On Homesickness and Travel

At my favorite place at my favorite time of day with one of my favorite people in the world. Home.

At my favorite place, at my favorite time of day, with one of my favorite people in the world. Home.

One of the barriers that keeps people from traveling more often, if at all, is the fear of homesickness. People fear not being in close contact with loved ones and familiar environments, with those things, those people, with which they belong.

But in my travels, I’ve been blessed, lucky, fortunate enough to construct familiarity and develop connections with things and places and, above all, people that I’ve encountered. I’ve learned how to connect, how to interact, how to make familiar. How to make a home and a community. I didn’t set out to learn these things, but by being as open and authentic as I could be, which sometimes wasn’t very open or authentic at all, I came to realize that it was my willingness to interact, to engage, to be open, to be permeable, even when not all that successful, that allowed me to develop my community and my familiars, my family. It allowed me to belong.

By no means does this suggest that I never feel lonely or even homesick. I tend to experience things deeply and often struggle with feelings of isolation and alienation, especially on long plane journeys. For while I may selfishly bask in the love and attention shown by my familiars while we’re together, I’m the one who quickly uproots and takes off, while their lives continue, day after day, with or without me.

The lesson for me in all this is to never, ever take my family, my familiars, for granted, because they can and sometimes do disappear, quite suddenly and without warning. And this does mean focusing on the present moment, every moment, a herculean task to be sure.

The lesson I’m able to impart to others, though, is that homesickness, loneliness, unfamiliarity are not truly valid excuses for failing to travel. You travel and you become familiar. You engage and interact. You create community and you create home. It may not be where you expect or even hope, but with openness, with permeability, it will happen before you even realize it: you’ll belong.

And when you need to talk to your mama ‘nem…well, that’s what Skype and round-trip tickets are for.

IMG_2550

IMG_2549

IMG_2551

IMG_2552

IMG_2555

IMG_2557 IMG_2553

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

Captivating Cape Town

Table Mountain, Cape Town

Table Mountain, Cape Town

“I live in the most beautiful city in the world,” said my buddy Rob, a long-time expat American living in Cape Town. He’s been saying this, in one way or another, for the past several years. And it only took until this year for me to visit and, sooner rather than later, for me to agree with him.

Cape Town spills around the bottom of Africa, just north of where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, so far away as to be on another planet. Table Mountain and Lion’s Head and Cape Point stand, alternately shrouded and ominous or windswept and proud, testifying to the city’s singular place in the world and daring any other pretenders to make themselves known.

Yet despite this singularity of place, Cape Town recalls at once California and Florida and the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and Rio de Janeiro and Savannah: the arid mountains, the pastel buildings and turquoise waters, the lingering sun and undulating landscape, the laid-back atmosphere, the luxury hotels and marinas full of yachts, the unresolved social inequality and unearned entitlement hard-baked into the South African soil, a Southern soil if there ever was one.

The secret to Cape Town’s beauty isn’t that it is so immediately apparent; it’s the elements of the familiar and the unique that reveal the city’s kaleidoscopic aura. I sensed this aura on the rocky flats atop Table Mountain and in the sapphire surf that plays on the beach at Sea Point. I sensed it on the buzzing commercial strips of Bo-Kaap and Brooklyn, districts containing all the various and new South Africas, where the intrepid shopper could procure any good or service, legal or otherwise. I sensed it in laughter- and light-filled conversations with Xhosa radio DJs and Afrikaner waiters, Coloured publicists and Indian receptionists, French journalists and American models, portending, possibly, nascent lifelong friendships.

Which brings me back to Rob, who I’ve known for a decade. Well-versed in my cultural and intellectual leanings, he’s been championing South Africa to me for years, even as I moved to other continents. But it only took a single fantastical moment, stepping off of Rob’s porch at twilight, Table Mountain looming black and matte against a watercolor sky, for Cape Town to prove him right. He lives in the most beautiful city in the world.

—–

Oh yeah, did I mention that I went to Cape Town Fashion Week, and associated parties?
:-)

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

60 Years After Brown, 20 Years After Apartheid

"Meal Time in the Girls' Hostel," South Africa  (Image source: http://murraymcgregor.wordpress.com/chapter-15-the-chaos-of-%E2%80%9Cbantu%E2%80%9D-education/)

“Meal Time in the Girls’ Hostel,” South Africa (Image source: http://murraymcgregor.wordpress.com)

Sixty years ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in American public schools. “[S]eperate educational facilities are inherently unequal” wrote the court. The case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, set the stage for the dismantling of legal segregation, culminating a decade later in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The year before Brown, literally halfway around the world in South Africa, the winds of change were blowing in the opposite direction. According to the mind-blowing biography Mandela by Martin Meredith, which I’m now reading, “natives” (i.e.: blacks) were no longer to be educated in a way that would cause them to have any expectations of life in “Europeanized,” urban environments.

Under the terms of the Bantu Education Act…introduced in 1953…[a]ll schools, whatever their status, would have to be registered by the government. No private schools would be allowed to exist without government approval. Control of schools would pass not to the Department of Education but to the Department of Native Affairs. Introducing the new legislation before parliament, [soon-to-be Prime Minister Hendrik] Verwoerd was forthright about its purpose: ‘Natives will be taught from childhood to realize that equality with Europeans is not for them.’

In fact, Verwoerd proved steadfast in his belief of African inferiority:

There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?

The Bantu child is an “it”?! Segregationist education policy, only one part of South Africa’s heinous Apartheid system, remained in place until 1994.

I am rapt by South African history and its relationship to American history. In 1953, my mother was 15 years old and my father, nine. Both of them would have been been educated under the Bantu system. Despite Brown, they both graduated from segregated high schools, as did I.

"Black Schoolroom," United States (Image source: http://readcontra.com/2014/05/why-white-people-matter-the-american-school-system/)

“Black Schoolroom,” United States (Image source: http://readcontra.com/2014/05/why-white-people-matter-the-american-school-system/)

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

Bye Bye, Berlin

Horizonte en Berlin by Olga Berrios via Flickr

Horizonte en Berlin by Olga Berrios via Flickr

Suddenly, sadly, my time in Berlin has come to a close. My relationship of five years has ended, and, most disappointingly, not without the misunderstanding and pain that I’d hoped to avoid. Truthfully, no one is to blame; it was the little earthquakes that brought down the building in the end. I have absolutely no regrets about those five years. I learned how love looks and feels (…like compromise, really). I learned how to listen and observe and accept and understand. I learned how to love myself. And I learned to recognize my own demons, which is the first step in vanquishing them. Words are a weak substitute for the love and gratitude I have for my former partner, an incredible, incredible human being. For now, there is no more to say.

But I can’t talk about leaving Berlin without mentioning a serious and growing problem that I’ve not discussed much here on the blog: racism and xenophobia. Aside from being arguably the most interesting city in Europe at the moment, Berlin is held as a paragon of multiculturalism and acceptance, especially in the mainstream media. As a person of color, I feel that this is simply not true. I’ve been subjected to taunts and stare-downs by six drunken 20-something Germans in Hitler Youth haircuts on the u-bahn. I’ve been approached aggressively and passive-aggressively pushed by young Turkish-Germans on u-bahn platforms. I’ve heard educated women at cocktail parties complain about all the foreigners coming into Berlin and not speaking German (which is rich, considering all major cities have foreigners these days and Berliners tend to not let you get two German words out before switching to English on you). I’ve had friends of color—black American and Afro-German alike—complain of micro- and macro-aggressions as well. In the end, I felt that no matter how good my German, or how many years I lived in the place, I’d never be accepted as part of it. Berlin would never be my home. Honestly, I didn’t feel safe.

Conversely, I have to recognize that many, many, many Berliners (especially young ones) will indeed intervene if they see some kind of xenophobic or racist attack. I don’t mean to make this about the people of Berlin in general, as the city has its share of caring, compassionate people, despite its (well-deserved) reputation for rudeness and snark. I always felt welcome among my former partner’s cadre of friends. But it really only takes one asshole to do some damage, especially at 3am, when there’s no one else on the train.

I had hoped it would all work out. But the universe has spoken quite clearly that this episode is “done and dusted.” There is sadness and disappointment, but also undying affection and thankfulness.

Berlin, meine Berliner, you are missed.

In Florida til…whenever.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

Maine Magic

maine1895

In Maine, in late summer, the cool breezes off the sapphire-blue Atlantic temper the warmth of a pale sun, the air free of the asphyxiating humidity of more southerly latitudes. Despite being a son of the South, and tethered naturally to the cultures and climates therein, I always find myself drawn to the northern parts of the globe in summer.

Maybe it’s some sort of symbolic retracing of the Great Migration, seeking respite ‘neath the warmth of other suns. Whatever the rhyme or the reason, my two days in Portland, largest city in Maine, proved invigorating and refreshing, not unlike a good breath mint.

I joined my good pal of 18 years (!), Rod, at his family’s summer cottage (!), driving around, scandalizing the locals with our belly laughs, watching movies, discovering music, frying chicken (!), and playing the dozens between doling out unsolicited advice as good friends are wont to do.

I returned to Florida having pinned a new city on my travel map and with fond memories of my two days in Maine. When a place stays with you, that’s magic.

Have a look at some of the sights and listen to some of the sounds I encountered in the great state of Maine:

Cape Elizabeth Maine Porches in Portland Portland City HallAtlantic Ocean at Cape Elizabeth Maine Enchanted Forest Maine

Rod and Fly

Me and Rod squinting into the sun because the light is better. #TeamOver35



I KNOW…SOUTH AFRICA POSTS COMING!!!

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

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

101_0401

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.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

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.







Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

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.

NorthernEurope

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.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

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.

—————————————————————————————————

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.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)