Welcome Home: My Introduction to South Africa

South Africa or Southern Georgia? Babylonstoren, Western Cape.

South Africa or Southern Georgia? Babylonstoren, Western Cape.

“Welcome Home” was a refrain I heard often during my two week trip through South Africa.

I heard it from Sandro, our tour van driver who was built like a linebacker and hipped me to house music maestro and native son Black Coffee. I heard it from a young travel assistant with cornrows who rerouted my return from Cape Town so I’d be able to visit the beach city of Durban. I heard it from porters on the Blue Train, from fellow diners at an eatery in Soweto, anywhere there were people who recognized me as black American and conscious enough of our shared histories. It might have been a throwaway line for some, but it felt good to hear; I’ve only been “Welcome[d] Home” to the United States twice, ever.

Despite my desire to visit sub-Saharan Africa, the country of South Africa was perhaps a strong third or fourth place on the list: I felt a visit to Ghana or Nigeria or Senegal first would better speak to my own cultural history as a black American and give me more of an authentic, and admittedly ill-defined, “African” experience than would a country which only emerged from tyrannical white-minority rule a mere two decades ago and had been listed alongside Brazil, Russia, India, and China among the world’s biggest emerging economies. Oh, what a foolish assumption to make.

What I found was a country with a people so rich in complexions, ethnicities, and languages that I didn’t feel out of place for a moment. I found a country with an incredible music scene, including Zulu-and-Indian-influenced, and an accompanying love for black American soul divas. I found a country with wizened grandmas serving the side-eye of life, and saucy young things dropping English attitude with “swee-ty” and “this one chick” and “Can we organize some coffee here?” I found a country with terrain both otherworldly and intimately familiar, a country of silver mornings and golden afternoons, of moon rocks and Georgia clay.

And I found a country where the younger generations, no matter the complexion or ethnicity or language or even previous forced homeland, feel like they each have a hand in building a new nation.

To them, all of South Africa is home.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from Fly Brother’s recent journey to Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban. And please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

Air and Opportunity: World Domination Summit 2014

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A lesson from the very first WDS. It’s only just now sinking in.

Back in grade school, whenever there was static between any of the kids, one of the favorite refrains spouted by the mouthier of the two was, “ain’t nothing between us but air and opportunity.” Of course, this was said as a stalling tactic, as neither of the kids wanted to be the first to throw a punch. But the concept still resonates with me to this day:

There is nothing in front of me but air and opportunity.

I actually vocalized a version of that phrase this past weekend at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. Despite the snarkily ominous name, this annual two-day conference, organized by unconventional non-conformist Chris Guillebeau, is all about out-of-the-box thinking, positive energy, personal (and professional) connections, and do-gooding. I had the absolute good fortune to be at the first WDS in 2010, a moment of  dare I say  magic, where a few hundred current and would-be world changers got together, with no expectations, to reaffirm that it is indeed okay to forge one’s own path, and to see what kind of impactful projects can come from allying with like-minded individuals.

Let me be clear: at almost $500, the ticket price isn’t cheap. I’ve heard people say that it’s cheaper than other conferences, but many of those people seem unable to relate to those of us with finite financial resources and who rarely attend conferences. But the fellowshipping and inspiration that happen at this event makes WDS a downright steal; it’s an investment in self. And this event allows volunteers to attend sessions and associated events for free, so there are ways to access the magic without going broke.

But the magic, nay power, of possibility is what it’s all about. At that first conference, all of us were attracted to or intrigued by Chris’ mastery of travel hacking and his quest to visit every country in the world by his 35th birthday. The speakers inspired the attendees in unexpected ways, and I ended up meeting gracious and engaging long-term travelers Jo and Marvin of Intrepid Motion, gregarious Rog Law, freshmaker Abe Cajudo, fly sista Nailah Hayward, and humble heartthrob Mike Hrostoski, just as the seeds of his new career as a life coach were being planted. I also encountered a trifecta of powerful, electric ladies  Karen Walrond, Desiree Adaway, Pam Slim  who have subsequently been incredibly inspirational and instrumental in my personal and professional development, and who I love talking to any chance I get. The major takeaway was that I already had everything I need for greatness. I am believed in, even when my own confidence in self flounders.

This year, I was able to reconnect with some of the incredible people I met first go round, but I also had the double pleasure of meeting a slew of interesting folks (including three fans of Fly Brother), as well as connecting with good friends from other places and times in my life who happened to be attending WDS as well. Some of the speakers were better than others, but I didn’t go for them; I went to meet, and meet up with, people.

But what does all this connecting mean? It means gleaning wisdom from free-thinkers and people desirous of seeing others succeed. It means thinking about my own career as a writer, educator, speaker, and traveler in ways that I had never considered before. It means knowing that I already have everything I need for greatness. It means there is nothing in front of me but air and opportunity.

One of the young ladies I met the first day of the conference, a fly sister and reader of the blog, mentioned to me that she’d just quit her office job and, when I asked her what she planned to do next, she said “there’s nothing in front of me.”

I said, “No…there’s air in front of you. You’re flying.”

Air and opportunity.

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Global Juke Joint: Brazilian Blues

After Germany’s ungentlemanly thrashing of Brazil, 7-1, during the World Cup, I thought I’d share in my adopted homeland’s grief with a little of my favorite melancholy music: seven songs for seven goals. Some of the songs are about love lost and found. One laments accusations of selling out, while another praises the magic of fairies (or lovers). Still others wax melodic about the Marvelous City or the beautiful country in its entirety. All embody, in one way or another, the bittersweet nostalgia Brazilians call saudade, the poignant yearning that comes with losses real, imagined, or inevitable. I mourn this loss with you, meu Brasil, with the intoxicating aural cocktail of happiness within sadness that you mix up so well.







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Independence Day/Midsummer Barbecue Day Update

Find out about the move to Berlin, pending marriage, summer travel, and more!
(Y’all don’t see that lamp on the left, ;-p)

Fly Brother – Independence Day Update from Fly Brother on Vimeo.

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Whites in Europe 2: Heading North

The Whites in Europe: Dublin Down

Whites in Europe: Dublin Down

In April, I had the pleasure of taking my parents to Dublin for the first time. They’re not exactly the youngest kiddies on the block anymore, and my father is the type who’ll say “no” to an untried food, only to snag a bit of it from your plate when you order it. But despite the inevitable misunderstandings and temper flare-ups that happen when parents and their adult children travel together, the laughs and sense of mutual discovery outweigh any half-hour periods of silence or heavy sighs of exasperation. So the elder Whites and their eldest son will be hitting the Continent once again for ten days this June, swinging through a trifecta of capital cities – including one I’ve never been to before – that novices to Europe often erroneously overlook: Berlin, Stockholm, and Helsinki.

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We’ll start our journey with a brief stopover in Frankfurt, where we’ll be celebrating my Fly Mother’s 76th birthday with some cake at Bitter & Zart, recommended by friend and foodie par excellence, Karin of Yum and More. Then, my parents will get their first experience on a high-speed train as we race toward Berlin on the ICE (ICE, baby), arriving in the German capital late that evening.

Berlin at sunset. Photo courtesy das_sabrinchen via Flickr.

Berlin at sunset. Photo courtesy das_sabrinchen via Flickr.

As I don’t want to bore them or wear them out, we’ll take in maybe three points of interest each day we’re there; on the must-do list: the stately Brandenburg Gate, the immense Pergamon Museum, Nefertiti at the Neues Museum, East German culture at the DDR Museum, and sunset at the Bundestag dome – probably the most striking parliamentary structure built since the Congresso Nacional in Brasília. On the must-eat menu: plenty of wurst, döner, and pho.

Stockholm's historic Gamla Stan. Photo courtesy of Pedro Szekely via Flickr.

Stockholm’s historic Gamla Stan. Photo courtesy of Pedro Szekely via Flickr.

Next, we head north to my favoritest city in Europe – Stockholm! I curse you, capital of Sweden, for being cold and dark for six months of the year; that is your only flaw (well, along with being crazy expensive). The city is gorgeous, hip, and full of worldly, attractive people who are fun and welcoming, and I’m excited about having my parents experience the things I love about the ‘holm.

We’ll be staying right in the middle of the historic center – Gamla Stan – in an old postwar-era ferry anchored in the harbor. As lots of Stockholm’s charms lie in the architecture and atmosphere of the place, we may just do the hop-on/hop-off bus and water taxis to get the lay of the land, stopping for Swedish meatballs (called “meatballs” in Sweden) and shots of Gevalia espresso. Then, we’ll bone up on our Viking lore at the Historiska museum, maybe head out to see the royal residence at Drottningholm Palace, or soak up the general pre-Midsummer energy in one of the city’s cool, green parks. At night, since we’ll all still be jet-lagged anyway, jazz and blues at Stampen might be the perfect way to tire ourselves out and celebrate Father’s Day, especially if my girl Germaine Thomas is at the mic.

Helsinki Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kolosov via Flickr.

Helsinki Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kolosov via Flickr.

Finally, we’re all going to HEL. :-) Helsinki’s not as large as Berlin or Stockholm, so we’ll only be spending two days there. Aside from visiting the big white church that dominates the skyline, we don’t have much on the itinerary yet. Still, this will be my first trip to Finland and I’m excited about being in the home country of one of my favorite architects (Eero Saarinen, who designed Dulles Airport, JFK’s iconic TWA Terminal, and the Gateway Arch), and one of my parents’ favorite composers (Jean Sibelius, whose magnum opus appeared in Die Hard 2…I will always remember watching it on HBO with my folks and my mom turning to my dad and asking, in her Southern accent, “Isn’t that Finlandia?” “Mmhm,” he replied. Classically trained, thank you very much).

So stay tuned for trip developments and (hopefully) some video. I’m trying to bring things into the 21st century, y’all. Lord, I hope they don’t put us out of Europe.

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I Wish I Weren’t Right About Rio

Disappointment, Brazilian-style. Photo by Eduardo Otubo via Flickr.

Disappointment, Brazilian-style. Photo by Eduardo Otubo via Flickr.

Le very big sigh. Recently, the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee called Rio de Janeiro’s preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games as the “worst ever,” fueling rumors that the Games could even be held in London or Moscow. For anyone intimately familiar with Brazil – and I’m not talking about spending a week on Ipanema – this comes as no big surprise. In fact, when Rio was awarded the Games back in 2009, I wrote about my own trepidation at Rio’s readiness. Back then, the signs were clear: institutional corruption, lack of organization, and inadequate long-term planning threatened to dog the project from its inception, just as these things tarnished the legacy of the 2007 Pan-American Games, also held in Rio. In 2010, when I taught high school in Brasília, the students answered my concerns about Brazil’s ability to host big events with a cocky “South Africa did it, so we don’t have anything to worry about.” Oh, dear.

I’m sure the organizers of the World Cup are feeling like they dodged a bullet, but for the past several years, FIFA – the governing body of the international soccer tournament – has been warning Brazil about its cost-overruns, construction delays, and safety issues. In fact, I was in São Paulo at the end of April and saw very little preparation at Brazil’s largest, most congested, technologically impaired airport. English is still rarely spoken by taxi drivers and prices for food and services are still astronomical, with little improvement in quality. The Cup will happen, but this mega-event will be the world’s funnest fiasco; only the extreme affability of Brazilians – and their unparalleled fanaticism for futebol – will salvage it.

In the meantime, protests against corruption and the lack of basic citizen services, as well as the ongoing low-scale street war happening in Rio – and it is a war – call attention to the fact that, unfortunately, Brazil is just not ready. It could have been, in another decade or so and with a cadre of politicians and business leaders serious about Brazil’s socio-economic advancement. But public money continues to get funneled into offshore bank accounts, private companies continue to gouge consumers with shitty products at high prices, and the government and ruling classes continue to be content with a large, permanent underclass without access to decent health care and education.

I have a deep and abiding love for Brazil. Never in any other place have I felt as welcome and as embraced – claimed. But it’s from this love that I find myself disappointed and angry. My biggest fear – that Brazil will be monumentally embarrassed by the failure to successfully execute these endeavors – is coming true. And as with most injustices, the people who have the very least to do with this whole mess will suffer the most for it.

God, I just wish I weren’t right about Rio.

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For captivating, on-the-ground dispatches from Brazil, check out the English-language blogs From Brazil, published by São Paulo’s largest daily and edited/written by several crack journalist friends of mine in SP and RJ, and Andrew Downie’s Brazil Blog, written by a foul-mouthed Scot.

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Fly Favorites: April 2014

 

    • Impactful documentary Gringo Trails explores the dangers of mass tourism. Try and catch a screening if you can…you might recognize a familiar face. ;-)
    • Ecuador-based wordsmith extraordinaire Bani Amor hangs out at the intersection of race, sexuality, identity, and – of course – travel at her website Everywhere All the Time.
    • The Atlantic Cities visualizes 200 years of urban sprawl in Paris, São Paulo, and Los Angeles.
    • Fly sisters Evita Robinson and Arielle Loren help other fly folk take their brands, products, and shows on the road with Touring for Startups.
    • The Economist explains why 67% of passengers departing US airports feel they’ll be landing at a better airport overseas.

San Luis Potosi

Priest and Fly, having our own impromptu writers’ retreat down Mexico way.

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Vintage Travel Posters: San Francisco

SF_UA0Arguably America’s must beautiful city, San Francisco has long lured travelers with its stunning scenery, fresh air, striking bridges, and – as these vintage travel posters indicate – the exotic delights of Chinatown. While the themes may be repetitive in this modest compendium, the charms of the City by the Bay never get old. When you go, don’t forget that flower.

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I Am Afraid

Doubt and Fear

I am afraid.
I’m afraid of choosing the wrong path.
I’m afraid of getting lost.
I’m afraid of regret.
I’m afraid of missing out.
I’m afraid I’m not smart enough.
I’m afraid of being inarticulate.
I’m afraid of being ridiculous.
I’m afraid of being mediocre.
I’m afraid of never being a published author.
I’m afraid of being a published author, but a commercial (or worse, critical) failure.
I’m afraid I won’t ever realize my full potential.
I’m afraid of always being broke.
I’m afraid of fucking up.
I’m afraid my people – black people – will always be marginalized, forever, and that people – non-black people – really just don’t give a shit.
I’m afraid of people – guys, mostly – acting “funny” because I’m gay.
I’m afraid of losing my looks.
I’m afraid there’s not enough time.
I’m afraid of getting fat again.
I’m afraid I have ADD (seriously, I can’t focus for shit).
I’m afraid of getting physically or mentally ill.
I’m afraid of Alzheimer’s and strokes and shitting on myself.
I’m afraid of getting old.
I’m afraid of the 21st Century (WTFITCS?!).
I’m afraid of losing loved ones before I’m ready to let them go.
I’m afraid of disappointing my parents.
I’m afraid of cheating on my partner.
I’m afraid of catching something when people don’t cover their mouths when they cough.
I’m afraid of becoming bitter.
I’m afraid of not living my best life.

I am afraid every single fucking day of my life. Because all of these risks, dangers, challenges, troubles, and eventualities are real, possible, probable. And so what? Am I supposed to stay in bed until time to go to work at a dead-end job, eating store-brand ice cream and masturbating, afraid to step outside my door? Hardly.

It’s not even a question of fighting fear, really. It’s walking right past that fear as if it didn’t exist. Not that fear doesn’t cause me anxiety, trepidation, or stress. But it’s useless anxiety, trepidation, and stress, so there’s nothing left but to walk past it. And I do it every day. Because for every one of those fears, there’s an unfear – an unfear of flying, an unfear of going someplace where I don’t know the language, an unfear of asking strangers for help, an unfear of engaging in passionate discussions about life, an unfear of escaping my comfort zone, an unfear of trying – I am just as unafraid as I am afraid. More unafraid, even. It’s true; sometimes, the forces of fear win a battle or two. But it’s unfear that has the nuclear bomb in its arsenal.

I repeat: I am unafraid.

You repeat: I am unafraid.

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Special, heartfelt thanks to Mike Hrostoski, men’s coach and powerlifting yogi, who openly discusses his fears as he prepares for his first ever Conference for Men, and to soul brother and secret superhero Rogue Priest, whose spiritual and worldly musings regularly inspire in me reflection and awe.

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From the AV Room: Time Lapse Airport Ops

8 Hrs at LAX. Image by Mike Kelley

8 Hrs at LAX. Image composed by Mike Kelley.

By now, it should be no secret that Fly Brother is an aviation geek, particularly when it comes to airports and airlines. Even as a kid, I collected Wooster snap-fit model airplanes, memorized airport codes, read the OAG, designed my own mega-airport in the mold of Hartsfield-Jackson (only with more runways, more concourses, and serviced by every major airline on the planet), and created my own version of Monopoly in which players snapped up hub airports in lieu of streets.

Now that I actually work out on the ramp, stacking bags and voguing with glowsticks and whatnot, I can’t help but watch these videos and pay attention to the littlest details, like the baggage carts whirling around the planes and the tiny but powerful tractors that push the planes back from the gates. Here are a few of my favorite time lapse airport operations videos (and a stunning computer-generated map of air traffic flow over northwestern Europe). The music on the Paris vid is particularly fly. Enjoy!





Europe 24 from NATS on Vimeo.

 

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