Category: Cross-cultural interactions


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.

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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

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.

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.

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.


We sat down to reflect on the craziest things we’ve ever done in the name of travel and adventure.  Some are silly, others stupid, and still others mild in comparison to what we’ve seen our peers do.  You be the judge and tell us what you think.

6.  Giving up my seat on a flight 3 times in a row, just for the free tickets. Each time they re-booked me, there was another bump opportunity asking to be taken. After the third round, I was going in for one more, but my family demanded that I make it home by Christmas Eve.  (Fair enough!)  A minor inconvenience and in return a gift that kept on giving for the year that followed. It pays to have a confirmed seat and a little scheduling flexibility.

5. Hopping a $200 flight from the Midwest to London on Friday, just to hang out with friends for the weekend, and returning to work on Monday morning. . . . Then 3 weeks later, doing it again!

4. Wandering around Paris for 13 hours, with a Belgian man 45 years my senior, who barely understood my American-English accent. It was a bit challenging, but he was charming enough and promised to be a great tour guide. So, we hopped the first train from Brussels to Paris, and off we went.  What can I say? I’d never been to the city of lights and I could not pass up the opportunity for a friendly (and free) tour guide.

3. Trekking to a hidden spot in the middle of the night with a virtual stranger on the promise of the best view of Athens and a chance to hang out with the locals. The view of Parthenon was stunning, the local teens belting out Grecian ballads were amazing!  So, it was worth the risk . . .that is,  until the romantic moonlight (and Giorgos’ memories of all the movies where the lonely American and the sexy Greek hook up) stoked his romantic nature!  The rest of the quickly shortened adventure was spent slapping away his smitten octopus tentacles.  But, that’s another story for another day.  In this case, he was harmless so it worked out fine.  But, I’d have to think hard before I did something like this again.

2.  A Mileage Run from Chicago to Phoenix to Spokane, Washington and back again in 36 hours…. without a driver’s license. Just Think: TSA drama, inability to rent a car, hotel that was a $50 taxi ride away.  The comfie first class experience and 7400 frequent flier miles in the bank was worth the $142 round trip and achy buns.  So, what can I say? A month later, I did it again.  But this time, I had proper ID and I never left the airport. Hopped the flight back home and was in bed by midnight.

1.  Staying up for 48 hours straight, stalking a website in pursuit of the daily 5-15 minute window during which free hotel rooms were given away. It seemed crazy at the time, but my sister’s 4 free nights in a 4-star Parisian hotel were worth every sleepless hour.

 

BrownGirlsFly- February 2010

*For more information on BrownGirlsFly and their travels please visit:   http://www.browngirlsfly.com/

 


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/

I made the move from Downtown Cairo to the suburbs of Maadi at the beginning of the summer. The degree of harrasment downtown finally reached a level that I couldn’t excuse any longer. During my time living there, downtown Cairo felt like an amalgamation of all the worst aspects of human kind were being unsuccessfully suppressed there.

Maadi can sometimes seem like a different world. The area is populated by many expats and foreign families. I stumbled upon Cairo’s version of Chinatown here where many Chinese food restaurants, Japanese sushi bars, and Korean BBQ restaurants were sprinkled around the neighborhood of Asian families! Like Zamalek island on the Nile, Maadi is an area meant to cater to foreigners taste as best as Egypt can provide. Metro Market, a completely Western supermarket, sits right off the El Maadi metro stop filled with splurge imports from Fruit Loops to Earl Grey tea. English is widely spoken and understood by those providing service in the stores and shops. Traditional Egyptian stores and markets are also available and well stocked all over Maadi.

 

McD's drive thru in Maadi

on Rd. 9, One of the many Chinese food restaurants in Maadi

When one first steps foot into Maadi, you assume that the Egyptians who live here are accustomed to foreigners and more open-minded. In reality, you soon realize it’s the other way around; it’s the foreigners in Maadi who are accustomed to the Egyptians and no longer feel obligated to abide by their social norms. Many foreign families here have private drivers, nannies and maids,and send their children to private school which limit their contact with the locals. They send the maid to do the shopping and have the driver take them to the latest restaurant and pick them up so that hey don’t have to bother with taxis or public transportation. Their children are in private school in their national language and don’t need to speak Arabic. Their homes here are elaborate fortresses and the dusty old apartment buildings carefully hide the modern lofts inside. Many of the nice villas also come with their own security detail.My current apartment beautifully blends ostentatious crystal chandeliers, hard wood floors,and old world charm. Foreign restaurants shops,and posh cafe’s line the streets. It’s one of the few parts of town where you will find foreign women, or their Filipino maids, pushing children in strollers and wearing short sleeve shirts with their knees bare. Maadi  is comparatively lush compared to other parts of Cairo. Tree lined streets and grassy lots, both a rarity in Cairo, are haphazardly displayed around Maadi with some semblance of urban planning.  Maadi is also relatively quiet compared to the rest of the city in which the honking of cars all day and night blocks out the any other sound.

 

One of the many walled off villas in Maadi

Maadi has been a welcomed relief from the rest of Cairo but it is not without it’s share of nuisances. Many Sudanese woman live in Maadi and the local boys have cultivated ways and means to harass them and anyone they mistake for Sudanese. Thus, I’ve been known to fire off a barrage of insults on perverts that have gotten to close as they try to proposition me and even had to dump a bottle of water on one teenage boy who wouldn’t leave me alone as I waited for the AUC bus. In another incident, My roommate’s behind was groped by a passing car as she walked down Road 9 on her way to a restaurant. However, the harrasment here is less frequent than it was downtown, which isn’t saying much. At times, the service at local restaurants leaves much to be desired and one can suddenly find that the price of products change drastically when the “foreigner price” is applied. For example, a tailor tried to charge me 140 LE to tailor 2 dresses and a coat when the “Egyptian price” was only 50 LE. I ended up taking it to another tailor who only charged 70LE. Another trade-off to living in Maadi is that it quickly becomes a “bubble”. Living downtown, I was forced to speak Arabic almost all the time because so few people could communicate well in English. I’ve noticed that I practice speaking Arabic a lot less in Maadi which is definitely a downside. Overall, however, Maadi is one of the more pleasant areas in Cairo. The setting is more tranquil and pretty, there are fewer people and less traffic, and one can enjoy some semblance of home as well as the best Egypt has to offer!

 

Frenchie- Cairo, Egypt July 2010

Originally posted at:  http://blackincairo.blogspot.com/2010/07/maadi-suburbs-of-cairo.html

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

 

 

 

 

 

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