Two years ago, Andrea Smalls left her hometown of Brooklyn, New York, and moved to Costa Rica after visiting the country for vacation. Puerto Viejo is now the town where Smalls calls home and it is also the location where she’ll be hosting her very first healing retreat for women of color. Slated to be held June 13-20, women will have the opportunity to heal themselves through de-colonizing yoga, swim or surf lessons, meditation, holistic healing and women’s workshops. Smalls, along with six instructors, guide participants through various aspects of spirituality and give travelers the opportunity to support local Afro-Costa Rican businesses. Check out our chat with Smalls on why establishing a healing retreat specifically for women of color was so important to her.
MadameNoire: What inspired you to develop a healing retreat for women of color?
Andrea Smalls: I thought it was important for women of color to have that space to come together. I created it when I came to Costa Rica and was sick of New York, especially with everything that is happening in America [police brutality]. It was just too heavy. I was scheduled to only stay for five days and ended up staying for two years because I loved it so much. While traveling, a lot of things started to happen—I began meditating more, I worked at a butterfly garden. I wanted a space for women of color to come because I think it’s so important for us to let go of certain things. It’s hard for many of us to find ourselves while being in the States.
MN: Many women of color are loyal to Western or Christian-like healing. How is the healing at the retreat different or perhaps the same for women who were raised in the church?
AS: If we look at our ancestors and where we came from to where we are now, our current society has us surrounded by buildings to the point where we forget that we can go to nature for things. That’s why we have herbs instead of medicine. There are so many different ways to heal and nurture ourselves instead of using man-made products. We don’t need to rely on chemicals. A lot of women don’t rely on what nature gives them. Being in a western space or looking to the [status quo] for how we’re supposed to live,especially in the States, makes us very attached to the point of obligation. When in reality, the States (or Western ideals) aren’t loyal to us. I think it’s important to go to the Earth and look at what it offers us; that’s what our ancestors did. That’s how they healed—through community, rituals and nature.
MN: Why did you choose Puerto Viejo?
AS: Because of the Black people, honestly! Costa Rica is a beautiful country but Puerto Viejo is very rooted in Blackness. When you sit down at a restaurant, many of the patrons are gathered around one another, talking about Africa. If you walk down the street with a local, they can point to a plant and tell you what it can be used for. It’s that kind of town—all Black and Brown people. So it was important for me to live here, especially if I was moving to a place outside of the States. It’s important for you to be surrounded by your own community. Living here reminds me of the conditioning that occurs in the States where many people believe they are only safe there.
MN: How has your mental and emotional health change since moving to Costa Rica?
AS: New York is very fast-paced. Everything is fast. Moving to Costa Rica helped me let go of the [notion] that things are supposed to be fast or everything being hectic. Things aren’t really personal in New York City whereas in Puerto Viejo, they are. (You’re treated with more care, even from strangers.) In New York, you can feel like a number. By moving here, I am able to hear myself way more than I ever heard myself. I can actually hear my own thoughts. In the States we are constantly influenced by different things that we can’t hear what we need to hear about ourselves. It’s important to make self-care a priority and that’s what I’ve learned. I know moving outside of the states is not for everyone but I think it’s something that everyone should actually consider. The United States is not a country where we should feel like we are obligated to stay there. We, as Black people, should recognize that we have the world as an option to live in.
MN: What tips can you provide women of color to use in their day-to-day life before they arrive at the retreat and how can they continue their healing at home?
AS: Before women come to the retreat, they should be journaling and writing down questions or things that keep coming up for them. I want them to come to the retreat with an open mind and an open heart, especially since the majority of the women coming will be solo travelers. If people do want to travel with friends, it’s not a bad thing but sometimes that makes you disconnect from learning new things or connecting with other people. As far as maintaining their healing, the women will take home various chakra and mantra healings.
MN: Do you plan on moving back to the United States and do you encourage every woman to move and launch a business in another country?
AS: No, I don’t plan on moving back to the United States. It wasn’t a decision I made overnight. It took me a while to make that choice because it’s such a big decision;but I don’t have any plans to ever live in the United States. Costa Rica will be my home base while I travel to other countries. Between this year and next year, I plan on traveling to Guatemala, Peru and a country in Africa –haven’t decided which one, yet. Being so far removed from New York and knowing what it feels like to wake up in the jungle, especially in the morning, I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything.
MN: What advice would you give a woman who wants to move and launch a business in another country?
AS: I have learned to not feed into any of your fears. I believe we can manifest anything we want. Have positive thoughts and really believe in what you’re doing. Most important, say that you’re doing it. Be active in everything. But as far as launching your business in another country, make sure that your business helps the local community grow and don’t look at white establishments to use for your business model. Make it your own!
For more information about Smalls’ healing retreats, visit the Women Of Color Healing Retreats . Below is a sample day of what to expect during the retreat:
8:00 am: Breakfast
9:00am-10:15am: Yoga and Meditation
Chill and Vibe Out in Free Time
12:00pm-2pm: Women’s Spirituality Workshop
Chill out and Vibe in Free Time
7:00pm: Afro Costa Rican Cooking Class followed by a nourishing meal made by you and your traveling sisters
9:pm Evening Yoga and Meditation
The healing retreat’s June session is now closed. The next session will be August 15- August 22, 2016. Reserve your spot, here.