Salt for the Wounds:​ Writers Block # 1

To be a Negro in this country is to be in a constant state of rage – Baldwin

You can’t heal what you never reveal – Jay Z

Sea

I didn’t know ocean water could be navy blue.

A Maldivian man reaches out his hand to assist me onto the boat. Though I have spent 21 years in a love affair with all bodies of water, boats still make cautious. As the boat rocks, I become aware of my size, worried that somehow, someway, I’ll fall over. He gives me an assuring smile. “No one falls.”

I am the only Black person on the boat today but not the only person of color. I’ve been counting since I arrived at the resort so aptly named Paradise Island. In the Maldives,  a nation of islands off the coast of India, I am allowed to almost blend amidst the Indian and South-East Asian tourists. As a solo traveler, I don’t speak often, allowing me to hide my Americanness momentarily; now is just not a good time.

The boat glides over the deep ocean to a neighboring island. Surrounding us is nothing but other islands, boats, and the crystalline navy enveloping all. We all on the boat have agreed to a snorkeling excursion and the island 30 minutes away from ours has a more active reef. As we ride, I marvel at the physics of the water, having only know the muddy Atlantic growing up and the polluted Pacific in my early twenties. Soon, the water gives into a clear aqua blue we’ve come to associate with the tropics. As we anchor off the coast, another Maldivian man instructs us on the order of the day. “Stay together, don’t go too far into the reef, wave for help if you need.” We take our gear and load up.

The flippers feel foreign on my feet and I’m scared that I won’t know how to breathe. I’m more scared to ask questions. As I crash into the water, I open my eyes and realize that the deep navy water is truly navy. Out in its expanse is nothing; blank space. Infinite. On the other side is the azure; a reef teeming with life and resistance. I’ve never snorkeled before. My first few breaths were wet sputters as I learned to pace and measure my breath to work with the simple set we are given by the resort. It takes time and in those moments, the deep navy feels less marvelous and more of a cautionary tale: light does not reflect the bottom- tread carefully. Some other patrons have already adjusted and are heading toward the reef. They have their own, more sophisticated gear that seems easier to use. Even in luxury spaces, I’m reminded the learning curve is still high. Even in the ocean, some would have to try to fail.

As I float through the reef, I converse with a few other patrons between surfaces. There’s a couple from Australia who offer to take my picture when they notice I’m alone. I make momentary friends with the woman after we bond over our inexperience and joke with the man about the novelty of a Black person swimming. I make the joke. Not him. I’m unsure why I do, but it works. As we converse we take in each others’ accents, historical cousins meeting again for the first time. No one watches the news on the island. No one ruins their vacation. In between surfaces, I can see their questioning, but they, thankfully, decide to focus on the reef.

“I just saw a shark!” the Australian man exclaims.

“Lucky!” our guide responds back.

“I’m not so sure about that…” I say, coming up to adjust my tube for the umpteenth time. Distraction brings water. Distraction ruins the breath.

“Maldivian sharks are vegetarians” our guide jokingly retorts.

As I swim, another couple approaches me. “Turtle!” the woman shouts with a big smile. Still new to my flippers and having not nailed down a technique, I fumble a bit trying to swim, feeling stuck in the water, simultaneously unaware and all too aware of my body. Her partner notices my inelegance and grabs my hand. He’s a strong swimmer and he’s able to pull me almost effortlessly across the coral, guiding me deeper into the reef. The coral and the fish within it are stunningly close, full of color of vibrancy. We are visitors in their home. They seem just as amused by us as we are of them. He keeps pushing us forward with his hands, careful not to break the delicate structures; he’s an adept snorkeler and so stunning sure. He lets go of my hands and points to a clear path in the coral. Alone and calm, the sea turtle rests just underneath the waves. Among the chromatic fish, it rests almost regally, as though it wants to say that this, this reef is my own. It has survived.

As I float, careful to mind my placement, the sea turtle swims elegantly between the coral coming dangerously close to me and the man who guided me. It looks at us both squarely and unafraid, simply swimming. Simply being. As it passes us by, moving to another area of the reef, the man turns to me and smiles, pointing up for us to surface.

“Did you see?!” he exclaims.

“Yes, it’s beautiful!” I call back.

“Life!” he says, swimming back to his partner.

Life…

Sweat

Tha block is hot… Lil Wayne

Sinnerman where you gon run to, all on that day? – Nina Simone

My body feels different in Los Angeles than it does anywhere else in the world. I hate Los Angeles.

The mornings I have woken up in a sweat dreading the day before me have been in Los Angeles. The days where trauma and stress have ripped through my core, leading my body to fail have been in Los Angeles.

The daily count of the dead and dying, the endless fear of its wake… all of it sits just underneath the smog.

Los Angeles is hot.

So we spend our days sitting in saunas at Korean spas or lying on the beach to purge our bodies. We hike and exercise compulsively. We stay underneath the sun, looking for its validation.

The sun sets the neighborhood on fire and stifles our breath. We keep sweating.

We toil underneath the boot of someone else and laugh about it over tacos to keep from crying. We write in Coffee Beans amidst the folks whose star burned before it lit the sky. We wait for a cool breeze from the ocean, hoping to cool our backs. It never comes. We keep sweating.

We march and we chant and we protests and we hold up traffic. We write and we teach and we lecture and we pontificate. We! Won’t turn back! We! Won’t back down! We! Won’t give up! We! don’t turn on the daily news because there’s nothing on anymore but death and dying. The target is on your back. We keep sweating.

We live in the coastal elite town that’s on fire. We live in the coastal elite town that’s time is up. We live in the coastal elite town with the largest gang in America. We live in the coastal elite town that’s too hot.

And I have tried to love Los Angeles. I have tried to find wonder in its oceans and hills. In its novelty and ingenuity. But a place where the sun always shines hides too many secrets. If what’s done in the dark comes to light, then what’s done in the light is simply accepted. In Los Angeles, they will kill you in broad daylight because that’s all they have. They will kill you in broad daylight because it was just too hot.

The body overheats in an “unseasonal” heat-wave. Activists pass out water to folks as a show of goodwill and faith. Sweat is a virtue; hard work and perseverance. Sweat is a marker; too poor and too outside. Too protest and too surveilled. Sweat is as constant as your Black skin. Sweating like a sinner in church and you’re marked as the descendant of Ham. Black. Sweat.

Hell is a place where the sun scorches everything and the demons smile in your face as they watch you. Hell is a place on earth. Hell is other people. All you do in Hell is sweat.

Tears

Do I find it so hard when I know in my heart I’m letting you down every day….letting you down every day. Why do I keep on running away? – Hannah Williams

I hope they heal.

Spices

You’re not obligated to win. You’re obligated to keep trying to do the best you can every day. – Marian Wright Edelman

Cooking keeps me sane. Grocery shopping is therapy. Cooking shows are a nightly ritual. Restaurants are spiritual salves.

It seems that all of the major moments of my life are marked by food. Perhaps it is the Southern in my blood. Or maybe it is the Africa. I think the two combine beautifully in relationship to the world of cuisine. When I think, I smell spices and curated dishes made by praying hands and loving hands and firey hands and radical hands and white hands and my own two hands.  When I think, I think of community and love and tradition. I think of memory. I think of art.

I think of trial and error.

Black pepper spills over my pasta due to an too-loose lid. Sugar spills into the dough. The oven burns the bread the color of tourmaline. Too much of anything is a bad thing.

Coffee beans grind into a fine powder and become espresso. I think of these when I think of you.

Flour, peppers, salt, and seasoning combine to make breadings. I think of these things when I think of you.

Chocolate and milk and eggs and flour combine to make brownies. I think of these things when I think of you.

Paprika, egg yolk, mayonnaise, and dill combine to make deviled eggs. I think of these things when I think of you.

When I think of you I think of mistakes made and lives lived and pages and pages of disturbed and dirtied cookbook pages. I think of futurity and what our children might eat straddled between so many different worlds. I think of love and grief and anger. I’m reminded that cooking angry is the number 1 way to make mistakes.

Not all mistakes are edible; most, but not all.

Spices do expire after some time. Memories do too. The best thing you can do is savor them before they are gone. Otherwise, they are wasted.

You have to try your best to make a good dish.

You have to try your best to live a good life.

Epilogue

Salt is essential for life in general, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes.

Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation.

All through history, the availability of salt has been pivotal to civilization.

In Africa, salt was used as currency south of the Sahara, and slabs of rock salt were used as coins in Abyssinia

Moorish merchants in the 6th century traded salt for gold, weight for weight.

The word salary comes from the Latin word for salt.

Wars have been fought over salt.

The voyages of Christopher Columbus are said to have been financed from salt production in southern Spain, and the oppressive salt tax in France was one of the causes of the French Revolution.

In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi led at least 100,000 people on the “Dandi March” or “Salt Satyagraha“, in which protesters made their own salt from the sea thus defying British rule and avoiding paying the salt tax. This civil disobedience inspired millions of common people and elevated the Indian independence movement from an elitist movement to a national struggle.

Salt will burn in the wound as it heals.

The wound will burn as it heals.

The wound will heal.

The wound will heal.

 

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