In 2017, I packed my entire life (hello, $400 in baggage fees) into three suitcases and took off to the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I signed up for a 10 month contract as an English teaching fellow and was placed in the city of Barranquilla at a public school. I was ready to set forth on a new path and accomplish my goal of living abroad. I also wanted a fresh start for myself, leaving behind everything that I was familiar with in my hometown of New York City. 

By starting fresh, I had even decided to go by my middle name Elsie, instead of Jennifer. But after living in Barranquilla for several months and having a roommate for the first time, a new boss, dating, making friendships and my daily interactions with locals, I realized that even when you move abroad and start over, stuff really ain’t going to change unless you change. It wasn’t until my third month that I realized I was having the same experiences, relationships and interactions as I would in New York City. So there was no more of "it’s him or her," it was all me.

As women and emotional beings, we tend to allow past heart aches, heartbreaks, griefs, traumas and dramas to accumulate in our bodies. This type of emotional stress can turn into physical pain in our bodies, leading to ailments and even disease. After reading Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body, I learned about the links between our thoughts and physical pain. I even had the experience of creating one in my right hip in 2016. I did relieve it at that time, but now that I was in Colombia and had brought not only my luggage, but my emotional baggage across seas, the hip pain was back with a vengeance.

I realized it was time for me to go to work. Work inwards. I had to go back to what kept me leveled, and that was my spirituality. For some reason or another, I lost it during my first few months in Colombia as everything was moving at a rapid pace, and I was being hit heavy with culture shock and adjusting to a place very different from home. As a result, I went back to doing my daily meditations, focusing for 15 to 30 minutes, coupled with deep breathing.  I also signed up for a package at the local hot yoga studio to get back realigned. 

Getting back into my groove made me realize how I was not taking in moments properly with my shallow breathing and that at times I was not breathing properly at all. I was also not taking in the pleasure of life by truly being present in the beauty of my experience in Colombia. Next, I began to journal. I had to clear my mind of the pettiness that I was allowing not only to surface, but to stay within my mind. But it wasn’t until I was on Instagram that I saw a sponsored post: "Libera La Rabai Interna." It was a Kundalini mediation class on how to release inner anger. I wasn’t actually sure if that was what I needed in that exact moment, as I felt I’d come a long way from the quick-tempered, loose tongued brat that I'd been in the past. I felt that I’d learned to slow down with not just my movements, but with my thoughts, while in a very slow Caribbean town in Colombia. Regardless, I knew I had some deep-seeded issues in my hip that I needed to release, so I decided to sign up.

I began to wonder if I should go to the event, and kept second-guessing my RSVP. I knew this was all ego. I just had to go. Even prior to arriving, I had thoughts of going home. It was Friday evening, I was in a cab with congested rush-hour traffic, and it was raining. When it rains in Barranquilla, nobody goes anywhere; for when it rains, it doesn’t just pour, it freaking floods. On top of that, I gave the cab driver the wrong address by telling him Carrera (road) 51 and not 51b.  He was obviously annoyed and would have to go around three blocks in the traffic to get me to my destination. I told him to forget it and just got out, deciding to walk as I was already late. I walked the very long and annoying block of 51b, looking for the studio, trying to avoid puddles of water, as I'd so intelligently decided to wear sandals in the rain. Finally I arrived not a yoga studio, but a big house that looked out of place among the rest of the houses from the street. I walked upstairs and was greeted by the woman I'd seen online promoting the event. Her energy was very light and friendly, and I was absolutely floored by the beauty of the yoga studio. It wasn’t your typical studio per say, but again it was a house that had been renovated in the marvelous and uplifting spirit of a yoga studio.

I wore an all-white dress as you normally should during Kundalini yoga sessions, and I took my two oranges out of my bag. Yes. We were required to bring two oranges. My gaze went to the front corner of the room where there was a bag of oranges, as we were about to begin class and the instructor, Susana, asked if anyone was in need. What would come next would be an hour of complete release, liberation and tranquility. We were led to squeeze all of the negative emotions, energy, yuck and guck of the past in the two oranges, as we tirelessly held our arms up into the air above our heads while breathing consciously in and out of our mouths. By the time we were done, or rather when I was done, I had three wads of used tissues on the floor next to me. Yet through all of the tears, I felt a sense of relief, as if the burden of emotional baggage that I carried with me to Colombia was thrown out. 

"I threw the pain to the fire," and that included my hip pain.

Since being in Colombia, I have gone on nature hikes, attended women’s circles, received reiki sessions and had chakra realignments. I took it a bit further by becoming a certified yoga teacher.

With the sudden increase of black women traveling the world and living abroad, it is more important than ever to realize that self-care should not be left at the departure gate. It needs to go with us everywhere we go. In spite of the rush, culture shock, fun nights, meeting new friends and seeing new places, we must find time to be still and take in what’s in front of us. We have to sit, reflect and think, "What am I truly getting out of this travel experience? Am I growing? Am I running away from my problems? Or am I just the same person I was back home?" Ask yourselves these questions as you venture out into the world, and remember "everywhere you go, you will find yourself." 

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