by Asma Neblett
Gothic, addict, depressed and morbid; all of the qualities writer and creator, Jennifer Poe of Imported-Chocolate.com, is not, despite sharing the iconic last name with famed American author, Edgar Allen Poe. In fact, Jennifer Poe’s trademark of Imported Chocolate is contrary to the image associated with the famous author, and reminds every viewer that “You are beautiful, a citizen of the world first and a color second.”
“I think it was both fate and God that gave me the talent of writing coupled with the name.” says Poe. “Ever since I was a little girl, something inside me always whispered that writing was what I was born to do, almost like a spiritual instinct. And as soon as I learned how to write I started writing creatively and I never stopped.” If there’s anything I can testify to, it is that they do share one important quality, and that’s the power to transport their readers to places unconsidered and challenging regardless of any factors.
I stumbled upon Jennifer Poe, a young woman by-way of a little Island named Roosevelt in New York, and her work via submission at ClutchMagOnline.com. There, she detailed a cute and highly-interesting story about a male’s pursuit for her in the foreign land of Argentina, while opening the doors to her future project. Then and there is when I questioned as to why stories like these did not reach the potential publicity that they should? It was not the humor, nor the incredulous features about the article that necessarily deserves the attention, it was the fact that women of color like her were and are doing major moves for themselves and others in this world beyond the cliché, and unfortunate stereotypes attached.
Now you cannot go too far without encountering the growing blogs of today subjectively and vulnerably discussing anything. The blogs of African American expatriates (a person who lives outside their native country), simply referred to as Black-Expats, have continued to increase over these last few years with success and loyal subscription.
Poe’s article was published a little over two and a half years ago, and much has progressed for her and the blogosphere-genre she’s apart of. “I have to show my audience that I am not the only black woman doing it.” she proudly admits. “There is a village of us out there doing it. And we are here to inspire you and offer advice when you feel ambivalent about taking your own travel journey.” What started as a small submission turned into major business ventures and an opportunity to display not only her travels, but the travelers of all colors who explore the world on her website or even their own. With a novel and free eBook pending, and luggage tags launching at the end of October, the brand of Imported Chocolate is flourishing steadily.
I was truly lucky to catch Jennifer despite her distant and busy travels to Argentina currently. After reading and even conversing with the author through Imported-Chocolate, there was a spate of questions but only hope that she would reply to an inquiry for an interview. Fortunately, things worked out in both of our favors.
Question: According to your blog, your international travels landed you farther than most people go, i.e. the Caribbean. You went all the way to Argentina, South America. What were you thinking about taking such a huge plunge? Were you scared or nervous, &etc. ? And more importantly, why did you take it?
Answer: Heart break (unfortunately) was the catalyst that drove me to Buenos Aires, Argentina. But I always had this grandiose fantasy to live as an artist abroad…I wanted to experience being an expat in a city and being inspired to write because of it. So I got on a plane with a copy of Hemingway’s “Moveable Feast” under my arm— it was a parting gift from my old boss— and in a way, that book inspired me to document my life in Buenos Aires and write memoirs— luckily for me I had a lot of interesting things to write about.
I was nervous to move abroad at first because I knew that Buenos Aires did not have a lot of black folks over there (just coming back from a recent return to the city, I’ve discovered this has changed some what) and I was a little nervous about how I would be treated as a black women…among other things, but I quickly got over it and took the leap anyway. From that moment I decided never to let such a fear immobilize me from doing anything I wanted to do. Skin color should never be a hindrance.
Question: Students here on campus at Mount Saint Mary College, and at other college campuses domestically and internationally experience the homesick feeling for the first couple of weeks, maybe longer. Is that a feeling you’re familiar with? How did you cope?
Answer: Homesickness is always a big issue for me. I suffer from agoraphobia. I am not as bad as the worst case out there but part of agoraphobia is the fear of leaving your comfort zone. So homesickness is extra hard for me. I miss my family and friends the most. I cope by writing and taking solitary walks. I try to keep myself as busy as possible and distracted. I make a mental note about why I love to travel and my passion for it. If it get’s too bad, I write home to my family or my friends.
Question: Most Spanish speaking countries of the Caribbean are tourist-hotspots, desired locations and well-known for their beauty; fill us in with what the environment, living/working arrangements you had and what the people of Argentina are like that we may not know.
Answer: It was not my desire to work at all during my first journey to Buenos Aires. I wanted to be as free as possible to discover myself and creativity. It was my metaphorical “walk about.” I rented a studio apartment with a beautiful balcony from a local who became my close friend. And then I just let loose— literally! This wall flower let her hair down— in the city. Each day I woke up without a “real” plan and walked out my door and let the city guide me. I remember many warm nights of wine drinking, partying and artistic discovery. I had a few nights of intimacy as well.
Argentines are very friendly. Just like in most cities, you will find a few people who are not so kind but that is to be expected everywhere. The culture in Argentina is very European. Therefore, Argentines are very European. They are like the rebel cousins of the Italians and the French. And everything is done in a relaxed attitude. Argentines are extremely tranquilo[tranquil].
On being Black and abroad in Argentina:
“Their initial thought was that I was from Brazil. They believed I was from everywhere else except the United States until I told them I was. I was stared at a lot! In my opinion, the staring towards people with dark skin is not as bad in Buenos Aires now as it was five years ago. And I believe this is due to the fact that there has been a huge influx of black people in Buenos Aires since I’ve lived there. Five years ago, I couldn’t walk in a restaurant without everyone staring at me. When I returned three weeks ago, the stares still happened but they didn’t feel as intense. However, this could be because I am desensitized to them. I’ve spoken to many black girls in BA, who have just arrived there, who feel the stares are still intense.”
Question: In America, the idea of ‘colorism’, meaning race-relations, is embedded in our history and can be unavoidable and a huge factor in major and minor ways. From your own experience, how is the race-relations in Argentina comparatively to the U.S.?
Answer: The first time around I had three racist moments, but they weren’t too serious. It’s a mix bag over there. For example, a black person from Brazil will be treated differently than a black person from the United States. I found a high level of respect for American Blacks in Buenos Aires. Race is just not too big of an issue in Argentina like it is in the states. When they stare at a person of color in Buenos Aires it is done out of curiosity. They want to know where you are from since there are not a lot of people who look like you.
Question: How did the concept of color or lack thereof, if true, in Argentina tie into your romantic-relationships, if any were made?
Answer: I don’t know if any “romantic” relationships were made (and when I say this I mean serious relationships) but I had a lot of fun and was treated romantically. So sometimes it can feel like they are throwing themselves at you. But there are a lot who admire the beauty of a black woman in a sane way because they can see how beautiful and unique our beauty is.”
Question: How did that aspect make an impression on you?
Answer: I was astonished, flattered, honored, annoyed and a little weirded out, all at the same time. ”
Question: When you arrived back in the states, describe how you were feeling, and how other’s reacted to your stories of your travel?
Answer: When I arrived back to the states from Buenos Aires the first time around, I felt lost. I felt like apart of me was still in Buenos Aires and apart of me was back in New York and there was a third part that was lost in oblivion. But then my Buenos Aires blog and email inbox became flooded with messages from women and men from all over the world who where inspired by my stories from Buenos Aires. The messages inspired me to birth “Hola, Morocha: Black Girl’s Guide to Buenos Aires.” And not too long after that, “Imported Chocolate” was born. I now had a purpose and that purpose was to inspire other women of color to travel.
On her relaunch, what Imported Chocolate stands for and opening her platform to others:
“Well, with the re-launch, the message is still the same. It’s only the look and the format that has changed. Since the novel length book that I am coming out with is about Buenos Aires, I wanted to bring the city back to the forefront and write about it more. This is the reason I chose the format of splitting the blog into two parts: the “Black Girl’s Guide to Buenos Aires” part is where readers can find all the stories and articles I’ve written about Buenos Aires. And the “Imported Chocolate” part of the blog consists of my general travel articles, where I give tips and advice about travel. The “Imported Chocolate of the Moment” features are short but fun Q & A’s with other women of color traveling around the world and giving their travel advice, and last, but not least, there is the “Hot Chocolate with a Local” series where I sit down for a virtual cup of hot chocolate with a woman of color expat living abroad.“
Question: It would be kind of you to share your top five tips about going abroad and why college-students or non-college student should go overseas.
Answer: For the college students, you have a book education. Now you need a world education. For non-college students, you have nothing holding you back. You’re an autodidact and your first lesson is the world. My top five tips are:
1. Make sure you call your bank and Credit Card Company and tell them you are traveling before you leave the country. 2. Do as much research on the place you are traveling to before you travel there. “Know before you go.” 3. When abroad, never carry your bank card or passport on your person. Carry a copy of your passport in your bag instead and the cash you think you will need for the day instead of your bank card. 4. Register with the US Embassy online to let them know you will be abroad and where. 5. Let your travels guide you. Be uninhibited.