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It’s been a great run, but it’s time for the theblackexperienceabroad to say goodbye.  There will be no more new posts.

 

However the site, with the links to various black travel blogs will remain up and running and will be updated periodically.

 

Thank you to all those who contributed their experiences.

 

-theblackexperienceabroad

Turkish Toilet: Home Edition

I still remember my trip to Morocco in January of 2004,especially my first instance of plain as day culture shock.  A group study abroad trip, we stopped at a rest stop from Rabat airport.  All of the students piled out, ready for the much needed public restroom.

We had no idea that we, especially the ladies were in for a surprise.  Instead of the Western style commodes that we were used to, the public stalls featured a hole in the ground and two mounds that look like foot rests!   Now it seems so silly, we should have realized that were having our first introduction to the “Turkish toilet.”    But we didn’t, I for one exited the stall right away thinking I must have entered a public shower.  A few minutes later, I found out I was wrong.  That was indeed the toilet!  After a little bit group coaching, the next woman inside the stall managed to use the bathroom and flush successfully:  A job well done.

Naturally, the Turkish toilet is found all over Morocco, host families were no exception, some of them not even as nice as the one pictured in this entry.  They were a little hard to get used to, I won’t lie.  But as long as they are clean (and boy oh boy have I seen some not-so clean versions of this toilet, mainly in public rest rooms, and I must say that a dirty public toilet whether a Western one or not, is just not pleasant…. imagine number 2 smeared all over toilet surface… not pleasant indeed).  Besides, the Turkish toilet is a lot more sanitary (or so many people claim) and I can see how that is.  You do your business and it goes directly to the intended destination.  Plus, it strengthens your thigh muscles.  In light of the fact that this type of toilet is found not just in Morocco, but from what I understand it’s a mainstay in much of Eastern Europe and other Arab countries as well. I wouldn’t want my next travel adventure to be thwarted by something as silly as a “stoop and stop ”  toilet.

When people think of London, they think of the pomp and circumstance  associated with the Royal family.  The history behind Westminster Abbey and the iconic landmarks like Big Ben, the London Eye or Madam Toussad’s.

Big Ben at night. it was even more beautiful in person

But how many people get to see this London:

Graffitti in South London, there is lots of this all over the city

or this:

liquor bottle that I had to pick up from my seat on the Tube before I could sit down, I thought it had the makings of a funny picture. It also points to something else that London has a lot of: drunk people. Perhaps not more than any other major city, but perhaps more than what London is thought to have.

More Graffitti

Graffiti, hussle and flow, lower middle class London?  How many people are aware of its existence?  It’s not as if it’s hidden, but it seems to me now, that the American stereotype of Britain is something akin to what I read in those wonderful Victorian era novels.   Of course, this has changed somewhat in light of the riots in England during summer 2011.  I loved strolling through the less touristy parts of this great city, as it gave me insight into the lives of every-day people.

 International calling services are Big buisness in London

This sign at the bus stop points to the flood of immigrants here.  Walking through parts of North or South London (where I stayed) was like walking through the burrows of New York.  A lot of major cities have diverse populations, but I am not talking about a sort of plastic cosmopolitanism.  I mean I stepped into a world that felt like through London, I had traveled to so many different parts of the world by just walking down one city block: The Somali 1 pound store next to the Cyprian owned restaurant, two doors down from the Jamaican carry-out (that incidentally is run by Turks) which is just across the street from the Pakistani run fried chicken place.  All of this and just around the corner the Irish pub sits just beyond a row of houses where orthodox Jews live and the restaurant where the Romanians and Ukranians congregate.

After this trip, London is even more a great city to me, not because of its proximity to European fashions, or its touristy thoroughfare, but because of the everyday people who live, work, survive and thrive here.

NQ- England, January 2011

I was in Egypt for Eid ul-Adha one of the two most important holidays. It is a yearly commemoration of Abraham’s willing to sacrifice his beloved son Ishmael (in the Islamic tradition, of course it was Isaac who was to be sacrificed according to Judaeo-Christian tradition).

Eid ul-Adha (btw, it’s Arabic for the Holiday of the Sacrifice) is a time where hundreds and thousands of cows, and sheep are slaughtered.  It’s an interesting site to see because of the different dimensions of it.

Many object to this holiday, considering it barbaric to kill animals en masse like that.  I personally, don’t see the difference between slaughtering them this way or the horrendous ways in which cattle are butchered in Western societies.  At the end of the day, killing a living thing is not a pretty process.

What Eid al-Adha makes me do is be aware of the fact that meat does not grow on trees.  That steak, that nicely wrapped packet of chicken breasts, was once a living, breathing entity.  When I see how many men it takes to hold down a poor cow or bull before the deed is done, I can’t help but be grateful for the fact that I do not have to catch my own food:  Otherwise I would never eat meat as it is just too cumbersome a process.  More than this though, there is a sort of poetic symbolism that I see in the act of sacrificing an animal.

In Islam meat must be slaughtered a particular way, slashing the animals throat with a sharp knife so that all of the blood runs out (which is pretty similar to what is done in the Jewish tradition to make Kosher meat). The end of life is fast and slow all at once:  There is a gush of blood and then the animal’s movements and breaths get slower and slower.  In this way it’s a metaphor for life in general.  Or perhaps, I am going to deep with this.

The other aspect of Eid al-Adha which perhaps I did not like so much is the spectacle aspect of it.  People on my street literally brought folding chairs out so they could sit and watch, as cow after cow, sheep after sheep were slaughtered and reduced to nothing more than chunks of beef and steak for kabobs and soups.  Then again, I also contributed to this, as I snapped photos from my balcony and other places.   The smell of blood that filled the city was also nothing to be happy about, it’s almost sickening to think of how overpowering it was.  Thankfully, a day or two later and it was gone.

These things aside, much of the meat is given to the poor, people who otherwise would not get meat at all, as it is extremely expensive and beyond the reach of many here.  Charity is something I never scoff at.

Overall I am happy to have had the opportunity to observe how people celebrate such an important holiday in a Muslim-majority country.

The following is a slide show of what I saw.

NOTE: pictures may not be suitable for all audiences, watch with caution and at  your own risk.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anonymous: Egypt, Fall 2011

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Anonymous- Egypt, Sept-Oct 2011

Yemen has never been one of the most popular vacation spots on earth.  I would say it’s probably one of the world’s best kept secrets.   The highest altitude on the Arabian peninsula (or so I was told, time and time again when I was there, Yemen is not a rich country but it’s history, landscapes, and (if you are so inclined) Arabic language learning opportunities are worthwhile.   I enjoyed my time there and most people that I have come across who’ve been have enjoyed it.  Whatever the outcome of the current unrest/revolution in progress there, most people will not get a chance to go to Yemen.  For those of you who have never experienced Yemen, feast your eyes on this.

Roof top, Sanaa

The old city of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital is recognized by the UN as world heritage site.  The nice part about Old Sanaa is that many of the buildings are quite tall.  And so, the views from the rooftops are awesome:

Rooftop Photo of Where Historic Sanaa ends and the New City Begins

Minaret

The view from the ground wasn’t too bad either.

Some people say the buildings look like gingerbread houses.

And then of course there is the landscape:

But everything was not completely unfamiliar:

KFC.... or as Yemeni tax drivers call it, "Kentucky"

Pizza Hut

GDS – Yemen, May-June 2007

Or are the two like oil and water???

I’d have to say it’s more like tap water and fake olive oil!

I have had a nice introduction of Bangkok but it’s certainly time for me to move on. I will soon be heading to Chiang Mai where I intend to stay for a week (including day and possibly overnight trips)!

After a 16 hour bus ride plus 3/4 transportation changes, I arrived in Bangkok from Phnom Penh, Cambodia last Saturday!

The ticket purchased in Phnom Penh was also negotiable(some don’t know this) and includes either 1) free pick up from a well known guest house or 2) reimbursement if you take a $2 moto to the bus station.

Some people did not know pick up was included, but in principle the travel agencies and/or bus companies are supposed to provide this service. I took a bus called Virak, which was apparently a tourist bus for that particular route with close to 100% foreigners. I was the only Black person on all of the buses/vans.

Most of us were lead to believe it would be a 12 hour journey with only ONE change of bus. Ha ha… Welcome to Cambodia!!!

Fastforward to Bangkok,

I could feel an immediate difference from Phnom Penh. Of course BKK is a huge city filled with tourists and more developed than it’s neighbor. I was surprised to see many Thai females of all ages dressed in attire which clearly displayed legs, cleavage and in some cases mid sections and other parts!!!! I still can’t get over that. I’ve never had any prior exposure to Thailand. Somehow I thought it would have been more conservative.

Overall I did not feel the same friendly vibe as I did in Phnom Penh. It seemed like many Thais in Bangkok were nice cause they ‘had’ to be (i.e. Tourism) whereas the Cambodians seemed more genuine with their hospitality. That’s just my take on things strictly from a Bangkok perspective. I guess it’s like saying New York is not the most friendly US city when there are other places to visit!

I will be in Chiang Mai and other northern cities and I’ll give y’all an update!

Anyway,

The first two nights I stayed in a guesthouse with a Russian I met from Cambodia. The following two nights I stayed with an African couchsurfer and now I’m staying the last two nights with another African couchsurfer! Why so long in Bangkok you may ask? I had a few things to take care of which prolonged my stay!

From what I understand, the Africans are mistreated here and are subject to discrimination and to police corruption. Last night I was walking in downtown with my host and another African and we had to turn around and make a detour because the policemen were checking the IDs of Blacks. Apparently they harass Africans and try to get money out of them. My friend’s resturant was ‘inspected’ by the police for nothing other than attempting to extort money.

Additionally, I saw many African prostitutes to my surprise and lots of African brothers hanging around some shady areas. There were, however, many Africans playing soccer, teaching and owning businesses as well.

Some people still stared at me, but not like they did in Cambodia!

I found the bus system to be the most confusing thing on earth for a complete novice. I sort of got the hang of things after a while. By the way, please take the air conditioned YELLOW buses (usually 12 baht or more on some buses, still did not figure that one out) because traffic is madness and you’ll be burning up.

Sometimes the bus drivers would stop, other times they’d keep going. Overall I found them incompetent and inconsiderate! On the other hand, the taxis were honest, reliable, inexpensive and plentiful and this is coming from someone who usually hates taking taxis!

Overall, Bangkok is an overcrowded, hot and humid place worth skipping unless you love big and polluted cities and/or have an actual purpose (friends, family, other business) in the city.

So far I am still searching for the ‘Land of Smiles’. I am ready to move on to my next destination.

P.S. I apologize for the typos as I’m tired!

Stay tuned,

PINK

Pink- Thailand, February 2011.

Well, sort of. I will give y’all a brief summary of my two weeks here in Cambodia!

I visited the following towns: Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, some small village outside of K Cham (staying with a peace corps girl) and finally Phnom Penh!

The world famous Angkor Wat temple

 
The people have been friendly in all of the towns I visited. They still seem a bit curious concerning Black women even in the capital city. The funny thing is that other tourists have been staring at me too, especially White men (don’t get that one). I felt like a walking celebrity in these Cambodian streets. I even chilled with some monks!

There has been a particular nationality of men who have been off the chain. No, I don’t want a night cap, you can’t get a kiss on the lips and I don’t wanna marry you or go back to your house and stop talking about how the last White woman you met slept with you after only 1 hour of meeting. If I was into that kind of business, I’d be charging more than just a dinner!!!! ha ha ha

Anyway,

I did go to a Cambodian hair salon just for a shampoo/condition and blow dry. When I walked in the people just stared at me and giggled. We were finally able to get the communication thing down. $3 for the service, down from the original asking price of $4. My counter offer was $2!

Almost everything is open for price negotiations, even bus tickets. One thing is for sure, if you are NOT Cambodian don’t expect the same prices for most goods and services even if you know the local price! It works sometimes if you insist that you know, but it doesn’t always work out. This was very frustrating for me because in Africa I was able to often get local prices and even lower in some cases!😦
Different strokes for different folks!

Not everyone is out to get you, but I felt many people were out to make a quick buck or two off tourists in any way possible including outright deception. Some may argue with me here, but I don’t believe in paying outrageous prices on almost everything because ‘we’ Westerners can afford it!!! This often inflates the market, even for the locals!! Then again, I am one who shops at the Thift Store, sleeps at airports to save on hotels will walk for an hour to avid paying for a $1 taxi and will argue over 25 cents if it’s a question of integrity!!!

This is still, however, a 3rd world country and people see tourists and tourism as a means to generate income. At the end of the day can you blame their hustle?

I was able to stay with someone for most of my time in Phnom Penh and the last two nights in a guest house as a treat from a friend!

My food budget was up to $2 per meal, but I had to go over that budget a couple of times!😦 Overall, I stayed within my limit!

I met several travelers along the way and either hung out with them or hit the streets alone. I am sociable so meeting people is not a problem for me. There were a few moments of loneliness but it was all good!

One of my favorite lines, “Laidee, u want tuk-tuk or moto?” My last day I started saying, “Yes, for free only!” The driver often replied, “Yes, free for you” but I laughed and kept walking. I did manage to get a free lift from a moto to the end of the block since another driver wanted $1, negro please!!!!

I would return to Cambodia, armed with more street smarts!

Well I am off to Thailand in a few hours!

 

Pink- Cambodia, February 2011.

What to wear is definitely the proverbial question that you should ask yourself, especially if you are headed to a destination that is quite different culturally from the community in which you live.

There are no hard and fast rules, which can be frustrating, but, of course you should check with those who have or are in your destination choice.  It’s hard to divvy up parts of the world, but here are a few tips from personal experience, and a few links to help get you thinking about what to wear.

And for most destinations, we concur

1. Western Europe– Have you ever wondered why so many Americans look up to (Western) Europe for the latest trends in Fashion?  Well, a visit to France (of Course!) Italy, Spain, or even the UK might make it plain for you.  Of course there are exceptions, but Western Europeans tend to dress up a bit more than Americans do.  While sneakers are not necessarily a no-no, you will find more women strutting their stuff in heels and full makeup.  What you choose to wear here may have more to do with whether you want to blend in, or stand out from the rest of the population.

http://www.francetravelguide.com/what-to-wear-in-france-in-the-summer.html

http://gofrance.about.com/od/culture/a/dressinfrance_2.htm

http://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/shopping/barcelona-clothes.html

http://www.travellerspoint.com/forum.cfm?thread=2203

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187427-c98918/Spain:Dress.Suggestions.For.Spain.html

http://www.journeywoman.com/ccc/ccc-i2.html

http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/what-to-wear-in-italy.html

2. The Middle East and North Africa and Majority Muslim countries Like Malaysia or Senegal or Muslim majority areas in non-Muslims majority countries (gee, that was a mouthful)– more is.. well, more.  While you will find people, including locals who break these rules, you should not.   If you are female, there is no need to run and buy a headscarf, abaya or something like that (not unless you are in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), but belly t-shirts, shorts, short-skirts (above the knee and shorter, but in some places, knee-length might be considered risque), sleeveless shirts should probably be left at home.  If you are a man, and love those shirt-less running sessions, then you are out of luck.  It would be best to wear a t-shirt.  Unless you are running (i.e. in the act of exercising) then shorts are probably out of the question altogether.  If you are planning on attending a wedding/engagement party, you may want to pack something very elegant… people tend to really dress up (think prom) for weddings.

http://www.journeywoman.com/gfc/egypt_whattowear.html

http://secure.hospitalityclub.org/hc/forum.php?action=DisplayMessage&StartMessageId=136960&language=ru

http://moroccanmaryam.typepad.com/my_marrakesh/2007/04/morocco_and_wha.html

http://www.wanderlust.co.uk/magazine/photography/what-not-to-wear-in-marrakesh-morocco—by-suzanne-porter/having-lived-in-marrakesh-for-several-years-now-ive-noticed-the-number-of-inappropriately-dressed-tourists-in-morocco-has-soared-particularly-since/919

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1662000

China: Western clothing should be appropriate for China, except for short-shorts and halter tops.   Again, people tend to dress up a bit more than they do in the U.S. For more info, see:

http://www.snapshotjourneys.com/china-travel-clothing.html

http://www.journeywoman.com/ccc/ccc-c.html

http://community.travelchinaguide.com/forum2.asp?i=20356

Latin America– Again, this will really depend on the country.  But people and particularly, women tend to be less casual than in the U.S.  You should try to go the mid road, shirts should not be too low cut and shirts/shorts should not be too short.  This should help you  avoid harassment.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1705023

http://olemole.wordpress.com/2008/05/17/what-to-wear-in-mexico/

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1489736

http://www.travelexpertguide.org/forum/Mexico/What-should-I-wear-in-Mexico-310719.htm

Of Course this list is not exhaustive there are plenty or regions/countries left out and  the time of year will also play a role in what you choose to pack, but hopefully this post will help you as you pick your travel wardrobe.

Happy Packing!

Rough Translation, "Hey beautiful walk in the shade, the sun melts chocolate."

Ah, harassment, a reality faced by many a person who goes abroad and in some cases, walks down their hometown’s Main Street.  Let’s define it broadly as unwanted taunts, hoops, hollers and comments in general in reference to race or gender:   Anything from innocent cat-calls to downright racist epithets and gesticulations.

There’s certainly no need to point fingers at any particular place, but suffice it to say that it happens to varying degrees in a lot of different places from NYC to Cairo to Russia.

Harassment should never deter you from traveling.  I repeat street harassment should never deter you from traveling.  With that said, it can be annoying, jarring and even in some extreme cases scarring.  But here are some tips that might help you brush your shoulders off.

1. Shades– Sunglasses enable you to avoid eye contact with harassers.  You won’t notice them as much and/or you can pretend like you don’t see them.  Many harassers like to get a raise out of their “prey.”  So if you don’t even notice them or it seems like you didn’t  and just keep walking forward they will probably try to move on to someone else.

2. Headphones. – they are yet another way to look like you are not paying attention to their gawks and cat-calls, making them look like fools when you don’t respond.  You don’t even have to actually use a music player, the appearance of headphones is good enough. You don’t even have to actually use a music player, the appearance of headphones is good enough.

3. Walk around with a buddy– there is strength in numbers, especially at night and in unfamiliar parts of towns and cities.  If you are female, a male buddy might even be better. If potential harassers see you with someone of the opposite sex, they may be less willing to risk being hostile (or super friendly) and angering your male companion.

4. Dress conservatively– this one doesn’t necessarily make a difference everywhere,  and it will mean different things in different places. But keep in mind the standards of dress for the place you are visiting.  You don’t have to blend in with the locals, but for example,  if it is a community or country where women don’t wear non-sleeves, then your tank-top and above the knee skirt ensemble is sure to raise a few eyebrows and garner  some unwanted attention.  This is not just a tip for ladies though; there are communities for example where men in shorts or sleeveless shirts are a no-go.  In essence, be wise and find out about the “dress code” before you go.  But don’t stress too much about it as it is sure to be more flexible for foreigners than what they are for the local population.

In the event that you are yelled or confronted in the street, it’s probably best in most situations to ignore it.  Choose the path of least confrontation and feign deafness whenever possible— remember the old adage, “sticks and stones”…   as you are in another country it is probably not best to rock the boat.

But

if things do get physical,  call out for help immediately. You should definitely memorize this word in your destination language if you do not know it already.

There are certainly other tips out there, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask people who have been to your destination about their strategies.

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