Interview by Chante Dyson.
My move to Los Angeles has placed me amongst the presence of true queens. I have attracted some of the most amazing women that I’ve ever met into my life with ease; the beauty of our sisterhood and communion allowing me to bask in wisdom, divine feminine energy, and allllll of that goddess magic. Los Angeles is truly a beautiful city jam packed with creativity and an underground community of artists, healers, and self made bosses. After supporting a friend’s recent jam session, I went to the backyard afterparty where I met the beautiful soul that is Vagabond Jazz. I met her in true divine timing, as it conveniently happened to be our travel theme here at Black Girl In Om. Jazz’s story touches on both travel and financial freedom which is our focus for this month. The Cali native, and self proclaimed creative-prenuer caught a flight to Asia 3+ years ago to create the life she’s never imagined and received a heart humbling lifestyle change as a result. Building her tropical hair accessories and clothing shop in a bamboo hut and catching planes to the next calling destination has granted her an opportunity to bloom wherever she is planted. And her story of money, or a lack there of, never delayed her flights. Hand-made art, meditations, avid long term travel, and cultural mantras are what you’ll find ever floating in her frequency. I had the pleasure of meeting with Jazz during her recent visit back home in Los Angeles to get practical advice for those seeking to travel and create meaningful lives for ourselves beyond our perceived limitations. One of the most common hesitations that I hear women talking about is how they do not have the resources to step out on their own - whether that be for that new career, self-employment, moving to a new state, getting rid of that toxic partner etc. Jazz is a true inspiration to me, as she has never let her circumstances confine her or tell her what her experience in this lifetime will look like. She has always questioned ideologies and societal norms, leading to her current state today where she is inspiring us to explore all that the Universe has in store. Jazz reminds us that abundance is our divine right despite our circumstances - an affirmation that I believe in wholeheartedly. In her own words, “From years of homelessness at a young age, financial mental bondage has encrypted itself into my upbringing and attempted to teach me that money equals happiness… when in actuality the times that I had little to none, I was the most free.” It is imperative that our conversations around financial freedom start off with examining our mindsets, accepted ideologies, and limiting perspectives. Perhaps it is our own attitudes towards money that further restricts and constrains us. It is important that we examine and redefine our relationships to money and success, while at the same time practicing a detachment from any man-made thing to give us the true freedom we desire. My conversation with this amazing goddess led me to become even more inspired to cultivate the life of my dreams. For those with entrepreneurship in their minds and hearts, Jazz reminds us of our power to step out and use our unique talents to create even more meaning in our lives, all while diving deeper into our purpose. I hope that learning more about Jazz’s remarkable story from Princeton University to Thailand and beyond will inspire you to get out there and trust in your gifts and talents to the absolute highest capacity.
“My journey has led me to frolicking in playgrounds in some of the most “underdeveloped” countries, finally living the life I never presumed attainable while in America as a recent undergrad.
For 2 reasons.
The cost of living in Asia is a fraction of the states.
And people here don’t give money the same power I thought it once held.
If anything, it doesn't determine their happiness or work ethic...at all.
Realizing this, I now use money as a tool - Not a sentencing to what dreams I can afford.
Because frankly, none are up for negotiation.
A perspective flip is more important, and being resourceful in any land my toes curl into is key to living nomadic long term.”
In order to sustain herself abroad, Jazz invests in and curates businesses while she travels. This includes managing social media accounts, modeling, strategizing marketing campaigns for U.S clients, and running an online boutique Mali Pah. In addition to these ventures, she also served as a Thai professor after completing the Princeton in Asia fellowship at the prestigious Princeton University. For two years she lived off of a professor’s wage at Khon Kaen University in Thailand. While there, the relationships she’s built with her students have been remarkable. Her students have taught her to challenge what dreams look like as well as the value of money. What came first to her students was not money and prestige, but rather their families and internal wealth. Jazz used her American-English skills to build connections and earn side cash from the locals. A true hustler. She’d eventually become both a trusted and valued member of the community.
Who are you in this world?
I think that is one of the funniest questions you could ask me right now because on this journey I’m realizing that there’s not a title you could ever give yourself, it’s something that’s ever-evolving and ever-changing. And when I was in college, I had a specific - this is what I am, this is who I am, this is how old I am, this is what I’m going to do, and then I realized, these are all projections that actually don’t serve me. And when you allow yourself to be this chameleon that is still figuring herself out along the way, it feels good. So as of right now in this space of life, I call myself a creativepreneur, and I invest in and curate artistic ventures while I travel. So while I’m on the road, for about 5 years, living with traditional, ancient, indigenous people from all over the world, specifically in southeast Asia, I’ve managed to integrate myself into these communities, learn what it’s like to be with them, live off their wage, live in their housing, and also create with them.
It’s been about 5 years now that I’ve been on the road. I graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2015 and I saw all of the upperclassmen before me jump into this realm of, okay I got a job, I’m making money, I have a family, and I was like that’s nice, but is that it? I want to try something else. I wanted to see what else there is to offer, and God said you gon have to work for it essentially. You want to do something that you’ve never seen? You have to do something that you’ve never done - that no one around you has ever done. I went to Thailand and France to study abroad and I realized that this is amazing, there are people who look like me who are living great lives and people who don’t look like me who are building a life. Why can’t I be the first? So I feel like God has always had a charge over my life that (this was a fortune cookie I got a while ago) I would live a mysteriously adventurous life. And I just embraced it, no matter where it has taken me.
So I moved to Thailand, and it just kept blossoming. I kept creating and finding community. I was in a very rural city called Khon Kaen which is a very rural - actually the poorest part of Thailand, and my leader said we believe that you can make something out of nothing so we’ll put you there. We could put you in Bangkok - a thriving city, but we’re going to put you somewhere that’s really going to stretch you, and I said okay let’s go. I ended up going from one year to two years. I didn’t want to leave this community that I was building. There’s so many people that leave, but what about the people you’re around who feel connected to you? God blessed me with a community that kept me grounded and since I was living off a pretty high wage in a low cost community, I was able to travel all over because I was making all of this money. My rent was $75 a month for a full apartment - bathroom, patio, kitchen. 1% of the entire population were foreign, I was the only black woman in the entire town. I dressed the same - they called me the hippie professor. I knew that I was chosen to be here because of who I am. Why do we feel like we have to hide who we are? I’ve been curating and creating full time, connecting communities full time. I make live dream catchers while I travel.
What exactly is a dreamcatcher?
It’s a Native American tradition that was started years ago, and they believe that this entire universe is surrounded by positive and negative energy. And when we’re awake and conscious, we have the ability to choose either: this serves me, this is positive, I allow this into my life, or say this is negative, I reflect it back to you, I don’t need it, or I move on. But when you’re asleep, you don’t have those powers, so they also believe negative energy can seep into your dreams and subconscious. So they went to mother nature, which is the source of all answers in their mind, and asked mother nature to protect them while they rest. They use trees, feathers, shells, insect webs, to come together to make a protection tool for while you sleep. So negative energies get stuck in the web at night and disseminate at sunrise. Whereas positive energies drift down the web into you (it is supposed to go over your bed) which allows you to have only positive dreams.
I feel like there is a lot of talk in the wellness community, specifically amongst black women, about traveling and moving to Thailand. Have you been able to build a strong community / sisterhood there?
Yes, all of that is there. There are people like you, like me, all searching for the same things and looking to build. And the thing about Thailand is that it gives you this space that nowhere that I have been to so far (and I’ve been to many places) can offer as far as the tranquility. Time doesn’t exist; they aren’t working for money; what’s important to them is their family. They will literally have four generations living in one house so independence and success is just different. They are very welcoming to people who look like us, because they’re confused as to why we would even want to be there. We could be anywhere else in the world, and we’re deciding to go to this third world, developing country, but it is built off of such sacred principles coming from Buddhism, reincarnation, and literally paying respect to everyone around you. Because if you are a bad person in this life, you could be a rock or a fly in the next life. So if you’re taught these things at a young age, you just innately become a better person. It becomes a habit that becomes a life ritual and that’s how you live your life. You literally walk into a city and there are temples everywhere. So that frequency of the land is just different when you have something holy and sacred, people act differently around temples and monks. You also treat yourself differently. But the biggest difference, is that Thailand is swallowed by nature. If there is a tree and a building is coming, you let that tree grow over because your building is blessed. And you have quicker access to the answers, and I believe all answers come from nature. Go to the source so you can hear your intuition, you’ll get your answers quickly. If nature is always around you, you’re getting input all day everyday. In the past two years me and 5 girls from all over the world, created something called Queens Inspire. We all have these trades, businesses, or forms of art and we realize that it’s hard on your own. It’s hard to sell to Thai people, but people in America want to touch Thailand so we sell our products there. We came together to support each other instead of competing against each other. We put all of our talents together and had a huge photoshoot. We’ve had so many picnics, gatherings, and photoshoots in Thailand. There are 3 different kinds of travelers - tourists, backpackers, and expats. There are a lot of black women expats. They aren’t necessarily broadcasting everything on social media because it’s not that important in Thailand, but they’re there and they are willing to share. But you gotta get there.
What are some ways that you’ve restructured your life to find peace and comfort in your new home abroad? Did you have to restructure at all?
I had to abandon everything I knew. Everything. I had to abandon my forms of transportation, I now drive a motorcycle. I had to abandon the amount of money I’m supposed to make, because I’m living off the wages of an esteemed professor, but still nothing in comparison to America - but it goes far in Thailand. So I’m chillin. I had to get rid of my idea of time. I realized that people are not going to work faster or harder for me because I’m giving them more baht (money). They don’t care. They will randomly close shop during the week because their wellbeing is more important. There is a lot more boundaries. I had to put all of that away and control my anxiety. I had to learn a whole new language which happened in about two years. I learned in the country where it was about eat or do not eat. My ideas of relationships have changed. There’s a lot more honor. All of these preconceived notions and things that I was spoon-fed in America, I had to really rid myself of it quickly because nothing worked there. Once I got rid of all that, I said let’s learn from the people, and that way it’s easier to flow, conduct business, and really connect.
What does a typical day in Thailand look like for you? Walk us through it.
The last city that I was living in Thailand is called Chiang Mai and this is the mountains. There is something about the nature and elements around the mountains. I lived there in a house called The Healing House and it’s for expats. Essentially, there are Thai neighbors who own the house but these expats have been renting the house for years. When someone moves out, it’s your duty to find someone to replace them. The main person who runs it started a group called the Blackpackers, and it is a community of Black travelers who are living in Chiang Mai, Thailand and other areas of southeast Asia. We have meet ups and gatherings, festivals, parties, and support each other on all of our entrepreneurial endeavors. So I wake up in The Healing House, I go to the market which is a 5 minute motor cycle drive down; everything is fresh; there’s people surrounding the whole place. I get a fresh smoothie where you can tell her your ailment and she’ll give you the proper smoothie to heal you. Then I go to a cafe with good wifi and get some work done. I go to nature for when I’m creating. There’s a waterfall 15 minutes away. I’m always taking parts of nature and recycling it into something else that I share with the world. I have tons of Thai friends that I have dinner with and a Thai family who I check in with every day. We watch the sunset on the roof of The Healing House and reflect on where life has brought us.
In what ways have you gained more freedom since your move abroad?
Since I had an unsteady home upbringing, it was a build up of everything that I have now. I could never hoard everything in one space because we had no place to put it. It allowed me to have a detachment to things. If we couldn’t carry it, then we didn’t need it. So I only kept what I needed and that followed me for the rest of my life. So it’s been able to allow me to be free. I’ve been able to travel so lightly and effortlessly. As I’ve been on the road I continue being free. Every time I came home, I’d have this battle with America and Los Angeles particularly; I would just arrive and think oh I can’t wait to get back to Thailand. Instead of recognizing that the journey in Thailand was so that I could separate myself from all of the noise and look within. But that inward mobility doesn’t belong to Thailand. I just removed some of the clutter so that I could hear it. Thailand charged me to be able to pick it up and carry that with me every place I went. The freedom that I have found is within but it took me leaving to know that.
What does international entrepreneurship look like to you and what are ways we can sustain ourselves without choosing a corporate 9-5 safety net?
If you are super afraid, find a little job or a hustle. There are resources available where you can provide services such as house or dog sitting to teaching abroad. People will beg you to teach their children how to learn English. Jobs can come out of nowhere. It did take my internship for me to realize that. If you are in the position where you’re trying to decide should I go or not, do your research, apply to everything that suits your spirit. So that when you arrive, you’re not mad that you got there. Apply to everything that is of interest to you. I’m not against finding a job, but don’t let that be your determining factor. You can also save which is very important. I don’t spend money on clothes; I make my own clothes. I don’t spend money on Starbucks. You make the conscious decision on how to spend your money. There’s so many apps now to help - airfordable etc. There’s so many apps to help you save money - acorns. We’re not doing justice to our present life right now by acting like these things don’t exist. International entrepreneurship for me looks like living in a new country, learning the lay of the land, learning how they work.
On entrepreneurship from her journal:
Entrepreneurship is the best idea God could have had for me. I’ve never really liked working for people or being on the clock. And if it was a computer based job with spread sheets and memorization, I struggled. That was because God was giving me the tools, but never allowing me to be comfortable in someone else’s dream. I’ve always had my own ideas and ways of executing them. It was my training. And I didn’t really have much. I used to do things like shoplift, lie, and other things that didn’t serve me and had nothing to do with God’s full purpose for me. And it was because of my poverty. Maybe that helped me temporarily, but it always ingrained a fear that he would find out and track me down. How could I live a life like that? Now taking the blessings that were not meant for me no longer served me. During those times, God was teaching me to trust him. But I was so stuck in my own flesh that I didn’t know or see how grand of a plan he had for me. Thank you God for the reminders. Thank you God for my fearlessness. Thank you God for the ambition to step out on my own. Amen.
That’s what entrepreneurship looks like for me - doing something because I really love it, even if everybody else doesn’t really understand it. If it makes people question or wonder that means you’re doing something new, not wrong.
Vagabond Jazz is a 25 y/o Cali native, a multifaceted artist, model, professor of business in Thailand, and serial creative-preneur curating projects including: #naturalhairworldtour, Artist Oasis, Queens Inspire, & Mali Pah. Jazz has chosen to bloom on the path less traveled the past 5 years as a Jamaican American expat. And has no plans to return. Follow her journey on all social media channels @vagabond.jazz @mali.pah www.malipah.com