Today's Stamp: 'Ackee & Saltfish'/'Es Americano or Booga Booga..': Shooting on Location (Jamaica & Spain)

The original story behind Brown Passport

*see description of images below...

*see description of images below...

     It 2004, I was fairly new to living/working in New York City, but quickly building a good reputation as a Digital Tech in the advertising and fashion photography world, all while shooting my own work both for clients and to build my photo portfolio.  Dec 1st (2004) I flew down to Jamaica with fellow image maker Julien Capmeil and the art director for this advertising shoot. My role as a digital tech on this job explains why the photos on this blog post are all of me taking a grey card reading. Remember, this trip was about 12 & 1/2 years before Brown Passport was conceived, yet one that time did come it was this memory that was truly behind it's (B.P.'s) inception.   

..."How you got this job?"..."Who are You?"...

     Since we were shooting advertising for the resort, they hooked us up in our own 3 bedroom villa with our own private pool and kitchen staff (definitely luxury to me).  Every morning I would smile with the kitchen staff as they would raise their eyebrows when asking "Ackee and saltfish?..." and I would happily say.. "YES". 

...'did they just wait until I (the only brown person on the crew) was left alone at the table so they could ask me without any 'white people' around???'...
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     One evening I was left at the dinner table as the other (2) crew members went to their rooms for the night.  It was then, one of the kitchen staff peered her head out and looked around the room (as if checking to see that the 'coast was clear').  She then waved to the other staff in the kitchen to come out.  They all came out and stared at me (while i was finishing up my dinner).  Of course I stopped eating and stared back.  One of them (I can't not recall which of them) asked... "How you got this job?"..."Where you from?..." "Who are you?" and a whole host of other somewhat related questions.  

..."we can hardly afford the bus to work..."...."They don't want you to see how we live".......

     Needless to say, I was STUNNED.  I felt put on the spot but at the same time wondered if I were at that moment supposed to be some kind of 'inspiration', or a sign of 'hope' because of my role (job).  I couldn't help but think, 'is this really happeneing?', did they just wait until I (the only brown person on the crew) was left alone at the table so they could ask me without any 'white people' around???

     ....'All that is left to show are these silly grey card photos, but the impact of this experience....'

     We proceeded to chat about my role in this job, how I came into photography and how I 'made it' to the point of being hired for this job and others.  They proceeded to share with me the harsh reality of 'making it' in Jamaica as a (black) Jamaican.  They said they get paid much less than those who come from elsewhere even though they are working at a top resort near Montego Bay, they said to me "we can hardly afford to take the bus to work..it's so expensive...".  

     I felt privileged to be sharing this line of dialog with them considering we (the crew) had already been there the better part of a week seeing these same folks (kitchen staff) at least twice a day without any prior sign of conversation beyond things like "Ackee & Saltfish?...". It may have been the first time I recognized differential treatment on that level due to the color of my skin.  I mean they waited until I was left alone to feel comfortable enough, trusting enough to speak on these topics and share all of this information with me. 

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     A couple of days later on our way to the airport Julien pleaded with the driver to take us another route.  You see, the main road to the airport was at a standstill, most likely due to an accident or perhaps just massive traffic.  The driver refused stating there was no other road to get there.  Julien just knew that couldn't be true, as there were several neighborhoods between the resort and the airport, why could we not just cut through the neighborhoods? He kept pleading, begging the driver to take the back way since our flight was the ONLY flight that day back to New York, and both he and I had other freelance jobs the next day in New York.  Finally, the driver broke out and said, "I could lose my job for telling you this....please...listen they won't allow me to go any other way, because they don't want you to see how we live..".  The car became silent, then Julien carefully let the driver know that will never happen because none of us will ever say anything.

     We eventually did cut through the neighborhoods with a very nervous driver as we past through what looked like a series of cinder block boxes one after the other connected by a spiderweb of questionable electrical wiring.  Happy to report we did make our flight, and to my knowledge that drive kept his job.

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     To this day, almost 13 years later as I write this, all that is left to show are these silly grey card photos, but the impact of this experience is beyond words. 

"...Es Americano, or Booga booga?"

Brad Starks, photographer & production manager shot is Wailea-Makena, Maui, Hawaii

Brad Starks, photographer & production manager shot is Wailea-Makena, Maui, Hawaii

     As previously mentioned what I experienced on this trip to Jamaica has left a lifelong impact.  Many industries require travel for work, but the photo/film industry I believe has a special relationship to travel (and the travel industry).  In the interview below, African American photographer Brad Starks shares his first profound travel story through the eyes of a 'brown traveler.   He shares how he reacted to a rather of putting comment by the first person he encountered when moving to Spain.     

     

Today's Stamp: 1 Day in Doha: Qatar

Always take the Long layover: spend time in new places

     On January 27th 2017 the (then) new President of the United States (Donald J. Trump) wrote in an executive order to BAN entry into the United States to people from these 7 countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Mind you, (as quoted from the New York Times) "Most of the 19 hijackers on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa., were from Saudi Arabia. The rest were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. None of those countries are on Mr. Trump’s visa ban list."  This executive order has since been in the courts and placed on 'hold' (as of June 11th 2017 when this blog post was written).

....."It turns out that unlike it's restrictive Saudi neighbor, women can drive, vote run for office and freely participate in social and public life.".....

     When I go to Indonesia, I fly Qatar Airways, from NYC to Doha (Qatar), then onto Denpasar, Bali (Indonesia).  Qatar is located on the Persian Gulf with it's only land border being Saudi Arabia (herein referred to as 'Saudi'). On Monday June 5th 2017, it was announced that at least 4 Arab nations (Saudi, Bahrain, UAE & Egypt) severed diplomatic ties with the state of Qatar, Saudi being the ring leader (so to speak) of this action (backed by Trump).  Qatar gets about 40% of it's food from Saudi.  All of these nations except for Egypt ordered their citizens to leave Qatar. In Dubai, it has been made illegal to speak of sympathy to Qatar, and offense punishable by deportation and or jail time.  

Sudanese Camel Caretaker (near Mesaieed, Qatar)

Sudanese Camel Caretaker (near Mesaieed, Qatar)

     My flight from NYC to Doha (Qatar) landed at 06:30 Tuesday June 6th. when booking, I purposefully customized my journey with the longest layover I could get away with (on a single ticket).  I ended up with 20 hours in Doha (Score!). 

     Prior to leaving I booked a half day ride in a 4x4 in the Qatari desert, culminating with a stop at the inland sea (border to Saudi).  I also booked a low cost Hotel so I could take a disco nap on a real bed, and take a shower prior to heading back out on a 9 hour flight to Bali. There are only 4 seats (possibly 3) in the 4x4, and so far it appeared as though I was the only person on that excursion (at time of my booking).  I thought it would be nicer to have a travel buddy so it wouldn't just be myself and the driver going on a 4 hour desert excursion, and requested to the booking agent if anyone else were going and if there was any room in their vehicle I would like to join rather than going it on my own. I was blessed with one more person booking last minute (Gary from CapeTown, South Africa).  

Sudanese Camel Caretaker, (near Mesaieed, Qatar)

Sudanese Camel Caretaker, (near Mesaieed, Qatar)

     Once in Doha, I picked up a VOA (Visa On Arrival) for about $27USD.  Mind you, I arrived Jun 6th 2017...which was just the 1st week into Ramadan.  Once I picked up my visa I couldn't go back into the international terminal, where all the food stands were still open.  So, thankfully I had packed my snacks and filled up my water canteen beforehand, knowing full well I might be out of luck to find a coffee or anything else open during daylight hours in a 'Sharia Law' State.  I went out and got a taxi to my hotel (The Green Garden Hotel, in Doha) I had booked in advance for $50 via www.booking.com.  After about an hour, I heard from the driver letting me know he was available to pick me up early (originally scheduled for 9am) so we could then pick up the other traveler (Gary) at the airport.  

Katara Masjid (Mosque, in Katara Cultural Village, Doha, Qatar)

Katara Masjid (Mosque, in Katara Cultural Village, Doha, Qatar)

     We picked Gary up around 9am and away we went.  Driving through a bit of Doha, through the towns of Al Wakrah & Mesaieed (home to the Oil refineries), then stopped to deflate the tires.  You see, once off road, and onto the sand dunes, they need to deflate the tires to about 10psi in order to move freely through the sand. We stopped at a small Oasis, where a few Sudanese men and a couple of Camels were gathered.  For about 20,000 Qatari Rials you could ride on a camel so of course I said YES!!! Despite it being Ramadan (and about 09:45) we were served tea in a shaded area out of the (40c--aka 110F) hot sun.  

Amir, deflating the tires to 10PSI

Amir, deflating the tires to 10PSI

     The tires were now down to 10psi and we were on our way through the sand dunes to the Inland Sea.  Our driver (Amir) was originally from Pakistan and had been living in Qatar for about 13 years (and loving it). He told me many people from all over come to Qatar for the good paying work opportunities.  Amir, also shared with me that "Women have (some) freedoms in Qatar".  I thought (but not saying this out loud of course) 'oh boy what the heck does that mean...'freedoms'.  It turns out that unlike it's restrictive Saudi neighbor, women can drive, vote run for office and freely participate in social and public life.  Of course this commentary has got me thinking, as much as I complain about my home 'State of the United', I'm extremely appreciative right about now with the freedom prior generations fought for me to have. BE THANKFUL....

....."to the narrow ridge and over to the other side where the 4x4 was most often completely sideways with sand blasting up the down facing side of the vehicle.".....

     I could not have had a better person to share this ride with.  Gary (from Cape town) was 'right on time'.  all three of us enjoyed engaging conversation about life in Qatar, Capetown, NYC and London (where Gary & his family had lived for quite some time, prior to moving back to Cape Town). Gary and I spoke on the lasting effects of apartheid both in S. Africa and it's American counterpart.  It's through conversations like these that we can continue to make strides in people's way of thinking which inevitably bring about positive change over time. 

Gary& I on the Saudi Arabia border at the Inland Sea (Saudi Arabia in the distant background).  Just moments after we received the news of 4+ countries in the Middle East politically exiling the State of Qatar. 

Gary& I on the Saudi Arabia border at the Inland Sea (Saudi Arabia in the distant background).  Just moments after we received the news of 4+ countries in the Middle East politically exiling the State of Qatar. 

     ....."which turned into his putting his arm around me pulling me TOO close".....

     Through all this conversation we would often yell out a few screams and laughter as we climbed steep sand dunes to the narrow ridge and over to the other side where the 4x4 was most often completely sideways with sand blasting up the down facing side of the vehicle.  Thankfully this 4x4 was equipped with roll bars (and air conditioning!...it was 41c at 11am!).  After some time up, down, and sideways (often feeling like I was riding on a velodrome), we arrives to the Inland Sea.  It was there Amir spilled the beans about the news released only a few hours prior:  Qatar had been diplomatically isolated by many of its Arab neighbors.  

Howls and laughter as we cruise through the Qatari sand dunes towards the Saudi Border/the Inland Sea 

Overlooking The Saudi border just on the other side of the Inland Sea

Overlooking The Saudi border just on the other side of the Inland Sea

     ....."insulting someone is a punishable offense".....

     As Gary and I look across the water to the Saudi border, Amir spoke about his recent trip to Saudi and how easy it was for him to freely travel over the border.  He began telling us what few details he had and shared his confusion in all of this (and concern).  I must say I was quite perplexed, by hearing this and even Gary wondered if it had something to do with Trump's recent visit to Saudi only a week or so beforehand.  Qatar may not be the most socially 'free/open' State, but Qatar is quite welcoming, & home to one of most progressive news agencies in the world (Al Jazeera) which by the way is STATE funded.  News broke that the airline Gary & I flew in on (and I'm scheduled to go back to the States on) is not allowed in Saudi airspace, nor the airspace of the other States involved in this political move.  All Qatar airways flights are banned from these other state's airports, basically 100% ties were between those countries and Qatar has been severed.  

"foreshadowing" or at least thankfully only in my mind.  when I shot this I realized I was the ONLY female for MILES among a few strange men in a desolate desert.  IF Gary from Cape Town hadn't joined on this ride, I may have felt completely uneasy in this situation. 

"foreshadowing" or at least thankfully only in my mind.  when I shot this I realized I was the ONLY female for MILES among a few strange men in a desolate desert.  IF Gary from Cape Town hadn't joined on this ride, I may have felt completely uneasy in this situation. 

     Now, about safety: traveling as a female.  Remember that part earlier when I said I was fully prepared to take this desert ride alone (as the only passenger that is).....after what I'm about to share with you occured I am ever more thankful for Gary's last minute appearance on this trek. After our visit to the Inland Sea (on the Saudi border) we went to a nearby beach camp which was completely empty (not 1 person anywhere in site---remember it was 41c and still not even midday).  Amir took a selfie of all three of us, then Gary went off to explore a bit of the (empty) camp.  Amir tagged a bit too closely to me as I was trying to do the same as Gary, then proceeded to take a selfie of just he and I.  This is where it gets a weird.  He stood next to me for what I thought to be 1 (ONE) selfie, which turned into his putting his arm around me pulling me TOO close for several more pics.  RED FLAG! I don't know about you, but there is ONE thing I think can hold certain people back from traveling (besides their excuses about money and time): FEAR.  As a brown person fro the states I grew up afraid of just about everything: getting pulled over by the cops, being harassed at a remote gas station (hearing music in my head from the film 'Deliverance'), and as a female there of course is that issue of unwanted male 'attention'.  In this case my radar went OFF and I quickly shuffled closer to Gary and made sure he was always within an arms length.  Now, perhaps I was overreacting a bit...could be so.  However, in a strict state where insulting someone is a punishable offense, I felt I had to tread lightly in my reaction to Amir's newly found comfort in my company.  Gary was dropped off 1st, then I.  As I quickly shuffled out of the 4x4, Amir offered a 'free' city tour to me later (after dark) and suggested I call him (via What's App).  Nervous, but NOT showing my true feelings, afraid of offending him if I flat out said NO, I told Amir, I needed to rest a bit and couldn't give an answer right now.  Thankfully I safely checked into my hotel and got that much neede 'disco nap' so I would be ready to go hit the souq for nightfall. Ladies: always trust your gut instinct! When in doubt GET OUT. Listen to the interview (video below) with Sophia, about travel alone as a female. 

Footage from Doha, While Sohpia speaks about travel as a female alone. 

Amir (driver/guide for the Inland Sea trip)

Amir (driver/guide for the Inland Sea trip)

     Just before nightfall I took a taxi to Katara Cultural village.  As I'm walking along the water, I hear a LOUD BANG....sounded like a cannon.  I quickly realized this was the indicator that it was time to break the fast and immediately I could hear the call to prayer nearby. 

Waterfront in Doha, at Katara Cultural Village

Waterfront in Doha, at Katara Cultural Village

     After the call to prayer, I jumped back in the same taxi that brought me to Katara (Abu from Ghana) and went to the Souq Wakiff.  There I found the streets bustling with energy as it was now long past Iftar. I'm sharing with you (see video below) just a glimpse of the wonderful stroll through this bustling Arabian marketplace.      

     Now having (finally) gotten something to eat at an Iraqi restaurant, and buying some incredible sandals at one of the shop in the Souq, it was time to head back to the hotel, have that last shower, and head back to Hamad airport. Next Stop..........

 

     

     

     

Today's Stamp: Taking a leap, in Maui & Kaua'i

Beyond the Beach: addressing the stereotype "Black People don't swim"

For info on "Brown Passport", please click this link About Brown Passport  Please note when you see * please reference the corresponding link and info at the bottom of this blog. 

All Images and footage shot by Samantha Isom with the exception of gopro (video) waterfall jump (Shot by Michelle Pierson), 4 still images inside video interview of Ron Redwell (by John Russell)--Stills of Ron not in video shot by Samantha Isom, sourced footage from the tv series "Sea Hunt" and drone footage by fisherman/influencer Robert Field (aka #yakfishtv

#Plotagraph at Maui's #NorthShore (Hawaii)

#Plotagraph at Maui's #NorthShore (Hawaii)

.......to be honest you would NEVER find us getting into a lake, nor going in above the waist in any open water scenario.  This meant so many activities were off limits (surfing, boating, tubing, canoeing/kayaking, snorkeling and you can FORGET about scuba diving......
Yours truly

Yours truly

      I'm not sure if the same holds true around the globe, but if you are in the States, you are well aware of the stereotype about African Americans and swimming (or minorities in general).  The University of Memphis conducted a study* in 2010 sponsored by the USA swimming foundation, and found that upwards of 70% of blacks in America had low or no swim ability, as compared to 40% of caucasians (and 60% of Hispanics).  This is one of the reasons it was such a big deal when Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win an Olympic swimming Gold medal (in 2016)*.  For more details please see* and  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-11172054  , http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/06/29/nothing-funny-70-percent-black-americans-cant-swim

.....but once again, praying to sweet Jesus they had enough life jackets in case of falling overboard.....

     Being a military family (my father was a career army man), we had access to the pool on post (Ft. Dix, 7 miles from our house).  We went there every year though not every week let alone everyday.  We were fortunate to have this, though neither of my parents could 'truly' swim, though my mother (of German & Irish descent) did teach me the backstroke (life saver!).  My sister and I would jump in the deep end and though seemingly ok with being underwater, we had no idea how to stay at the top.  We would scramble to the edge of the pool where we could hang on, repeating this process thinking this was really swimming.  I suppose to some, that was really swimming, but to be honest you would NEVER find us getting into a lake, nor going in above the waist in any open water scenario.  This meant so many activities were off limits (surfing, boating, tubing, canoeing/kayaking, snorkeling and you can FORGET about scuba diving).  

.......when in Kauai, (Hawaii) my good friend Michelle* took my boyfriend and I hiking to a waterfall, where I actually jumped off into.......

     The ocean was only 30 minutes away and we went there ALL the time.  Getting in the water was a must....though only going in water just above our knees.  We would not dare go in any deeper than the height of our legs because that was just too sketchy when you don't know how to tread water, nor float.  We used to go on whale watches in Cape Cod and Cape May, but once again, praying to sweet Jesus they had enough life jackets in case of falling overboard. 

     After several photography jobs in the Caribbean, I felt 'handicapped' being the ONLY person stuck on the beach or in the shallows while everyone else would go snorkel on their lunch break.  I realized this was a self perpetuating handicap and finally said 'screw this' I've got to really learn to swim.  At the beach, My boyfriend would help coax me into water just above my head and begin teaching me how to float, how to get more comfortable in a setting without walls as a safety net (aka the edge of a pool).  The Bed Stuy YMCA is only a few blocks from my home base in Brooklyn, so in January of 2015 (at 44 years old) I took BEGINNER swim lessons!     

     February of 2015 in the waters is Maui, Hawaii, I snorkeled in open water (away from the beach, and in water over my head) for the 1st time! At first it was with a leash/rope attached to the back of the boat (the Pacific can be kind of rough especially in the winter). I went out a few more times, then also snorkeled off the beach, where I encountered my first shark!  A couple of months later when in Kauai, (Hawaii) my good friend Michelle* took my boyfriend and I hiking to a waterfall, where I actually jumped off into the stream below! CONFESSION: don't 'clown' on me for this, but... I did NOT jump off the same ledge as Michelle (& Sean) but that little baby ledge for me was a leap in the right direction.  You've gotta start somwehre. 

Kauai's #Waimea Canyon (Hawaii)

Kauai's #Waimea Canyon (Hawaii)

Michelle, Sean & I, after jumping in the falls.  I don't have a 'still' of my jump but it (the jump) is in the video below, along with Michelle's.

Michelle, Sean & I, after jumping in the falls.  I don't have a 'still' of my jump but it (the jump) is in the video below, along with Michelle's.

     Now, here is the REAL big leap......in May of 2015 I obtained my PADI* open water scuba diving certification.  Talk about feeling FREE from a self perpetuating handicap! 

     It wasn't all 'peaches'.  I started by snorkeling and getting used to being in the open water and breathing through a mouthpiece.  That all seemed fine and good, until I tried a 'discover scuba dive'.  I was hanging off the side of the boat holding onto a line in choppy Pacific waters, banging around in the swell, 1st time with a regulator (breathing apparatus for scuba) in my face and once I hit the water, I could not descend (go beneath the surface).  One, problem was my sinus, I couldn't 'clear' or regulate the air in my sinus (ear canal) due to sinus issues.  The other problem was in my head.... I was scared of the open water once hanging (below the surface) by a rope. As (African American) diving instructor Ronald Redwell once said, if you want to do something you will figure out how to do it.....the only thing stopping 'us' from doing it, is 'we gotta get out there and do it' (see link for Brownpassport's video of Ron Redwell's full story).  I did WANT to dive.  So, thankfully, that was not my last try.  

     With determination, some help from Ron* and of course the help from my amazing diving instructor*, I am happy to report that not only did I obtain my Open water certification, but I now also have my PADI Advanced open water certification.  

Ron Redwell, Scuba Instructor #LahainaDivers Maui, Hawaii

Ron Redwell, Scuba Instructor #LahainaDivers Maui, Hawaii

     Never let stereotypes get in the way of you doing what you want.  Never let how society (nor family) sees you (in turn often how you see yourself) get in the way of your dreams.  Never say 'Oh that's a '_____ people thing'*, or 'oh that's not for me' if it's really something you WANT to do. Do not encourage self perpetuating handicaps.  "Keep It Movin' and go for it! 

See Ron's story on being treated differently (special) in Maui because of his skin color, as well as his inspiring story to not let any obstacles get in the way of his dream (of becoming a scuba instructor).  Full story and video from the 'Window Seat' (click here)

References:

*http://www.memphis.edu/benhooks/newsroom/pdfs/poolsofcourage2010.pdf

*https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/im-black-and-i-cant-swim-simone-manuel-showed-america-why-it-must-change/2016/08/12/138f8b6c-6086-11e6-9d2f-b1a3564181a1_story.html?utm_term=.d103e6803bac

*https://swimswam.com/simone-manuel-becomes-first-black-woman-win-olympic-swimming-gold/

* R.I.P. In loving memory of Michelle Pierson, who helped me jump (1st time) at a waterfall.  Sadly we lost her to an accident in 2016.  Long live her soul, her inner beauty and her love of life. 

*PADI is an acronym that stands for the “Professional Association of Diving Instructors” there are a few different entities in which to get certified, PADI is one of them (others include SSI & NAUI)

*though Ron was not my certifying instructor, he helped me overcome a fear of taking off my mask underwater.  the last ’task’ I needed to accomplish in order to obtain my scuba certification. 

*my amazing (Certifying) scuba instructor (also my boyfriend) Sean Atherton

*At times you will hear some (brown American) minorities say “That’s a White people thing”.  this mentality can keep ‘us’ held back from experiencing other things life has to offer.  this mentality can continue to keep us separate, slowing down the progress we are making in bringing people of different races and cultures together.  the same can go the other way around. A good example of that could be a ‘white’ person saying they can’t dance like a black person can.  These proclamations are keeping people ‘down’, keeping people from moving past all of these stereotypes when we need to continue to move forward more than ever. 

SPECIAL THANKS TO SEAN ATHERTON, RONALD REDWELL, Fisherman & Drone Operator ROBERT FIELD #YAKFISHTV, #LAHAINADIVERS #MAUI, #DIVERSIADIVERS #GiliTranwangan #INDONESIA, #BEDSTUYYMCA  and the NYC travel networking/coworking space from which I launched this post #voyagerHQ 

CLICK ON THE VIDEO BELOW TO HEAR SCUBA DIVING INSTRUCTOR RON REDWELL'S COMPELLING STORY ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE RECEIVING 'SPECIAL' TREATMENT BECAUSE HE IS A PERSON 'OF COLOR', ABOUT NOT LETTING ANYTHING OR ANYONE'S VIEWS GET IN THE WAY OF YOUR DREAMS AND ABOUT BRINGING PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS TOGETHER (THROUGH SCUBA).