Last week, we offered our first testimony of faith by Doretha from Her Testimony, a campaign capturing the experiences of Black women in North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we are excited to share another story that is full of introspection and self-healing. This conversation took place in late April and has been edited for length and clarity. We are also gathering stories from Black women in North Carolina about their lives in the pandemic via a short and anonymous survey. The survey can be completed by anyone who identifies as a Black woman residing in North Carolina who wants to share their experiences during COVID-19.
Jasmine Michel is a chef, a food justice advocate, and owner of Dreamboat Cafe, a space that provides pop up dinners to feed and heal the community. When she is not in the kitchen cooking up soulful meals, she is working the land as a farmer. Originally from South Florida, Jasmine has called North Carolina home for the last five years.
Here is Jasmine’s testimony.
How has this experience affected your daily life, with yourself, and the folks around you?
Oh man. It more so made me dive deeper into what I’m doing and dive deeper into a schedule so I don’t go crazy. There is a lot of stress and anxiety in being at home. What the hell could I do? I’m trying to find the moment of being happy, while just waking up in the morning and being able to take my time to make breakfast. You get to choose now how you want to exert energy. It can be in the form of being outside. Doing yoga, meditating. So it’s been a push and pull, trial and error. Navigating my day to day.
I’m very blessed to have whatever tribulations come up and realize a lot of people have it worse and a lot of people have it better. Sometimes I just go with the flow of things. It’s causing me to not to plan shit. If there is any moment in time that forces us to be in the now, it’s this pandemic. It’s been a very beautiful process but it has its difficulties. Being with yourself.
Yeah, this forced stillness. There’s nothing else to distract you. What has been a low point for you?
I think a low point from this pandemic is integrating into myself and being completely alone with myself. My whole house is packed. There are seven of us in here. You have to deal with your family ties. And it’s pushing you deeper to why you are the way that you are. What has led you to act this way? And so, sometimes being at home, you can’t dodge reminders where you’re at with growth and feeling processes.
I think the low point is having to be completely alone within yourself and having nowhere to go to distract you. Not having any distractions is a more eloquent way of saying that. There is nothing to distract you from yourself. And you can, but you really have to go outside of yourself to get a distraction. It’s a beautiful point, but it really is a low point for me. This quarantine has pushed me into my work, which I’m grateful for.
What’s one thing that has been a high point for you during this time?
It’s definitely how I would like to take up space from now on. I just reshaped how I want Dreamboat to be and how I want to contribute to society. I’ve definitely been sitting on what my new role is in society. Those have been really pleasant reflections. How are you going to take up space? When all of this gets back to normal, or whatever normal will be, how will you contribute? How will you stay safe? How will you be self sufficient?
The veil has been lifted a little bit. I think everyone realized that everything is basically bullshit. So get aligned into how you want to take up space. It’s definitely pushed me closer to the land. It’s pushed me closer to the medicine of food. And it’s pushed me closer to what I feel has been my purpose.
Those are very precious things. Just being with my family. My dad hasn’t had a day off for years and the fact that I get to see him wake up and just cruise around for a walk, for a bike ride. It’s insane. People haven’t had a moment of rest like this. The fact that it took a pandemic for people to get a moment of breath should tell you that everything is bullshit.
I’m interested in how you describe food as medicine and the desire to go back to the land. It sounds like these are values that you had before this pandemic. And now, we’re in this crisis around health, policy… All of these systems that are at a breaking point, and food is one of them. What are the things that you are learning? Or maybe what are the things that we should pay attention to or do for ourselves just from your knowledge in working the land and the way that you advocate for food?
I think it’s really nice for a person to listen to themselves internally. I think there’s a lot of conditioning or constructing around listening to the outside world for your problems. I think if we silence ourselves enough, silence our surroundings enough, we are able to listen to ourselves internally.
That has really led me to how I navigate myself. It comes in the form of listening to when you don’t feel good, listening to when you are hungry. And so, you think listening to your internal self and feeding that voice to get louder so you are moving in a direction closer to your own truth and not dictated by the outside world. It’s also getting into your own studies of things. I’m really leaning towards herbs and wild things that are out there that can help us to become more self sustaining through food.
There’s the new Tall Grass Food Box in Durham. It’s the produce box of all of the Black farmers in Durham. And I’m like, what, it’s insane! You are actually able to now take a second and see where your placement is in society. What is your offering? It makes you see your safety net. You can say right now you know a farmer. Do you know someone with a well water system? Do you know how to get water? Do you live without electricity? I think people were really preparing for doomsday for a second. It puts you in perspective on what happens if that actually can occur. Who do you know? What do you know? Your survival skills? How to heal yourself? If you don’t know how to heal yourself, it would be impossible to know how to heal someone else. And so, those have been the things I’ve been leaning into. Those are just things I also encourage in other people.
I love that. I feel like in some ways you are answering my next question, but I’m going to ask anyway in case there is anything else. In terms of needs, what are the particular things that you have learned about your needs?
I think Jasmine needs time for herself. My partner says that I need to stop caring for other people. I throw myself into that role because it is the role I’m most comfortable in, but it is also a role that I abuse. I’m easily the first person to self sabotage and to abuse the role of caring for so many people. And I think in the height of things, especially in my household with a bunch of grown ass adults, we are all going through our own emotional cycle. It’s been extremely difficult for me to give back to myself.
To take time, breathe, do nothing. It’s been difficult because I always want the people I surround myself to feel safe and comforted. It’s also the way that I’ve been raised, growing up as a Caribbean kid, it’s very much, “take care of the family.” Although I love doing it, it gets easily abused by myself. I’m learning very slowly to take care of myself.
More so than that, I’ve reached a huge stint of insecurity. It’s really because we are just home. We’re looking at ourselves for a little bit longer. We’re pondering on things. I have not been this insecure in an extremely long time. “Teenage” insecurity. “Comparison” insecurity. “Not enough” insecurity. “Worthiness” insecurity. And I’m like, where the hell did that come from? It comes up because I don’t necessarily think I did the work I told myself I did. And so, that has been my biggest lesson.
My biggest need is for me to speak kindly to myself, and for me to say what I am doing, whatever little or however big or small, is enough. Sit down. It’s difficult sitting with yourself. It’s difficult when you have to sit down and have to actually listen to yourself. You have to actually listen to “oh man, this is what I’ve been telling myself?” This is what I’ve been thinking to myself about myself? And so, I’ve been trying to not be scared of sitting with myself because I need to. I need to not run from myself.
I appreciate you for sharing that and to say that out loud. What I hear, by you claiming that for yourself, I hope you will do it and really carve out that time to create the boundaries that you need to have more time for yourself. Are there any things that you’ve been learning about the needs for your community?
I think what I am learning is showing up. Small steps, like checking in with my friends and dropping stuff off at my friends’ doors.
How have you been adapting under these new conditions?
I think I adapt by taking things so slow. I am taking things, day by day, minute by minute. Things are changing so rapidly. And trust for government and capital, it’s never been there, but we depend on it so fully. I’m adapting in a sense where I am trying to integrate into society without the construct or the dictatorship of government demand. I’m integrating in a way I will be when all of this goes back to normal. A lot of people think that anti-government — they think it’s riots and teargas but it’s really just self sustaining. It’s living off the grid. It’s farming. It’s buying locally. It’s bartering with a friend. I’m realizing that I want to get deeper in that role in society.
Can you say more? What does that look like?
I think it’s having a discussion with yourself. How are you negatively impacted in the world? Have that discussion with yourself and see what you would like to change. How does that look like from your scale?
It’s going to the land. Finding a farm. Finding people who garden. Durham is really a great representation of that. You don’t have to be a farmer. Go get some herbs. That’s why I really encourage cooking and healing through food. You do find a lot of healing and purpose by cooking.
And it’s also just about community too. It’s finding people who are like minded like yourself and being able to share whatever resources that you have and being able to freely express your desire for something. That’s something I’ve been learning to do. Diving deep into people that share the same ideas that I do or the same stress. Being able to have that bond and freedom to just chill out.
Where have you been finding joy?
I’ve been finding a lot of joy in witnessing my family. All of us have found our little comfort zone. Someone would be in the backyard. Someone would want to go take a walk. It’s nice to witness. It’s nice to see someone take up space with something that is bringing them peace and comfort.
My partner and I have been going to the woods and that has been bringing me a lot of joy. To swim in the lake a little bit. Anytime I’m near water, I always feel revived. I always feel blessed. It takes me a second to want to go outside and trek out into the forest. But some of the things are left behind when you walk somewhere, walk on a piece of land. And so, that has been bringing me a lot of joy.
Also being able to navigate Dreamboat in a new sense. I did shopping for ingredients for this week’s Thai food delivery yesterday and I haven’t been that happy in an extremely long time. Recipe testing and smelling herbs. I haven’t been that happy and hopeful. This is going to feed someone. This is going to be amazing. And being able to navigate Dreamboat in that sense has brought me a lot of joy. Coming home with my damn mask, scrubbing my hand. Making my prep list. Doing the marketing for it. It has brought me an immense amount of joy.
Yeah, it’s back to your purpose. What are your hopes for the future when we emerge from this crisis? For yourself and your community?
I hope I stick to my growth. I hope I don’t just throw it all to the whim the moment that society basically opens back up. And I hope that staying true to what I see Dreamboat and how I see my role in society and this life, I’m hoping to stay true to that and to honor it. My hope is that I get back out there and actually be more true to myself.
I hope people just wake up. I hope people actually take this seriously. I hope people see all of the faults of capital and government. I hope people see their power. I hope people see that they can change something. I hope people don’t feel so small. I hope people become self-sustaining, realizing that this is all kind of bullshit.
Step into your own power. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it is changing us. I’m in the midst of trying to claim my power. And it’s difficult because you say that it’s not there half of the time. Yet you see it sitting right there, but you are not going to go out, grab it, hold it, nurture it. And so I hope people wake up. I hope people see. I hope people run to the land. I hope people see each other. Love each other. Screw anything that tries to put you in a freaking box.