Category: Concepts of Beauty/Masculinity


One Saturday morning, on a quiet street in the El Vedado section of Havana, Cuba, my classmates and I, who were attending a Spanish language immersion program at the University of Havana, were mounting our bicycles getting ready for a guided tour of the city. I noticed an attractive Afro-Cuban woman observing us from across the street and went over to introduce myself. Her eyes lit up like a neon sign as I heard virtual cash registers ringing in her head. Just because I’m an American she seemed to have felt that I’m a black relative of Bill Gates or Donald Trump and sought to get what she could.

I saw Luisa as opportunity to practice my Spanish and get immersed in Afro-Cuban culture.

In turn, I saw Luisa as opportunity to practice my Spanish and get immersed in Afro-Cuban culture. I met her two children Miguel (7) and Ingrid (5); her mother Isabel, and her brother Ronaldo, and other members of her family who lived in a rough-looking housing project across the street from where I was staying. However, after visiting Luisa numerous times, I realized that, although the people were poor, there was hardly any crime. The Cuban government is very hard on crime. What might get you a slap on the wrist in the USA can easily get you 10 to 20 years in Cuba.

The first time Luisa and I were alone, her first request was that I take her back to the United States. The last thing I wanted in Cuba was to find a wife; especially one who couldn’t see past my wallet. She started telling her family, that I was going to take her. My response was that I wanted to stay here in Cuba with her, and together we can support the revolution. That shut her up! But later, as we went shopping, she lured me over to the appliance section trying to get me to buy her a refrigerator; way over my vacation budget.

The last thing I wanted to do in Cuba was a wife; especially one who couldn’t see past my wallet.

As I got to know Luisa better, I realized that she was not being devious. She was desperately trying to make ends meet for her and her children. And with this unrelenting trade embargo against Cuba, it was evident that it wasn’t hurting Castro nearly as much as it is hurting people like Luisa and her children. For this reason, I felt good about helping Luisa and her family in ways I could afford. The day before my departure, I gave the children Miguel and Ingrid gifts that they thoroughly appreciated. You can just see the exhilaration in their eyes. I also handed her mother some money.

After returning home to Oakland, Luisa and I stayed in touch by phone and by mail. I just feel bad that it is so difficult to send money or gifts without the Cuban government’s greedy interference.Luisa, her children,and her mother and are friends separated by politics.

My trip to Cuba was a vacation from heaven. There was something about the energy of the Cuban people that made me feel like a long, lost member of the community who finally came home. Words cannot express how uplifted I felt to just walk about town hearing salsa, merengue, and Afro-Cuban music blaring from homes and businesses. One day, there was a group of us walking through Central Havana as we heard this loud salsa song coming from a restaurant. I couldn’t take it anymore. I reached out and grabbed a woman, and we danced right there in public. Of the 12 countries that I’ve visited in my life, Cuba is the only country from which I returned feeling homesick.
I was born in St. Louis, MO, and lived in a closely knit African-American community called “The Ville.”

In fact, many Latin-American people suspect that I might be Cuban. Even Cubans thought I was Cuban until I opened my mouth. I couldn’t even fake a Cuban accent. At a popular Havana night spot, I was so flattered when a lovely woman asked my date if she could cut in to dance with me. I took her into my arms and busted one of my favorite salsa moves. She was NOT impressed, as she blurted out in astonishment, ¡tu bailas como extranjero /you dance like a foreigner!). I guess she thought I was Cuban too.

Even Cuban people thought I was Cuban until I opened my mouth!

The Cubans have a name for people like me. It’s called “Yuma,” a slang word for an American, and rightfully so. I was born in St. Louis, MO and lived in what was then, a closely knit African-American community called “The Ville” before moving to New York City where I was influenced by my Puerto Rican neighbors to learn Spanish and love salsa music. Perhaps, I may have been Cuban in another life? I tend to think that just might be the case.

– Bill Smith, Cuba- Summer 2010

*Bill Smith is a hobbyist who explores black cultures in Latin-American countries through reading and travel.For more information on Bill and his experiences abroad please visit www.ahorasecreto.blogspot.com.

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Fekete Pákó is the name of a TV star and singer in Hungary. His real name is Oludayo Olapite. He comes from Nigeria and came to Hungary in 1994 on scholarship to study Law, but later dropped out. His two Hungarian CDs have sold up to 31,000 copies. Enough to earn him golden platinum and make him a big star in Hungary. 

On how he actually got into showbiz, Olapite recalls it was his friend, Molnár Sándor who came up with an idea. Sándor had asked what seemed to be a crazy question: “What if a black man sings Hungarian folklore?” The rest is now history.

You could think that the existence of a Black Hungarian TV personality is a beautiful example of integration and interculturalism within Europe. According to many, it’s quite the opposite. Fekete Pákó is a rather racist act that creates an image of sex obsessed, polygamous, human eating dummies.

The Hungarian tabloids are so obsessed with him to the extent of making him the spokesperson for Africans in Hungary even though it’s apparent that Pákó does not know much about African politics, culture and social life. Yet, they prefer him to those Hungarian Africans who are competent in this field, as well as speak more fluent Hungarian.

Headlines such as “Celeb Sex: Fekete Pákó in Online Cock Measuring Contest”; “Pákó Fekete Officially crowned Dumbest Hungarian”; “Cleb Dish: Szulak Stalked by “Cannibal” Pákó” is the kind of sensational misrepresentation you could read in Hungarian tabloids.

However, strong opposition comes from his own people. Fekete Pákó is not loved by his own people. Africans and especially Nigerians in Hungary simply hate him. They alleged he is denigrating black people in Hungary with his utterances and lifestyle.

Fredrick Konor, a Ghanaian who is a member of SANKOFA Cultural group, believes Pákó can’t sing but the guy has other characters like being funny, doing unexpected things that have lured Hungarian tabloids to him. “We should stop the jealousy,” he says indignantly. “Our brother came from nowhere with a fresh idea to breakthrough a sector which is highly competitive. An African singing in Hungarian language!”.

It’s true, he did something no one did before and he made a living out of it. And we could think if the likes of Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre and 50Cent are not in the same way abusing ideas about black people to make a lot of money in the show business. But then again, maybe we should not take all this too seriously. Why not appreciate the irony and self mockery in all this?

This article was written thanks to an article from The Nation (Nigeria) by Olumide Olapite. Click here to read the full article.

 

-Sibo Kano- August 2009

Originally posted at: http://afroeurope.blogspot.com/2009/08/fekete-pako-black-hungarian-super-star.html

For news and information on people of African descent in Europe please visit:

http://afroeurope.blogspot.com/

Today was my final class in Cross Cultural Communication. On schedule we had a Swedish woman that was to lecture about the American business culture. I was curious to hear if the experiences she shared with the class would be positive or negative. Swedes have a love/hate relationship with the United States. I don’t want to make generalizations but its like there is an obsession with the US and people are extreme in their feelings about it. Either you are 100% pro-America or you hate it, that’s it..there is no indifference here about the US.

Anyway, overall the lecture was interesting and at times really funny until the subject of racism came up. Now, you have to understand that Swedes do not think that they are racist or that racism exists here. Today, there is a serial killer running around targetting immigrants in Malmö, the third largest town in Sweden. There are problems with integration here…I mean entire areas in Stockholm where there are only immigrants that live there, but when she mentioned that her real estate broker in the US thought that she would be able to get an apartment because she wasn’t black or Jewish my classmates were appalled. My lecturer’s reaction was, “yes, these things happen even today in the US” but ask anyone in Sweden with a certain type of last name if they felt that they have been denied an apartment or a job and you hear that yes, these things happen even today in Sweden.

I didn’t feel comfortable with the issue of racism being brought up, because its complicated and something that a white foreigner really could never understand, much less attempt to explain. I am african american and I still can’t wrap my head around racism at times, so its not appropriate for it to be “just a bullet point” on a powerpoint presentation of a Swedish woman who lived in the States for seven years.

As a consequence of this racism -as a subject dabbling, a few of my classmates started to ask me questions…yippee…. about the situation and what its like to deal with racism in the US.

I started off with my view that its a completed subject. I had to explain that I didn’t feel “held down by the shackles of the man” on a daily basis. Yes, I was aware that there were country clubs that did not allow Blacks to join but I had to explain, that I didn’t know where they were. It wasn’t like I was shaking the guard gates screaming, let me in, let me in. Yes, I did agree that the American dream was a myth to most but that only in the US, could the phenomenon that is OPRAH be an example of a dream made real. I also had to point out that poverty should not be exclusively assigned to a racial group. Most Swedes, because of negative media, believe that most black people are poverty stricken and that isn’t true.

So, I did appreciate the lecturer’s viewpoint that racism is bad but it left too many unanswered questions or too much room for people to draw the wrong conclusions. Racism is everywhere. Its human nature to divide ourselves and create “otherness”. At least in the US we admit to our weaknesses and don’t try to pretend that the problems don’t exist because they do, but as long as people need to feel better about themselves at the expense of others it will continue…just like the shootings in Malmö.

Kyana- Sweden, November 2010

originally posted at http://www.kyanainsweden.com/2010/11/guest-speaker-and-racism.html

*For more information on Kyana and her experiences please visit: http://www.kyanainsweden.com/

For over twenty years I’ve been traveling and living abroad. I’ve been all over the United States down to Mexico and the Caribbean and across the ocean to Europe. I’ve become acquainted with nearly one hundred cities in seventeen countries spread over three continents, each of which, through a slight gesture or a grandiose revelation, gave me insight into what it means to be a black woman in the world.

 

Firstly, my travels have taught me that America’s futile obsession with race does not define me even though it’s done it’s best to convince me that I’m not relationship material, that I’m loud and otherwise ignorant, i.e. socially inept, and that if I’m financially successful, I’m an anomaly.

 

In contrast, the people in each of the countries I visited were interested in me because I was a black woman. They listened when I spoke and wanted to know about black culture in America. Bit by bit, with each journey, I expelled all remnants of a racist ideology that, unwittingly, I had internalized.

 

By the time I moved to the Netherlands, eleven years ago, the slate had been wiped clean enough for me to inscribe my own definition of who I was. Dutch culture does not see blackness first and foremost, nor does it place a stigma on skin color. Therefore, instead of focusing on how others perceive me because I’m a black woman, I feel empowered to focus on my creative potential as an author, mother and individual.

 

America’s obsession with race extends to the black community, where it is felt deepest in our negative body image. Nowhere is this felt with greater intensity than among black women and our hair. We’ve managed to politicize something as personal as hair care. Hair continues to divide us. Even now we’re in the middle of a polemic, one side of which tells us that if we chemically process our hair, we’re ashamed of our heritage and have a poor self-image, as though sporting natural locks could somehow obliterate all of our issues, past and present.

 

In the absence of Dudley products, I’ve been forced to ground my body image in other areas besides the physical. I started paying attention to the fact that people responded to my openness, were drawn to my genuine interest in their culture and were attracted to my growing self-confidence. That, in turn, empowered me to love the body the good Lord gave me – with a couple tweaks here and there! I’m a lovely shade of brown, my body is healthy and my hair is versatile. I’ll change my hairstyle at the toss of a coin depending on what part of my character I want to express that day. Being abroad has taught me that my brown body is just that: a brown body. I get to tell the world exactly what that brown body stands for, not vice versa.

 

In addition to learning that my hair and that America’s racist ideology do not define me, traveling abroad has taught me that I have a distinctive voice. As in writing, voice is not limited to the words I use but extends to how I get my message across. The fact that I travel speaks volumes to the multi-dimensional identity of black women in general. The way I dress, how I pass along the legacies of the black culture to my children, how I interact with my husband, down to how I try to dance on the cross trainer at my gym listening to Prince, George Clinton and the Doobie Brothers are all extensions of the voice I carry within.

 

When I turned to words – through blogging and writing my memoir – I connected with other sisters living abroad and tuned into that vibrant community. I learned that we could be, and were, an indispensable support for one another. We shared past hurts, present successes and future dreams. Their voices, expressed through their stories, resonated with and fused into mine, making it stronger, clearer and eloquent.

 

As I look back over the past twenty years of traveling abroad, I realize that my journeys haven’t been about stepping outside my country as much as venturing internally towards a definition of my black womanhood expressed in my own terms and on my own terms. Those journeys have empowered me to successfully live beyond the limitations of my comfort zone, beyond the limitations of my identity.

* Carolyn Vines-

*Besides being an author, editor and award-winning blogger, Carolyn Vines is a full-time mother of two bicultural, bilingual daughters. She holds an MA in Latin American literature and has taught in universities in the Netherlands and in the US. She speaks Spanish and Dutch fluently and currently resides with her family in the Netherlands.  Her memoir, black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity is available online at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Barnes & Noble online.

For more information on Carolyn and her memoir  please visit:   http://www.blackandabroad.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, you read that correctly! I let a non-black woman do my hair! For those of you who haven’t heard, hair is a big deal to black woman. Because our hair texture is so unique, it’s difficult to find non-black people that can properly maintain it. Even shampooing black hair can turn terribly wrong and end up in tangles  if you don’t know what you’re doing! I’ve been observing the texture of Egyptian womens’ hair and the technique they use to straighten it. Like black women, the textures range from tightly coiled, coarse curls to loose waves. Most of the women go to the salon weekly to get their hair flat-ironed straight. A few black female expats have recommended that I try the Egyptian salons instead of my futile battle with the creamy-crack (permanent relaxers). Because all the women I’ve known who regular visit Egyptian salons have natural, non-chemically processed hair, I was hesitant to take their advice. Relaxed hair is more fragile than hair in its natural state.

This week, my new roommates and I threw a birthday/house-warming party. I am currently 2 months post-relaxer and I’ve been tying my hair into an ever-lasting ponytail so that I can avoid combing through my thick new growth.Nonetheless, I really wanted to look nice for the party and actually dress up so I spent the entire week whining to my roommates that I didn’t know what to do with my hair. My Somalian roommate suggested that I just go to the Egyptians and let them flat iron it. I considered this a last resort for some time until she went to the salon by our apartment and got her hair done. She returned with her naturally curly hair sleek and shiny. Ok, I thought, it worked for her but we don’t have the same hair texture. They could still totally screw my hair up…

Finally, the day of our party came and I had no desire to battle my tresses myself so I took a deep breath, said a couple Hail Mary’s, and trudged over to the salon nearby. Fatma, the beautician, greeted me with a smile and took me over to the sink to wash and condition my hair. I’d brought my Wave Nouveau moisturizer and I asked her to put it in my hair to serve as  heat-protection. She then sat me in front of a mirror and pulled out a rounder brush and a blow dryer. Oh gosh, this is going to be painful, I thought. I’d like to see her get through these thick roots with just that! I braced myself for what I was certain would be an agonizing experience.

To my surprise, it didn’t hurt at all! Fatma parted my hair into fours and rolled the rounder brush through each sections as she held the blow dryer to my hair. The technique was what I’ve come to know as the Dominican Blowout except that the Dominican salons usually precede this process with a rollerset under the hairdryer. After the blow out,  she flat ironed my hair to get any remaining curl out. She worked so quickly and efficiently, that I was surprised when we were done. I looked in the mirror and admired the weightless and bouncy feel of my newly straightened hair. I finally exhaled a sigh of relief and smiled! I loved the end-results*!

All Egyptian salons use similar techniques to straighten hair. The cost is about 20-30 LE (approximately $4-6). Although I wouldn’t recommend the technique on a regular basis b/c of the harsh effects of direct heat being applied to your hair, it’s nice for a special occasion.

*the crimp in my hair is my fault b/c I tried to wrap it to shower later on

Frenchie- Egypt June, 2010

Originally posted at:  http://blackincairo.blogspot.com/2010/06/i-got-my-herr-did-at-egyptian-salon.html

*For more information on Frenchie and her experiences in Cairo please visit:  http://blackincairo.blogspot.com/

The first blog I started during my stay in South Africa was entitled the South African experience. In it I documented the ups and downs of life and work in the country and I thoroughly enjoyed doing so from early 2008 to mid 2009 until my anonymity was in jeopardy and I shut down the blog. However, I still felt the urge to continue writing about my encounters, discoveries, feelings, joys and pains in such a unique and contrasted country so I started another blog entitled An African in South Africa. This too has become defunct, this time because I had left the country and no longer wanted to blog.

But the title of the latter blog was aptly chosen as it reflected the identity I chose to espouse (or was made to acknowledge) while living in the country: a distinct African (read Black) in an African country. At first, it was difficult to realize that I had to ‘feel’ that I was Black and a different Black person at that (because other Africans are considered different) in an African country. My decision to leave the West (The U.S. and U.K.) to feel at home anywhere in my continent felt worthless. Life strangely resembled in many respects life in America as a Black person and that didn’t feel good at all. As a single Black Muslim female from West Africa, I progressively became conscious of how different I was and therefore of how unique my experience would be.

I defied the odds. I was a minority in a majority group, for I am Black but belonged in a high income group, working at the highest level of decision (national government) with insight on economic and international policy. The majority of Black people belong to the lowest quintiles and those who have emerged are usually the notoriously called “Black Diamonds”, i.e. business men and women who through the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program have used their business acumen to gain access to wealth. Clearly, I wasn’t in that category. My Muslim identity, portrayed by my choice to wear the Islamic headscarf or hijab made my identity and status more complex. Despite these particular characteristics, I feel that I adapted well to my environment. I have met great people, built strong relationships, understood more about race and identity, sharpened my political and intellectual skills, become more tolerant, appreciated the great sceneries, the more than decent infrastructure, and the beautiful agriculture and enjoyed the myriad of entertainment options.

However, as a Black foreigner I faced subtle racism from Whites and occasional disdain from Blacks (sometimes Indians) but I was never a victim of the attacks on foreigners thanks to securing a place in a safe and comfortable White area. Professionally, contrary to popular belief in the rainbow nation, I might have been Black but I didn’t get my job through positive discrimination but through an international competitive and selective process. This made me the success story for Whites who could justify their openness to Black people by hanging out with the likes of me and accept them in their homes; the flip side is that it isolated me from most Blacks who didn’t see me as one of theirs because I didn’t speak their language, didn’t share their culture and hadn’t share their struggle for freedom.
Finally as a practicing Muslim, I am neither a convert nor married to a Muslim man who would have influenced my religion. Yet, I as an educated Black Muslim woman living independently and active in the public space, I didn’t really fill the ‘traditional’ profile for Muslim men and I was just too different (and conservative) for non Muslim ones. Nor did I fulfill the perceptions on Black Muslim women: servants, staff or nannies working with Indians As for other Africans who live in the country, they are either refugees/struggling immigrants or from the diplomatic corps/students/professionals in top public/private sectors positions taking advantage of the great professional opportunities. I have had plenty of occasions to spend time with the different groups and learned a lot about their struggles and successes over time.

Summarizing two years of such diverse exposure would not do justice to depicting life in South Africa. This is why, throughout the next few months, I will present articles where I will share my views on what the following topics represent for South Africans and what it felt like as a Black African:

§  Race, class and status

§  Being Black in the workplace

§  Different lifestyles in South Africa

§  Relationships, sex and its consequences

§  Religion (particularly Islam)

I hope you enjoy these articles and share your views on them. Watch this space!

Siya Tiane- South Africa, 2008-2009

So most of the women, no the vast majority of the women where I live wear hijab, but not just hijab, but abayas, the traditional dress for women in the Arab Gulf (i.e the oil-rich Arab countries) region (which Qatar is of course a part of).

School is like one big fashion show for some of these chicks, and I think it’s awesome. Seriously the women’s campus (yes even the universities are segregated here … that’s a whole other entry) has this wide sidewalk, which I have nicknamed the cat walk. I honestly think some girls get dressed with walking that strip in mind. And to their credit a lot of them come to class looking like this:

abaya

No joke. and the rest look like this:

full_65

lol… ok well not every body, but a lot of people. Certainly not me… Sometimes I wonder how tore up I look on a daily basis….My Facebook picture at the moment is one of me dressed for a relative’s wedding. As I have begun adding people on Facebook here, I keep getting “Oh you look gorgeous… in that picture…lol” … oh well.

back to Qatar, It’s obvious that a lot of people here are rolling in dough. I have never seen so much Fendi, Prada, Burberry and Hermes in one place. I haven’t seen anything too over the top though just really, really nice accessories…. except for maybe the woman with Burberry stationary (who knew they make trash cans…lol).

Another part of hijab chique is something my friends (yes friends even though we’ve only known each other for a week) and I call the bump. I forgot the word in Arabic, but its a clip on bush that you attach to your head so when you wear your hijab it looks like you have tons of hair. I must admit, It really does look good (which for whatever reason I wasn’t expecting it to) so I will be getting one or two before I leave…lol

I wish I could find a picture,— it looks something like this:

hijab_styles

and here is cartoon depiction of the bump:
mohajaba

Gazelledusahara- Qatar, October 2009

Originally posted at: http://gazelledusahara.wordpress.com/2009/10/07/on-hijab-khaleeji-style/

*for more information on Gazelle and her travels visit: http://gazelledusahara.wordpress.com/

Before leaving Lagos, I was asked by airport officials what my final destination was. When I told them Tokyo most of the responses were; ‘What are you going to do there?’ I explained that I was heading to Tokyo as a tourist and also to visit friends. The truth is that at that time the only thing I was sure of was that I was going to meet with my friends, I was not sure of the ‘tourist’ part at all. Most advice columns say that before travelling it helps to have a schedule of sorts in which you list the places you want to visit along with the dates when you want to visit them. When I left for Tokyo I actually had NO IDEA what I was headed for or what I was going to see or where the tourist attractions were. I was riding on the friends who promised to take me shopping at Shibuya and Harajuku but I knew nothing of famous Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines or landmarks. Luckily for an unprepared traveller like me the hotel I stayed in at Tokyo had these little print-outs detailing how to get to famous places from the hotel. They had print-outs for places like Odaiba, Hakone, the Imperial Palace, Asakusa, Shibuya, Yokohama etc. The print-outs turned to be little saviours for me because they helped me around. I have heard that foreigners have such difficulty navigating the Japanese train and subway system. Luckily I did not face this problem and I guess it was because of the print-outs and also because most of the train stops are written in English as well as in Japanese. Most times the only problem I had was knowing which platform to take a particular line from and with my limited Japanese it was relatively easy to communicate with station masters.

Asakusa in Tokyo

 

 

Again despite not knowing any touristy places when I got there I was lucky enough to have friends who pointed me to the right direction (problems arose when they had differing points of view on what was worthy to be seen). I was told there were certain things I had to do. I had to stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) while in Kyoto, I had to eat lots of Japanese food and drink Japanese alcohol, I had to go to the izakaya (Japanese pub), I had to experience public baths, I had to visit so-and-so’s hometown whether it was in the Kyushu or Kansai regions etc.

The day after I landed in Tokyo I met up with Rie. We met at Harajuku station and at first I could not recognise her because she had lost weight. She had also started wearing make-up so it was like we had switched places (n.n) My suitcase was lost somewhere so we basically had to go shopping for everything! I had to buy underwear so now I know what my Japanese bra size is, I realised I had forgotten my digital camera in Nigeria so she took me to buy disposable ones etc. While walking around Harajuku I discovered that it is actually possible to enjoy shopping. I am not a fan of shopping at all but in Japan the hidden part of me that liked shopping was awakened. I personally believe it is because I saw a lot of things that I liked. I bought loads of skirts, tops and dresses that I thought were absolutely divine and feminine. This was a surprise for me because I was under the impression that I wouldn’t find anything that would fit me in Japan. Prior to arriving in Japan, I had joked that I was probably only going to buy nail polish and hair ornaments there.

And now that I think about it, I think I may know why Rie started talking about a Japanese boyfriend for me and I must admit that I have no one to blame but myself. While in Harajuku, Rie and I went to the Maasai Market. Rie explained to me that the shop is owned by this famous guy who went to Africa (Kenya) and brought back fashionable items like jewellery, ornaments, dresses etc to sell in Japan. I decided to buy a skirt from the Maasai Market and while my skirt was being packaged (Japanese shops tend to wrap whatever you buy from them) the guy behind the counter struck up conversation.

Kyoto

I quickly realised that quite a number of Japanese people were willing to strike up conversation with me no matter how much I tried to explain that my Japanese was not good. This has not happened to me in any other country that I have visited! Whenever I was with my friends, the tendency for people to talk with me increased. I got asked all sorts of questions from; ‘Which country are you from?’; to ‘Do you like Japanese men?’; With my experience it should be understandable when I say that I am not buying the ‘Japanese people are shy people’ statement.

The guy at the counter was the person who asked me whether I found Japanese men attractive. Of course before asking this, he had asked where I was from, if Rie was my friend, where we met, why I came to Japan. He even asked my age then told me his in English explaining that it was the only thing he could say in English. So he asked me if I liked Japanese guys then he asked me what I liked about them like their hair, face, style or body. He then said that he had no idea foreign women found Japanese men attractive or something like that. After we left the shop, I asked Rie why he was asking me so many questions and she said that was how some Japanese people are. Rie was the person who helped me with translating words that I did not understand so yeah that may be why she introduced Paul to me.

My ‘adventure’ with Rie at the Maasai Market happened the day after I arrived in Tokyo but I soon discovered that most of my days would follow a similar pattern. Basically I would head to some place new, meet up with friends, chat with strangers, laugh then head back to the hotel. I quickly got used to being drilled with questions by relative strangers. This was no problem for me as I enjoy talking about myself.

* * *

I went to Kamakura, the day after I met with Rie which was a Sunday. I got lost while there probably because I cannot read maps and I do not usually ask for directions especially when I am in a new place. Due to this I ended up walking almost non-stop for at least 6 hours. I got to Kamakura sometime between 10 and 11 am and I only sat down during my rickshaw ride which was around 6 or 7pm. While walking I got to visit at least 5 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, I also got to see traditional Kamakura streets and I ate chiffon cake and drank hibiscus tea soda at this cafe/art shop. The last temple I visited was the one that held Daibutsu (Great Buddha) and by then my feet were dead so I sought relief by deciding to ride a rickshaw. The rickshaw driver could speak English so I could easily answer all his questions even though he laughed at some my answers. I mean what is so funny about the fact that my first Japanese teacher was actually a German woman? After 30 minutes of being pulled on the rickshaw I got a fan, a pack of postcards and a 10-20% discount for another rickshaw ride. I used this discount in Kyoto, a beautiful city that I knew would make a fun rickshaw ride.

I went to Kyoto 2 days after going to Kamakura. The original plan was to stay in Kyoto for just a day but I got there in the afternoon so I changed my mind. I called Chika to ask if I could stay at her place. I met Chika while in Paris last year and the only reason I met her in Japan this year is due to a series of really random events. Because I had met her only once before I did not tell her I was coming to Japan. Yes we had been Facebook friends since our Paris meeting but I was not sure if she was willing to meet me again.

I was on Facebook while in Tokyo and I saw it was her birthday so I wished her a happy birthday. The next day she replied saying something very similar to this; ‘How are you? I want to see you again’; I replied saying believe it or not, I was in Tokyo right then and that I wanted to see her too! A few days later she said she was actually in Kyoto. I saw her reply on the day I was leaving Tokyo for Kyoto so I told her I was heading to Kyoto that same day. Call it destiny (Chika did!) or whatever we ended up exchanging numbers and spending half the day together in Kyoto. And thanks to Chika, I didn’t have to spend money for a hotel while in Kyoto. She works at night (at a ryokan of all places!) so I stayed with her friend, Tomoyo.

The day I arrived in Kyoto, I saw Olov my Swedish friend from Japanese class in Durham. He’s being living in Kyoto for almost a year now so his Japanese has obviously improved and is far better than mine. We walked around central Kyoto and talked a lot before Tomoyo came to meet us at the front of this temple called Nishi Hongwangji (I remember the name because we thought it didn’t sound Japanese at all). We parted ways with Olov heading back to his apartment while Tomoyo and I headed to her dorm, the place where I spent the night. On my second day in Kyoto, Tomoyo took me to the station and helped me find the bus that would begin my walking journey across Higashiyama a part of Kyoto.

I found Kyoto to be very tourist-friendly and I noticed that there seemed to be more tourists there than in Tokyo. It was easy for me to find the tourist information centre at Kyoto station and from there get maps that showed recommended walking routes. I chose to walk through the route that led to the Heian shrine starting from Kiyomizu temple. Before I got there, I had to take a bus basically Tomoyo lead me to the stop where I could take this bus. As we waited in the queue Tomoyo asked the lady behind me where she was going. The lady said she was going to Kiyomiza temple and the Heian shrine…this was how I met Liz a fellow lone woman traveller from Australia. After basically saying that Liz and I could travel together since we were heading to the same places, Tomoyo hugged me and left.

Liz was great at reading maps so we did not get lost. Plus she did not forget her camera at home like me so with her kind help we took a lot of pictures. She also witnessed my spendthrift tendencies when it comes to Japanese sweets. There were so many souvenir shops on the way to Kiyomizu temple so I bought a lot of sweets (of course only to discover that most of the sweets only last a week before expiring which meant I had to throw the lot away). At the beginning of our journey we saw a maiko, trainee geisha being made to walk up and down the street by a woman who must have been her teacher. We both looked at the maiko and wondered how she must have felt wearing all that makeup and layers of clothes in the sweltering heat of Japanese summer.

We also came across a street before which there was a big sign alerting us to find and touch the several gods that lined said street in order to increase our good fortune and bring happiness and peace into our lives. In total we must have touched five gods, there was a set of three gods and right next to them a sign that said something like; ‘Touch these much loved gods in order to bring peace to your life so you may learn to listen to others and not be arrogant.’ Right next to the gods were also instructions on how to touch or stroke ‘these beloved gods’ either with your right hand or both hands in order to recieve their blessings. I had fun touching the pot-bellied Buddha!

By the time we were close to the Heian shrine, I got a call from Chika and we decided to meet there. At the shrine, I got the chance to marvel with a like-minded foreigner in Japan about the abundance of charms and amulets usually available for sale at shrines or temples. There are amulets for good luck/fortune, health, driving safety, passing exams, safe delivery (of a child), good match, happiness in marriage etc. Amulets are good souvenirs but I could only think of one friend who would really appreciate them so most of the amulets I got were for myself (^.^) and at the Heian shrine, I bought a matchmaking amulet. Liz and I were in the gardens when I got a call from Chika, she had arrived at the Heian shrine. Oh I must also mention that at the Heian shrine Liz and I got bombarded with questions once more. The man questioning us (in English) was surprised that she was Australian and I was Nigerian so how on earth did we meet?

With Chika, we went to Gion. Liz commented on how we finally knew where we were headed to as when it was just me and her we had to open up our maps every other second but with Chika we just followed the person who knew Kyoto. Gion is the famous street where maiko and geisha live except Yu described it as a place where men went/go to buy sex from women. I was embarrassed when he went into a vivid description (I wrote only half of it!), he could have just called it a red light district. At the famous red light district, Gion Liz left Chika and I for Osaka so we went to get something to eat.While eating I told Chika that we had to ride a rickshaw through Gion as I had a this 10% discount. After eating our bibimbap (a Korean dish with rice, vegetables, egg and beef) we walked through Gion in search of a rickshaw. While walking through the streets of Gion, Chika said; ‘Look maiko!’ and I got confused because I though she said Michael. Indeed there was a maiko making her way to a house and completely ignoring the crowd of tourists around her taking pictures. It was difficult finding the rickshaws but soon we were pointed in direction of the rickshaw waiting point. It was simple negotiating time and money with the driver but it soon became apparent that our driver, Munanaka could not speak English unlike the dude in Kamakura.

Kyoto

 

It seems all rickshaw drivers make conversation with their clients, I guess it’s part of their job. He asked me where I am from and when I said Nigeria, he said ‘Tooi!’ which means far. He asked how I knew Chika and if the weather in Nigeria was hot. I told him that in my opinion currently Japan was hotter than Nigeria and he’s like ‘Uso ne?’ which means ‘you’re lying aren’t you?’ Misunderstanding I kept on saying ‘Hai‘ which means yes until I understood what he was saying and started explaining that I was not lying. Munanaka took us around Higashiyama, apparently it is rare to see maiko but we saw about 6 that day. I was told that the place where maiko work is called ochaya. Ocha means tea and ya indicates a shop so I asked what kind of work the maiko did. They apparently dance, sing and serve sake so I asked again why their place of work is called ochaya instead of something more appropriate to their work like osakeya? Munanaka laughed and said he’ll have to study that as he had never thought of it before. We came to a stop at a very beautiful street that Munanaka explained was traditionally Gion and popular among kappuru, couples. The street was lined with trees and there was a river rushing past across which we could see through the windows of restaurants. When he asked ‘Sasshin o torimasho ka?‘ (Shall we take a picture here?) we both replied, ‘Hai!‘ (Yes!) and he commented on how we said yes in unison. The place was truly beautiful.

While walking to Kyoto station after the rickshaw ride, Chika commented on my Japanese. According to her, she knew I was studying Japanese but she did not know I could speak it so well. To be honest despite passing an elementary Japanese exam, while in Japan I spoke mostly English. At the station, I got my ticket for the next Shinkasen to Tokyo. As there was some time before the train came, Chika and I went in search of a place that sold matcha latte. Matcha is a kind of Japanese green tea that I came to love while in Japan. In the name of satisfying my urge for matcha latte I missed my train to Tokyo and had to wait for the next train!

To be continued!

ُEccentric Yoruba— August, 2010

Originally posted at:  http://eccentricyoruba.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/my-eccentric-japan-memoirs-take-2/

*For information on Eccentric and her perspectives go to:  http://eccentricyoruba.wordpress.com/

“It feels like a wig,” she said as she patted my hair softly, like it was a baby puppy or kitten.

I had been natural for a good while.  No perms or chemicals in my hair.   I knew it might be an issue to find someone who could do black hair or hair as kinky as my own while I was in Qatar.  But I could never go through the hassle of blow drying it straight and flat ironing it every week.

So, I wore it with twists and sometimes, I did a twist out, where I unwound my twists and then wore the “wild hair” look for a while.

And that was the look I happened to have Around Eid ul-adha 2009, when I was fortunate enough to be invited to the home of Qatari friend for the holiday.   It was my first time going as a guest in a Qatari home, which is more of an opportunity than some people who have lived in Qatar for years get.  But, I wanted to be myself.   So the hair was what it was.

I still remember that day with fondness, the hospitality, the food, the laughter.  I really enjoyed myself.  More than that, I enjoyed being in a family setting.  It had been months since I’d interacted with children, as I lived in university student housing.

Talking to little Samira felt easy.  She is such a laid back, but lively child.  She has a Tomboy exterior with a frankness that I appreciate but seldom find in people my own age.

Samira spent the day asking me all kinds of questions and answering mine.  By the end of the day she had told me all about her life, her school, why the Holy city of Mecca was her favorite place in the world, and why Malaysia was the best vacation spot.  She did all this while ending almost every statement with “Wallahi al-atheem”  (I swear to God).

On the ride back, she asked me rather hesitantly, “Can touch your hair?”   I’m used to kids being curious about one aspect of things or another, and figured, “when is she going to get the chance to touch a black woman’s hair?  I might as well let her.”

She was really cautious as first.  Then she seemed mesmerized by the texture that was radically different from her own. That’s when she said, “It feels like a wig. Is it really growing from your head?”

Although her relative tried to quickly shush her, I obliged the inquiry and showed her my roots.  Yes, indeed, my hair was not a wig.

“I wish I had hair like yours,” she said, quite serious and almost wantonly.  I just smiled.

— Gazelledusahara- Qatar,  November 2009

For more information on Gazelle and her experiences abroad visit:  http://gazelledusahara.wordpress.com/

With all the allure of oil wealth, big eyes, mascara, sexy shoes, and flowing robes yes Kuwait has hot girls. Besides my Maghribiphile tendencies, I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Khaliji style. Kuwait has hot girls and I have found out how quickly I’ve become one of them.

By hot, I mean literally and figuratively. It’s crazy hot here, I mean like beyond Kalahari desert hot. You walk outside and it feels like you stepped into a dryer. That heat hits you like when you open up the oven and stick your head in. Only everyday, walk into an oven. Even at midnight it can range between 111 to 105 degrees. I wear abaya here and hijab here. Underneath I have another layer or regular clothes. I try to wear something light, but it doesn’t matter after 100 degrees you can’t tell the difference. It’s just hot. No wonder why they thought of hell fire in this region. That sun pounds you. To make things worse, men get to rub it in our faces as they rock some infinitely cooler white fits. My black and navy blue hijabs and abayas attract all the rays.

With the sun baking you all day, it is natural that you’d see sun-block at the stores. I’ve seen the highest SPF value that I’ve ever seen in my life. You can get SPF 55 here. I’ve also seen sun-block/fading creame. Women come in all shades here. Some skin tones are more natural and others not so much. All over the Middle East, Fair and Lovely is sold all over the place. It is becoming easier to spot the women who are addicted to fading creme. I remember the first time I saw a woman who had achieved that perfect Michael Jackson skin-tone. You can also see the foundation caked on, shades lighter than a neck (Kuwaitis have achieved a loose style of hijab that manages to stay on) or hands.

I’m slowly getting my bearings straight here. Life in Kuwait is surreal. Everything seems so orderly especially compared to my brief stint in Cairo. Everything is new, I don’t think I’ve seen a building over 40 years old. My friend reminded me that I exchanged the Cairene rate race for the mall. I had to run to the Mac store at the mall, so I had my first taste of Kuwaiti mall life. I saw Khaliji women in Egypt and you can spot them a mile away. They have these big lumps holding up their scarves. A lot wear a ton of make-up, like they get lost in the M.A.C. wharehouse or something. Most women wear hijab and abayas or chadors. There are hijab wearing women with skin tight clothes. And the women love flashy to tacky high heeled shoes. I’ve even seen bedazzled cheap heals at the discount market. Maybe the poorer Kuwaitis are trying to keep up with those who can afford Manolo and Jimmy Choo or Shoe or whatever his name is. I’m not going to hate, because I love shoes. But dang, they took it to the next level. So, I spotted a number of ‘ho shoes beneath some abaya or even chador. I’ve seen women in niqab rocking florescent blue eye-shadow. Women rock the nicest shoes to run a simple errand or do a little midnight shopping on a Monday night.

One of the things that I do admire is that even though many Kuwaiti women wear tent-like chadors or loose enough abayas to conceal their “adornments” for their husbands and family members, they do keep themselves up. It is easy to let youself go and not have any body issues when you spend most of your public life all covered up. But seeing them shop at H&M and the M.A.C. store reminded me that there are hot Muslim women all over the world who love being beautiful.

– Margari Aziza Hill- Kuwait, September 2007

originally posted at http://azizaizmargari.wordpress.com/2007/09/03/hot-girls-in-kuwait/

*for more information on Margari’s perspectives and travels visit her blog: http://azizaizmargari.wordpress.com/

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