As fall turns to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, travelers have always looked to the Caribbean for a little warmth. But it wasn’t just exotic beaches that were advertised; the region’s exoticized black bodies have always been a part of its allure. I’ve got mixed feelings about some of these. What do you think?
- The Atlantic Cities examines the “exquisite geometry of global flight paths.”
- Korean War veteran Thomas Hudner goes to North Korea to find the remains of black Navy aviator Jesse Brown, via The Huffington Post.
- Hilarious expat blog Oh God, My Wife is German lists five things that suck about Germany from the perspective of a self-deprecating American douchebag.
- The Miami Herald takes a look at well-to-do Brazilians still clamoring for Miami, despite increasing prices and a cooling economy in Brazil.
- Oneika the Traveller towks about the creeping Britishisms in her Canadian English.
- Visual News uncovers the canceled passports of the rich and famous, including icons like Ella Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, and Ernest Hemingway.
- Nubian Drifter explores the ways of coping with having your wings clipped when all you really want to do is just fly.
- Jasmine Wanders discovers the hard way that securing a Colombian business visa is – much like life – a mix of strategy and luck.
- The New York Times investigates Cuba’s emerging and pitiless self-criticism.
- Insightful traveler Will Peach tackles ennui with the art of creative discipline.
Brothers and sisters, if you don’t have one already, you need to get yourself a passport. If you do have one, it’s time to use it. As a 35-year-old black man living in Florida, I can honestly say that now, more than ever in my lifetime, I am mortally afraid of inadvertently pissing off some over-eager, trigger-happy jackass with a gun, who would then feel entirely justified in shooting me because he felt “threatened” and knew that he’d be absolved by a jury of his peers of any wrongdoing. No matter how many languages I speak, how many countries I’ve been to, how many degrees I have, how many classes I’ve taught, how many non-black friends I have, I am part of the same pariah class as you, demonized because of my skin color and feared because of my potential – for violence as well as greatness.
I left the United States in 2005, running adventurously towards the unknown but also running away from the miasma of inequality as I perceived it all those years ago. I returned this past Christmas and have felt like things have only gotten worse.
Be it the barefaced happiness at George Zimmerman’s acquittal, the unmitigated hatred for President Obama, the unyielding desire to use the ugliest racial slur in the English language because “[we] say it all the time,” the grotesquely ironic opinion that black Americans are the most racist group in the country, the antagonizing law enforcement activities like “stop-and-frisk” and “random secondary screening,” the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the inhumane disparities in prison sentencing, or the mass closing of public schools in the neediest neighborhoods, we are reminded incessantly of our lowly place in American society by society itself. And this is despite innumerable examples of how much we as black Americans contribute positively to society (especially when allowed to flourish) and despite the efforts of scores of white Americans who recognize their privilege and do fight with us in destroying inequality. Yet, in 2013, ignorance and hatred remain as unfettered and ingrained in the American psyche as they were in 1913 and 1813 and 1713. For too many Americans, citizens of a land which espouses freedom and liberty as the driving forces of its national ideology, it is unsafe to merely exist. That is what it’s like to be a problem.
Mind you, family, the United States isn’t the only place black folks are catching hell. We are murdered or disappear in Brazil and Colombia and plenty of other places with mind-boggling frequency, often at the hands of local law enforcement. No place is utopia. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for it.
We have options. There are places in this world where our presence isn’t viewed as a menace, as a problem, or even as an inconvenience. There are places where we are welcomed, listened to, appreciated, and even loved. These places can and do challenge us in ways we could have never imagined, but our very existence isn’t challenged.
We will have to do our part, by being open to learning new concepts, new languages, new ways of thinking and being. By being permeable. We will have to strive to be just as understanding and accepting as we hope to be understood and accepted. In the end, the tangible investment in passport fees, airline tickets, and lodging expenses pay off in that they remove the yoke of low expectations. They can release us from the snares of a society that thinks it’s got us all figured out. Most importantly, these investments pay off in options.
We must have the option to participate in our own society as full-fledged members or be part of the creation of a society that will not hinder us from personal greatness. But we alone have the power to create these options for ourselves. That responsibility – that choice – belongs to no one but us.
Once you have your passport, if you decide to leave permanently, do not feel like you’ve abandoned anything. You are merely following in the footsteps of our (s)heroes Josephine Baker and James Baldwin and Richard Wright and Nina Simone and W.E.B. Du Bois, searching beyond the borders of the United States for a cure to that cancer of oppression. You, like them, may flourish in foreign soil and find safety and peace.
If you do return, you will do so in the spirit of Zora Neale Hurston and Malcolm X and Langston Hughes and Katherine Dunham and Angela Davis: eyes opened, mentally unchained, and better equipped to withstand the renewed assault on your spirit once repatriated. You’ll be able to act as an example for other brothers and sisters – of all colors – in their quest for growth, enlightenment, self-worth, freedom, peace, and even physical safety. Basic rights, but options, too.
A passport isn’t the antidote to financial woes or family drama or failing schools or racial profiling. But it is a door opener, an exit, a way out, an escape to the boundless existence – the boundless life – that we deserve as human beings. A passport allows us to choose our reality, be it here or abroad.
Previous generations fought for our right to be first-class citizens of the United States, a right that, just a few days ago, was denied yet again for a black youth born in this country.
It is now our duty to be first-class citizens of the world.
Since July, I’ve been to nine countries on five continents, and I don’t think I’ve spent more than five nights in any one location, with the exception of a 7-day cruise with my family where my movement was essentially limited to the Lido Deck.
During these past two months, I’ve had immovable work deadlines and perilously-late paychecks, last-minute press trips and schmooze-soaked travel conferences, a sobering near-breakup and a sobering death in the family. I’ve juggled professional, personal, and social spheres, seeing friends and family whenever I could and taking on writing assignments as frequently as possible. I have pressures to maintain a positive cash flow, maintain a long-distance relationship, maintain personal relationships, maintain professional growth, maintain a blog and a social media presence, maintain my physical health, maintain my sanity. My fingernails are bitten down to the bloody cuticle. ‘Taint no vacation we’re talking about here.
Life on the road is still life—uncut and unadulterated life, with bills, headaches, disappointments, and unrealized goals. At the end of the day, uncompleted items remain on each to-do list, and at the end of the month, a few days on the bank statement inevitably glow red (for now). But it’s the hope for a fulfilling life that keeps me advancing through air and uncertainty instead of coasting on autopilot through a manufactured existence in service to someone who isn’t me but who profits from my talents and resources. It’s the hope that I’ll eventually get as close to “figuring it all out” as I can, that the effort and striving and leaps of faith will turn into something materially-tangible, yes, but more than that—something soul-calming. Something fulfilling. With as few regrets as possible.
Because there’s nowhere any of us can go to escape uncut and unadulterated life, no country or continent where real life won’t intrude suddenly and without warning. The key to hope—and fulfillment—is to embrace, then face the challenges, tackling each one like a wave on the ocean of adventure.
Between July and December 2012, I’ve got five specific destinations on my to-do list. Being on the list doesn’t mean that I’ll actually make it there by the end of the year, but I’m going to try my darnedest. All of these destinations are new for me and I’m definitely hyped about discovering each one for myself!
The Bangkok ticket is already purchased and part of my upcoming Whirlwind Southeast Asia Grand Tour 2012. Though I’ve been to the region before, I’ve never been to Thailand and I’m looking forward to dipping my toes into the exhilarating chaos that is Bangkok. I love Thai food, so there’s a start right there!
The Danish capital has been calling me for a while, and since one of my very good friends from Brasília will be moving there for graduate school, I’ve got no reason to postpone a trip any longer. I have indeed spent a couple of hours changing planes at the cozy-yet-bustling airport and I’m eager to see how the city measures up to my favorite Scandinavian capital, Stockholm.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I have only heard amazing things about Addis from my friends that have been there, and I’m definitely looking forward to snagging one of the under-500 euro airfares to Ethiopia during the second half of the year. As my Ghana trip recently fell through, this would then be my first sub-Saharan African destination. I’m stoked just thinking about the ridiculous music scene there.
Oh, Canada. Despite knowing mad-cool peeps who hail from within your borders, I’ve never visited you. It is time. I’ll be swinging through “Tron-O” in a few weeks to meet up with a good buddy of mine from my Colombia days who’s since gone corporate and has a couple of rugrats. My girl Oneika the Traveller says the T is off the heezy…only time will tell.
As part of a lengthy writing excursion to Ecuador, I’ll be popping over to the Pacific Coast and the verdant region of Esmeraldas (literally, Emeralds). Not only does the place lay claim to black sand beaches and a breathtaking coastline, but Esmeraldas is also the center of the country’s Afro-Ecuadorian community. Yes, it’s where most of the brothers on the Ecuadorian soccer team come from.
Make sure you stay tuned to Fly-Brother.com and get lifted with me.
Images by: mr. Wood, hoangnt, Irene2005, Hanover Phist, and crocodile gena.
Though there is no substitute for actual travel, there is something you can buy at your local bookstore or newsstand that’s as close as you can get to scarfing down a Turkish döner in Berlin, catching an Argentinean documentary in Quito, hanging ten off the coast of Bangladesh without actually coughing up the airfare: Afar.
Based in San Francisco (check out the minds behind the mag), the bi-monthly magazine focuses on “experiential travel,” which it defines as being connected with “the authentic essence of a place and its people.” This theme pervades every page of the magazine, from feature stories that take you into the dumpling kitchens of Shanghai and Lee Harvey Oswald’s former apartment in Minsk to double-page spreads featuring the beer cans, national birds, and traditional hats from around the globe. The articles, expertly-written and as respectful of other cultures as I’ve ever seen in print media, keep me in perpetual wanderlust, tinged with a bit of envy at the caliber of the text and slight annoyance that the editors haven’t tapped me for one of their “Spin the Globe” features (where they drop you in a foreign place with nothing but a few dollars and your own travel wits; I’m available, Afar…I’ll call in sick to the day job if I need to! *wink*).
And in the vein of experiential travel, Afar sponsors educational excursions and youth development programs through its foundation, coupling social change and personal development with international travel.
So if you haven’t already checked out a copy of Afar, run to the nearest B&N, or better yet, subscribe through their website to get your bimonthly dose of travel porn, stuffed with gems like this (from “When Being a Good Traveler Means Being a Bad Guest” by Chris Colin, May/June 2011 issue):
“The poignancy of a place lies at the intersection of its virtues and its flaws…
To care only for the airbrushed version of a place is not to care much for it at all – it’s hardly love if your partner knows your charming smile but not your bad breath. So, too, with a place: Your affection takes on depth only after you’ve glimpsed the imperfections and made room for them in your embrace.”
The other day, a friend asked me where I’d like to go next, now that I’ve got 30 countries under my belt. There’s still much of the world to see, aside from some of my favorite places that consistently call me back. Many places still incite visions of adventure whenever I see their names on a map, and here are a scant few (in alphabetical order):
One of the homes of world-famous Brazilian martial art – capoeira – and one of the most expensive countries on the planet, it’s the culture of Angola that interests me. I’ve heard that it’s very similar to northeastern Brazil, but with a particular musical swagger all its own.
I’ve yet to make it Down Under, and though Sydney is definitely on the itinerary, I’m also trying to hit Melbourne (artsy, bohemian, so I’m told), Queensland (tropical beaches, tropical beaches, tropical beaches), and Perth (just cuz).
Greenland just looks cool as hell. Icebergs, li’l tiny villages at the edge of the sea, ludicrously-large landforms…as a native Floridian who travels mostly in the tropics, I’ve never seen anything like it! Well, I’ve flown over it and was duly impressed.
Yes, there’s unrest going on in Libya right now, but unfortunately, unrest is a part of life. That still doesn’t stop me from thinking about trekking up to some of the best-preserved Roman ruins still in existence, called Leptis Magna. I hope to get there before they become – wait for it – ruined by mass tourism.
Papua New Guinea
Not only does PNG, officially the only country in Oceania that borders an Asian country, offer up an interesting local culture and is off the radar of most travelers, it’s also got the Carteret Islands, which are in the process of inundation due to global warming. And, somehow, it’s got black folks. There’s something they’re not telling us (raises eyebrow).
Where do you want to go?
Oh, Woody, ye of a thousand neuroses. You’ve gone and hit mine right on the nose: that romantic yearning to experience a particular place during a particular time that’s not my own. I’ve almost always felt a disconnect between the time and place where I grew up, the conservative port city of Jacksonville, Florida, and Woody Allen’s newest film, Midnight in Paris, spoke directly to that disconnect and its resultant desire:
To have been in Paris as the Jazz Age unfolded, black American expatriates providing the soundtrack that literary luminaries lived and loved by. Or over in burgeoning Berlin, when every artform known to humankind flourished in unbridled creativity and “divine decadence” during the Weimar Republic. To have hob-nobbed with our people’s best and brightest during the Harlem Renaissance of the 30s, or at the same time, rolled the dice in the casinos and opium dens of salacious Shanghai. To have been a part of on-and-popping LA in the 1940s, with Hollywood and “The War” leading SoCal’s economic boom; or in 1950s Havana, which rivaled Rome for La Dolce Vita. To have swung through the youth explosion in 60s London, and then grown out the ‘fro and got funky in chaotic, melodic 70s oil boomtowns Caracas and Lagos. To have dodged bullets for multilingual street culture in the vice-ridden Miami of the 80s and made a name for myself in the booming New York of the 90s. I know, I know…segregation and Giuliani and whatnot; it’s all fantasy isn’t it? And I am, increasingly, a creature of the 20th century.
But those times, when culture and commerce conspired to make those cities great, are happening right now in other cities – in São Paulo, in Bangkok, in Johannesburg, in Dubai – and the history that gave us Zora and Fela, Hayworth and Fellini, Crockett and Tubbs (seriously!) is what informs our current travels and the way we interact with present times and present places. And I don’t think honoring the past means being in denial of the present or avoiding the future. To the contrary, I think it allows previous greatness to feed our own.
So go get lost at Midnight in Paris, then lose yourself in the pages of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, a phenomenal novel about a writer that lived through both World Wars, partied with Prince David and Mrs. Simpson, chilled with Ernest Hemingway and Ian Fleming, and subsisted on dog food in his later years. I wouldn’t doubt that Woody read it himself.
“What’s past is prologue.”
I’m participating in Vai Via’s 15 Day International Travel Challenge, but doubling-up, as I’m not a daily blog poster. So…
Day 09 – A song you like from another country/language:
Day 10 – A favorite foreign movie: Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) – Spain, 1988
This was my very first foreign film, shown as a part of Cinemax’s “Vanguard Cinema” when I was 11 years old. It’s because of this film that I fell in love with the Spanish language, with Rimsky-Korsakov, and with…well…foreign films.