Tell us your story- How did you get here? How long have you been in Mumbai?
Well, I have always had a desire to work and serve internationally. I had an amazing opportunity to study abroad in South Africa and Namibia during my undergrad years at NYU and since then I’ve felt my life mission was to work internationally with organizations, businesses, churches, individuals and cities to help them to be their best.
This March a friend at my church in New York told me about an organization in India that he was working with called Vision Rescue. They were based in Mumbai and focused on educating children in the slums, rescuing and restoring young woman/girls from sex trafficking and proving health care for those in need. I instantly became interested and found out that the NGO had volunteer opportunities. I felt that this could be my first open door into international work and so I asked my current employer (a New York based NGO and Church- The Legacy Center/Christ Tabernacle) if I could go on a short-term mission trip to India for six weeks. Well, they agreed and to show their support gave me a six week paid leave to come explore and serve in India! Who does that?? This for me was a sign that God was opening up the doors for me to pursue my dreams and purpose of serving overseas. Before I left for my trip I actually decided to give notice and move out of my beautiful apartment in Harlem. I had such a strong feeling and belief that once I got to India more doors would open for me to remain long term.
So with full support of my employer, family and friends, I traveled to India just five months after learning of this NGO. Everything moved so fast. Once I arrived to Mumbai, I immediately felt connected with the city, the people, the organization and church I was serving with. I was offered my own room and bathroom in a beautiful home with a family that works as the dentist for the organization and I felt so loved and at home. After about a month of living and working here I knew that I wanted to stay longer. So I contacted my job and resigned. They weren’t surprised to hear I wanted to stay and gave me their blessings and are now making monthly financial contributions to help support me volunteer here! I cannot even express how blessed I feel. I’m witnessing first hand how important it is to pursue our desires and passions. I truly believe that they are connected to your purpose. Once you start taking small steps of faith towards your dreams you will see God open doors wide for you and the right people will come around you to support you through the journey!
What do you do here? What have your experiences been?
I’m currently working with Vision Rescue to assist with their organizational and strategic development. I also work closely with our transition homes which house girls and young woman who have been rescued from sex trafficking. I’m currently working on creating a life skill course and bringing in professional women from all over India and the world to mentor and pour into these courageous survivors. I also work with a local Christian Church here helping them with church structure, leadership development and volunteer empowerment. I’m having such a blast. It’s awesome to use some of my gifts and skills and experiences from New York and LA to serve organizations here in India.
Race relations... how do folks respond to you?
Before moving to India, I did so much research on how black women and people are perceived and treated in India. I read many different accounts of people’s great and terrible experiences. Thankfully, my experience has been great so far. People definitely stare and do double and triple takes lol. When I first arrived I was wearing my hair in long Senegalese twist, a style that many Indians here have never seen in their lives. I do get many compliments though. I love to say hello and give warm smiles to everyone I see. Once they get over the initial surprise that I’ve spoken they then respond with a big smile and hello. The best advice I received was from the founder of the organization I work with who said “just be yourself”. Those words have encouraged me to be comfortable in my own skin, hair and even style here, although I look so different then most.
Advice for people that want to visit India?
India is truly a beautiful country and there are so many different states/cities to visit. From India’s Capital New Delhi, which is the political center of the country, to the breathtaking paradise Goa, to the center of Bollywood and extreme poverty in Mumbai, there are many different experiences to have. My greatest advice would be to not try to bite off more then you can chew. Unless you have at least a month to explore India, focusing on a few cities is most ideal in my opinion. There is just so much to take in, and the traveling, poverty in some areas, different culture, overcrowded environments can be overwhelming for most. Yet, on the other hand, if you are willing to go with the flow, be patient, leave your watch and agenda home (India Time is real!) and accept the popular saying when faced with most challenges“You’re in India”, then you will have the time of your life!
What's your hair story?
I decided to go natural my freshman year of college at NYU. I was on the varsity basketball team and one of the seniors on my team encouraged me to start embracing my natural hair texture. She saw me struggling with trying to press my hair, wear weaves, and install my own braids and encouraged me not to feel like I HAD to do these things to be pretty and that my hair was beautiful just as it was. After her prep talk, I decided to cut off the few inches of relaxed ends in my hair. I started wearing daily wash and go’s using cholesterol conditioner to co wash and as a leave in (I didn’t know then that it wasn’t ideal for daily use). My hair grew pretty fast because of the low manipulation but I started to get bored with the look. There was a coupon in the campus paper for a press and curl at a black salon in lower Manhattan and so I decided to make an appointment. I got so many compliments with my hair straight that I started back pressing my hair. After college, I returned back Los Angeles and continued getting those Cali hard presses (a lot of heat is used to get your hair silky straight) and wearing partial weaves. It wasn’t until 2011 that I begin to acknowledge that the condition of my hair was very poor due to the heat damage and that again I felt bound to “having” to wear weaves in order to feel I looked pretty. I removed the extensions and begin experimenting with transitioning styles and advice I found online, mainly the curly rod sets for my straight ends. It took me time to really start accepting and loving my hair and to learn styles that complimented me. I was determined though to allow my hair to become its very best and to be confident in the hair I was born in. I now am truly loving my hair and my new challenges are learning to adapt in this new climate in India.
Current Regimen? What products do you use? Where do you get them from? Is it easy to get products shipped here?
About 3-4 times a week I deep condition my hair with coconut oil (which is very inexpensive in India; $2.00 for a large bottle) and a conditioner that I bought here by Matrix Biolage called Ultra Hydrating Conditioner (I believe it’s from the US). I leave that in for 15 minutes to a few hours depending on how much time I have and then I rinse out. I then reapply the same conditioner to detangle my wet hair while and I also add like 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (because of the temperature here the consistency is always liquidy lol) and finger comb it through my entire head. I let it air dry to wear as a Wash and Go. Just before its all the way dry I carefully put it into a low pony tail without disturbing the curls to stretch it some. I leave out the front sides and use bobby pins to pin them down by the roots. This allows me to stretch the front without loosing my natural curl pattern.
Have you ever used henna? Do you know anyone who does?
No I have not used henna yet, but I definitely want to. I actually just came to your site a few weeks ago to find out more about Henna. Back home in the states I didn’t know anyone personally that used Henna.
Your friends of Indian descent, do they henna?
I have a few Indian girlfriends who use Henna and they love it. Here both men and women use it as a natural dye to cover greys. The only complaint I get from some friends is that they don’t like the bright reddish color that your grey hairs can turn. One salon owner I know here also mentioned that clients have said Henna can be too messy and takes too long to set, so they prefer regular dyes.
It has been interesting as a single woman here in India. In NYC I had signed up for a popular online dating site and to my surprise it’s also active here in Mumbai. About a month back I decided to see what type of guys were on the site here. I changed my location from Manhattan to Mumbai and I starting receiving almost 50 messages a day! I was so overwhelmed with the responses that after a few days I disabled the account lol. I did go on one lunch date with a really nice and cute Indian guy who is from Mumbai and studied in the US (undergrad and MBA) and had a great time.
Also, I’ve met a few black women here in Mumbai who are having trouble with managing their hair in India. Both girls are from Africa and are professionals working here. Since middle school I’ve loved to do my hair and others and will be installing Havana twists in one of my friend’s hair this Saturday, as well as retwisting the other friend’s locs next week. So excited to be able to help my sisters out!
What are all these 'detanning' ads I'm seeing everywhere?
Skin Whitening is a very popular skin regimen for women here in India. Most face washes for men and women have some sort of whitening agent, commonly advertised as detanning. Even the deodorants have whitening agents to lighten your underarm skin, and surprisingly popular are new feminine washes that also lighten your vaginal area. There definitely is a subtle and sometimes blatant message that whiter and fairer appearances are more beautiful. I went recently to get a gel manicure at a salon and without asking they started to apply whitening crème to my hand. I immediately asked them to remove it. They tried to explain that it was just to remove the “tan” and make my hand fairer. I politely declined again and they washed it off. As a dark skin woman who has fought to truly accept and love my chocolate complexion, I can definitely say it bothers me to see such a commercial and culture push to lighten one’s skin here.
*** GIVEAWAY ***