Dear gorgeous sister Frankie,
Traveling’s got me thinking of you. Thinking about the travels we’ve done independently, both physically and in our inner worlds; the life we’ve traveled together over the past 5 years of our friendship; the journeys we’ll take on, both personally and with each other, in the future. So much to dream about! And we’ve both traversed a huge amount of emotional and spiritual terrain over the past year, that’s for dang sure.
Firstly, Frankie: I think you would love it here. The Seychelles Islands are a really fantastic and unique world to explore. They are officially a part of Africa (presumably due to their geographical proximity), though to me personally, the culture feels influenced much more by Asia, the Middle East, and whispers of Europe than it does Africa.
And, it is truly a confluence of cultures here. There’s a beautiful melting pot of locals and tourists from many corners of the world, and for the most part, there seems to be a peaceful and joyful coexistence of those who live here permanently, and those of us on vacation. And in a refreshing turn of events, tourists from the US (or any of the Americas, for that matter) are virtually nonexistent. The majority of visitors seem to be from various countries in the Middle East and (Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the two primary hubs for flights to the Seychelles), and mainland Africa–with a smattering of Europeans (French in particular, presumably due to the prevalence of the French language), and a surprising number of Russians. Suffice to say: it’s a melting pot, with a huge diversity of skin colors, languages, styles, societal norms and personal mannerisms. And wow, it feels absolutely fabulous to be one of the only American tourists around. What a revelation to be separated from the cultural ideals that I’ve come to accept without question–ideas surrounding success, an orientation toward efficiency and “do-do-do,” and also expectations surrounding physical appearance. More on that last point later.
We’re staying on the biggest island in the consortium, Mahe, which is really quite small: it took us about 30 minutes to drive from one side to the other today–and we took the long road. The streets are incredibly winding and breathtakingly narrow, making driving in the dark quite an endeavor (and, ahem, pretty terrifying from my vantage point in the backseat). Public buses run commonly on all the main drags, and often come careening around sharp turns at impressive speed. We’ve been tail-gated by three buses in the past two days.
The “downtown” area, Victoria, is one of the oddest conglomerations of stores I’ve ever encountered. The rhythm is something like this: Indian shop, Middle Eastern shop, Chinese shop, knick-knack/ tourist shop. Almost all stores have a framed picture on proud display, which seems to be a picture of the store owner or founder. Even the “supermarkets” are often named after someone (Mo Blackstone, Ah Youn, Kumar & Kumar, or even Krishnamart), and most feature a bizarre assortment of dry and fresh goods, influenced by the culture of whomever is in ownership. I found a gorgeous local virgin coconut oil at the Indian store, nestled between columns of fresh ginger and garlic, canned garbanzos, condensed milk; the Asian stores have fish sauce and sushi rice and wasabi peanuts; the French stores, canned haricorts verts, pastries, and imported cheeses.
It’s wild to witness what’s fashionable in other pockets of the world. Since your move, you’ve spoken of enjoying your observation of how different people’s approach was to “trendy” in Arizona vs Portland, and I think you would get a total kick out of the way people put together outfits and wear clothes here. In conjunction, it’s been really powerful to witness the diversity of body shapes and sizes that are present. Frankie, sister, I wish you were here walking on the beach with me, where I’m surrounded by unbelievably beautiful bodies that seem to have no idealistic bent toward “skinny,” or “waifish,” or even “toned.” Men with bellies so big and round and taut, they’re like drums; women with curves in “all the wrong places,” wearing tiny bikinis with seemingly no shame or judgment.
And I think of you, my sister. You and I know how it feels to struggle with comparisons, and to wish our figures and features were something they’re not. You and I know how insidious the voices in our heads can be: telling us we’re not good enough, that if only we tried harder we could change. I think of how many other people in the US are also challenged by this; plagued by constantly feeling bad about themselves because their physical selves don’t look exactly like the women or men they admire. There are very few women I know who are truly happy with their bodies; truly free of the self-inflicted pain of striving for physical perfection. It’s so helpful to witness an alternative, here in the Seychelles (and, throughout mainland Africa, as well); to be reminded of the fact that much of what our American culture dictates is completely and totally in opposition with traits and beliefs and outlooks that I myself want to exemplify. How about, orienting toward enjoyment, rather than perfection? How about celebrating a rounded belly for the delicious food it exemplifies, rather than trying to pound it down, chisel it, sculpt it away, or abuse it through lack of nutrients or nourishment? How about feeling jiggling flesh as the embodiment of womanhood; curves in “right” or “wrong” places alike as stunning representations of what it means to be uniquely ourselves? How about celebrating our differences as evidence of being truly alive, rather than shape-shifting into shells or fragments in a desperate attempt to conform to whatever culture tells us beauty is?
There was some point, over the past couple days, provoked by a conversation with my mom where we reflected on how insidious and sneaky and embedded our insecurities are, that I began to form an idea that has since begun to take flight. The thought was this: how about 2018 is the year of embracing my body? Letting go of judgment, and orienting instead toward marvel, appreciation, admiration, and perhaps even love? Frankie, dear, would you like to take on with me? Shall we embark on this journey together? I’ll be your accountability buddy; your partner in crime; your sister in dissolving fear and shame and comparison. If you’re with me, I’m with you.
I really do think you would love it here. Granted, it’s no desert–humidity is even higher than the most extreme days I experienced in Houston TX, which says a lot–but it’s undeniably a land laced with magic. If asked to make a comparison to another pocket of the world, I’d say Costa Rica would be most reminiscent. There is such incredible lushness, such wild waters & waves, such casual underpinnings (stroll around town in your swimsuit, sans coverup of any type? Walk the bustling night market in bare feet? No problem!). Locals speak some combination of English, French, and Creole; food is colorful and fresh, and unsurprisingly (given the diversity that is present in all pockets of this island) a blend of cultural influences and flavors. The strong presence of local people is another great blessing, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to feel what it’s like to be a minority: nationally, ethnically, racially.
Abounding love from the rainforest to the desert!
PS Today’s cover photo comes from a hike we did earlier today, to a secluded beach with raucous waves and whipping wind. An easy 10-minute drive from the bungalows we’re staying in, which are in turn a 2-minute stroll to the beach.