How Leaving America Is Saving Black Women's Lives
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Tulum, with its white sandy beaches and turquoise waves, has long been a popular vacation destination. With the help of a new Facebook group, Black in Tulum, blacks in America are traveling in droves to the Mexican city. Black travelers strive to make amends in the short or long term and use the community to build connections, get recommendations and share experiences from their time in the city.
Black in Tulum rose from 25 to 3,000 members in just a few months last summer. It's not the only black traveler Facebook community providing resources and information to aid America's transition to other countries. The group's founder, Nubia Younge, is also the co-founder of another group called the Blaxit Tribe - Black Americans Leaving the United States and Moving Abroad, with more than 7,000 members. When Younge promoted the Blaxit group to their Black in Tulum community, they wrote, "If I could, I'd pack it all up and get you out of the United States."
Three years ago, Younge was putting together the apparently American dream lifestyle she had built in Richmond, Virginia for a full-blown digital nomadic life. Through her Facebook community, she helps other black travelers who want to leave the country for a different life.
Black women in particular are finding that leaving the United States benefits their general mental and physical health. Other countries like Portugal and Colombia offer lifestyle changes and easier access to affordable health care. Younge knows this firsthand.
"My mental health was at stake," said Younge, a black mother of two young adults, of her decision to leave the country. "I had a lot of stress. I was a single parent. I had a toxic relationship with my children's father and even my mother. I've dealt with depression a lot - especially seasonal depression. "
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For Younge, other factors that contributed to her stress also played a role. "I was overweight once," she said. “When most of my family turned 35 or older, they developed type II diabetes. And I was on this route. "
According to psychiatrist Dr. Aminata Cisse, who has a background in cultural and intercultural psychiatry, often manifested mental health, especially among blacks, as a physical illness.
"Your mental state can definitely affect your physical state, especially in people of color who have been exposed to a lot of stress and racial trauma," said Dr. Cisse. "A lot of black people don't even realize they are depressed, but they can say that I have body pain because their body is showing the emotional pain that they are experiencing."
In black women, prolonged exposure to stress and the related hormone cortisol often lead to physical and mental ailments such as heart disease, obesity, anxiety, and depression. Unfortunately, the American health experience for black women was less than ideal and often became a matter of life and death.
Now, an unprecedented global pandemic and continued police shootings that often kill innocent blacks are worsening the health of black Americans. These realities have exposed further grave inequalities in the American health system, especially for black women, who are often not believed and ignored when applying for medical care.
Despite her mental health problems, Younge said high insurance costs, difficulty finding someone to identify with, and a general lack of access to mental health care kept her from seeking professional therapy.
Black women turning to alternative therapy options are not uncommon.
"I see black women revisiting things like mother nature or ancestors. Even going back to natural hair is wellness and healing," said Miami-based psychologist Dr. Michelle Wiltshire, whose tiered approach to healing has drawn predominantly black patients. “Unlike some other groups, because of all these years of oppression, we need healing in every layer of our being. Almost everything we do to heal is an alternative. Of course there are typical things like yoga, meditation or more eastern practices. "
For Younge, she turned to heal.
"It was like this overwhelming feeling that I am tired," she said. “I just had to pretend. That was the point where it all began. It was like a domino effect. "
Like Younge, more and more black women in America are taking their health into their own hands by choosing to leave the country for foreign lands. Younge is targeting Asia for healing.
"Changing your surroundings can affect your mental health," said Dr. Cisse about seasonal depression. "It's good to look for places that have great weather or that are more comfortable and edifying as a person of color."
Younge's planned trip to Thailand for a few months turned into a long-term stay abroad. She quickly noticed changes. With easier access to fresh foods and coconut water, she lost weight, and the vitamin D from the sun improved both her mental and physical health. "When I woke up in the sun I felt like I was getting all the things I didn't know I was missing without trying," she said.
Not all black women who want to leave the country experience the same stress as Younge. When the health reform attorney became a digital nomad and fitness trainer Sharita Jennings decided to leave in September 2018, she was simply looking for a sense of adventure and wanderlust.
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"I made the decision because I took this very strict path," Jennings explained. “I wanted to be a great lawyer or in politics when I was in high school and college, so I said, 'Okay, I'm on a timeline, I have to go to school. I have to go to law school. “I've checked all of my boxes. I think I practiced for five or six years and it only struck me when I hadn't changed that I would never have the chance to make a big change in my life. "
"It's not that I had this dying passion not living in the US," Jennings added. “I had a passion to see more of the world. It just occurred to me that the easiest way to do this is to stop working full time and just try something risky and crazy. Now it doesn't seem that crazy anymore. "
Jennings' travels took her to several countries, including Colombia, Peru and Portugal. She currently lives in Mexico and spends time in cities like Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, and Bacalar. Health wasn't particularly important at first.
"I've been doing research to make sure that health care is affordable and that I can find a good hospital," Jennings said. "I wasn't too concerned about that."
She was surprised by the positive experience with the health systems with which she interacted abroad.
"It's just crazy because I was warned against going to Colombia and Portugal here," said Jennings. "My best experience was in Portugal."
Before Jennings flew to Portugal, she returned home to spend the holidays with her family and purposely postponed her medical appointments as access to good health care is often unaffordable in the US.
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"Instead of worrying about subpar maintenance, I've been waiting to get all of my appointments done in Europe," she said. "I bought travel insurance and paid for it out of pocket. I paid $ 150 for blood tests, ultrasounds, and a Pap smear, which would have been astronomical in the US."
During her routine gynecological exam, she recalled that the Portuguese doctor did both an ultrasound and a Pap smear, which is standard in Portugal. “I had never had an ultrasound before. A second after it happened she said you had a fibroid, it was literally a second. "
"If I was in the United States, I wouldn't have known until I was in pain or had terrible symptoms," Jennings predicted. "I was lucky. It was just shocking and I had to drive all the way to Portugal for the easiest and smoothest experience."
If she needs surgery in the future, Jennings would return to Portugal. "I would be more comfortable," she explained. “I hear so many stories that you need to seek care, especially as a black woman in America. [There] they'll give you everything you need without question. "
Not having to beg for care and simply being believed resonates with tech attorney who became career break coach Roshida Dowe. Dowe used to live in Oakland, California. He took a career break and visited Mexico and France, among others. Dowe temporarily lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and plans to return to Mexico City once she feels safe traveling again.
"I did all of the basic maintenance I needed while traveling abroad," said Dowe. "I have autoimmune problems so I'm used to treating them with medical attention for two decades. I know what I need to treat them." Abroad, Dowe had easier access to the drugs she needed. " In the US, I should have seen the doctor more often to get the prescription. [Abroad], many of the drugs I need can be bought over the counter. I don't have to prove that I'm in pain. "
With COVID-19, American residents and citizens are now banned from entering many countries around the world. With over 200,000 confirmed victims, the US has more coronavirus deaths than any other country, and about 62 percent of Americans believe the US's response to the pandemic has been less effective compared to other wealthy nations, according to a recent poll by Pew Research. For black women who left before the pandemic, their decision to seek a better sense of mental and physical well-being outside of the United States seems especially forward-looking.
When asked if they had any plans to return to the US permanently, Jennings and Dowe stated that they would likely return for visits temporarily. Younge just laughed.
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