a student anymore. Europe is all about the youth. Most museums, attractions and activities offer a discount to students. This can really help you shave down the cost of your activities. Note; If you are in Paris, the Louvre will not give you a discount unless your school is located in the European Union. BOOOO! However, the Eiffel Tower gives discounts to anyone under 24.
6.Bring a Water bottle
Again, there are not a whole lot of water fountains and water in most restaurants are not free. If you do order water, make sure you ask for tap water, otherwise you get overpriced bottled water. It is better to just pack your own water and fill up on those rare occasions you find a water fountain.
*Paris smells like pee. In fact a lot of urban Europe does. *The toilets use very little water, so they smell as well. *Find the free beaches. A lot of European beaches don’t have sand. (Spain does, they import it). * Doing laundry is expensive. Learn to hand wash. *If you are there for an extended time period, know that you will not have an oven. Your refrigerator is miniature. *Starbucks is ridiculously expensive. *PB&J is always in style. *The European metro system is really good in urban cities. *Train Stations double as malls, don’t get sucked in.
I hope you all get the chance to visit Europe one day. Learn from my mistakes. I promise you will save soooooo much money and time.
It can be difficult to accept that our plans may not always workout. It is even more difficult when accepting that your plans and goals for yourself are not in line with the purpose God has for you.
I am a notorious planner. I like things to go as I planned and I like things to make sense but sometimes things don’t make sense. Sometimes you have a calling for something you may not have foreseen. It happens this way for most us. Most of us fall into talents and opportunities we didn’t expect. Not saying we didn’t work to earn this opportunity but we just didn’t plan for it.
I am learning, like most of you, that it is ok to go with the flow. It’s ok to fall in love with something that is outside of our plans. Planning and goals can be good. It makes us feel comfortable, it’s a great way to make sure you are always doing your best, but sometimes we have to let go of the plan. I have a difficult time doing this but life is so much easier when you accept what is.
In the past two years, none of my original plans have worked out. Not one. There were so many points where this absolutely crushed me, or so I thought. However, life has really played out in my favor. In two years, I have managed to do quite a bit of traveling both domestically and internationally (though I would LOVE to do more). I’ve strengthened friendships and built new ones. I’ve grown so much closer to my family; immediate and extended. I’ve found a love for running (my first half marathon is in a week). I’ve had a slew of jobs, none of which were Ideal but I’ve learned a lot about my strengths, gifts, weaknesses and what I don’t want in a career. I also earned another degree (MA in International Relations) along the way.
So no, nothing happened the way I wanted but thus far I feel pretty accomplished in most areas of life. I will continue to plan because that is just who I am. I’m sure there will be another time that I will be disappointed when they don’t work out. However, I won’t let that disappointment crush me and I will be ok with what is. Life is a journey and it is meant to be explored. There will always be trials and errors but the best results will always come.
I would change absolutely nothing about my life or my experiences because they have made me who I am. I like me and I hope you like and love the person you are and are becoming.