Photo Credit: courtesy: Janine Fastina
The Black Expat: I Moved From NYC To The Mountains In Jamaica To Create A Safe Space For Single Black Mothers
Black expat Janine Fastina felt called out of her life in NYC, to an off-grid life in Jamaica with her two children. Knowing that Black women and particularly Black mothers are often left out of the conversation of wellness; she created a brand centered around Black wellness and single Black mothers while reconnecting with her own ancestral roots.
Travel Noire: Could you tell us who you are and what you do?
Janine: I’m Janine Fastina, I am a biologist by trade. For over a decade now I’ve worked in the wellness industry. I worked with different chiropractors and within the massage industry. I did a lot of celebrity massages in New York City for a little while but I’ve always been interested in herbs and wellness overall. I like infusing my herbalism with beauty so it’s about natural, holistic living from all aspects while exploring our femininity. I’m also a mother of three. I have one son who is a teacher in Oakland and an eight and nine year old who live with me off grid in the mountains of Jamaica.
TN: What led you to off grid life?
Janine: It was something I’d explored for a long time because I personally always loved being outdoors. But I never thought that I would live without the “necessities”. I really wanted a simpler, fuller life. I wanted to be able to spend more time with my children for example. The type of education and direction that they were getting was important to me and I didn’t feel like the US school system was giving them that adequately.
I also had many businesses while living in NYC but my favorite had always been my natural beauty line, making products from plant-based ingredients. I always wanted to return to natural, island living. Then COVID happened and I thought, ‘Why not go for everything I wanted?’ I already had purchased the land, I had a mentor who was willing to teach me so I gave myself a shot.
TN: And what initially drew you to Jamaica?
Janine: I’m a Jamaican, from Kingston who moved to New York, and now I’ve found my way to the bush where nowhere looks familiar. I looked at many different countries like Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica but then I had a dream where Nanny of the Maroons came to me and told me to return to Jamaica. My ancestors gave me specific instructions and eventually, after a few detours, I listened. My job is to go to Jamaica and create safe spaces for other women, Black women, specifically those who are traveling with children. I want to show that they can find healing in nature, using traditional African and Afro-Caribbean modalities and techniques to enhance that. And so that’s my assignment.
TN: Is that what helped you name the wellness spaces in Portland and St Anne?
Janine: So for our ‘Maroon Bubble’ space, it came out of my need to connect with my Maroon heritage. I had always heard that my family were descendants of Paul Bogle but that was all. I was also receiving dreams from Nanny so that Maroon element came in there. The most important thing about the ‘bubble’ part of the name is that I wanted safe spaces for me and my children. I wanted to create our own bubble.
‘Secret Escapes’ came about because I had the opportunity to escape to the mountains. It’s so difficult to to get here, that is how hidden it is. The children and I came up with the name because it is our little secret space.
TN: How has it been for your children to transition to life in the mountains?
Wow, they’ve managed profoundly. While in the educational school system in the US, my daughter was termed ADHD and her hyper-emotional behaviors and personality in general weren’t handled with patience at all. When we got to the mountains, the fresh air really helped her. Now she sits under the tree on her swing reading for hours completely at peace. She even used some of her knowledge to help heal someone from an accident that happened while we were in the supermarket. My son is also finding his place, we call him the fire boy because he lights all the fires on the site. He used to be scared of the dark but now he sleeps alone in his pitch black cabin in. He said he feels safer here and isn’t scared anymore.
TN: You mentioned that you felt called into the wellness space to provide safe spaces for Black mothers, could you talk to us about how you show up in that space?
Janine: Knowing that I was catering for Black mothers formulated itself later, at first I thought I was just doing it for myself. In 2007 I met Dr. Sebi and was able to learn a lot from him about herbalism. The only thing missing from the experience was the feminine aspect. I asked Dr. Sebi about this and he didn’t understand me. I pointed out that there was no specific focus on the feminine aspect, the feminine herbal beauty practices or massage, for example. He told me to go learn and then come back. So I returned to New York and signed up for school, even though I already had a job.
My degree was in Biology, I graduated and then I started practicing. At one point I found myself giving massages to Kimora Lee Simmons who asked me “what technique is that?” but I was intuitively doing my own thing. I built up a reputation and started offering massages in the entertainment industry, on Wall Street and also for athletes. This is where I started to consider going further into a healing space.
I really wanted to inject feminine energy into my own business. So many women give to others but don’t give back to themselves. We need spaces where we can show up and feel un-judged. I want Black women to join the space in a bonnet or slippers if that’s how they feel and feel safe and comfortable. I wanted to be that space where women could give back to themselves but not exclude their children because that’s a whole other thing. Usually in the wellness world if you want to do this you can’t bring the children. For me they’re a part of my life. I call my kids my ‘carry-on’ because they’re my luggage, not in the sense that they weigh me down, they’re my cute luggage.
TN: That is such a generous and needed offering for Black mothers everywhere. Why do you prioritise self-sufficiency and sustainable living particularly for the broader Black community?
Janine: That is our legacy. That is our history. That is our ancestral knowledge. We knew how to live off the land and as a Maroon, that’s a huge part of the community. As a Rasta, l also embedded a lot of the belief systems and the Marcus Garvey movement into this space as a Pan Africanist. It is always centered around self-sustainability and self-sufficiency because you have to be the one who is able to take care of your family, you cannot rely on anyone else, right? We need to learn how to grow food, whether you’re off grid or in an apartment in the city. Simple things like taking control of your child’s education and listening to their needs is important, it all takes self-sufficiency.
I also use the word self-sufficiency in the place of independent because Black women get a negative representation when they present themselves as independent. This is softer and truer to the space I am nurturing.
TN: How do you support Black people globally in learning self-sufficiency?
Janine: I am available to my community for people, women, men, whoever is interested in going off grid. I do one-to-one consultations to get you started. I also teach how to build your own homes, how to garden, how to make your own clothes, and then I’m one of the instructors who will be thorough. My transparency shows you that this is how I did it and this is how you can as well.
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This interview has been shortened for brevity.