Category: Tips

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.

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


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.

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.—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

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:

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.

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.


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.

I wanted to compile a list of travel tips that I found useful while traveling abroad (and nationally) as a college student.  Hopefully someone out there will find this useful.

1. buying  a ticket:

So you’ve decided to go to some faraway land like India or maybe some place not quite so far away like Boston or Chicago.  And you need a ticket.  What should you do?

First, the best thing you can do is try to schedule your trip in advance as the closer you get to your date, the more the tickets tend to costs.  Even if it’s just your ticket to come home for Thanksgiving, try buying it in September or early October and you will probably save a pretty penny.

In addition to early scheduling, try searching out ticket prices on comparison flight sites so that you can get a quick snapshot of the price range for your desired destination.

However, I suggest that once you have an idea of what tickets are going for you should — Go Directly to the websites of the  air carriers with the cheaper prices.  In my experience their prices tend to be a few dollars cheaper than these price comparison sites.

On top of that, buying a ticket directly from the airline means that in the case of cancellation or flight time change you will be notified by the airline.  (I had a very scary experience with this back in 2005, the flight for a ticket purchased from a flight comparison site was changed to two hours earlier.  But, because I had not purchased from the air line directly I was not informed of this until arriving at the airline two whole hours later!  Imagine my dismay.  I nearly missed the international flight to which I was trying to connect… don’t let this be you).

B.  If you are a student or otherwise affiliated with a University, student discount sites may also be a good place to look for cheap tickets.  Plus, some of them even offer you one free return date change  or a highly discounted date change fee should you need it.  This, may come in handy, should you need to lengthen your stay for an internship or shorten it for one. Make sure to go to a reputable site like statravel or studentuniverse.  Keep in mind though, their fares may not be the cheapest, but they are just one more bow in your quiver of cheap travel strategies.

C. Ask around and check out budget airlines and their fares.  These airlines tend to offer deep discounts and in some cases fares as low as 1cent!  But remember to weigh your options carefully with budget airlines, especially those in Europe.  They tend to charge you for bags and fly into lesser known airports.  Sometimes if you add up the cost of a transportation from random airport X to the city center and or luggage fees the cost of your trip may be comparable to scheduling a flight with a big name airline that arrives and departs from a major airport like Heathrow, de Gaulle, Frankfurt etc.

you can find a list of budget airlines Here

That’s about it for now!  Happy Flying!

* These tips are just that tips, they are no guarantee of  the cheapest or greatest flying experience.

– Moderator, theblackexperienceabroad

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, and Barnes & Noble online.

For more information on Carolyn and her memoir  please visit:






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:

*For more information on Frenchie and her experiences in Cairo please visit:

I embarked on this journey some four and a half years ago. After an extremely long transatlantic flight I found myself in Japan. It was like being ripped from the comfort of a mother’s womb and being flung into an abyss of the unfamiliar. Squat toilets, toilets that hum, flush themselves made it known that I was no longer in Jamaica. The incessant buzzing in my ear was not bees but the cacophony of Japanese language being flung back and forth in what we term the communication process. Those first few months, a year maybe, I couldn’t listen and didn’t hear anything.

When one has to immediately start working in such a foreign environment, one needs to have their wits firmly about them. Making a concerted effort to watch and learn about those about you is essential for acculturation. I still do this after so many years, because Japan is a highly non-verbal society. People are often amazed at how much I realize. Now I am happy I did those sociolinguistic courses. Anyway, one of the important lessons I have learned from ‘living abroad’ is to be open to new experiences – be flexible. Though balance is important too, don’t allow yourself to be trampled in this process.

Getting ‘use’ to life here was only possible for me by investing time to learn the language – I m not fluent but can hold my own. I also take the time to travel in Japan, visit museums, festivals etc and try to understand the culture. Now I like eating sushi and all manner of raw fish that I didn’t eat for months when I was fresh off the boat – remember the whole flexibility thing I talked about, this is it.

It’s been a great few years filled with the proverbial ups and downs – what’ life without pitfalls that allow you to rise from the ashes … ok that’s too much now.
Anyway, gone are the days when I got upset at someone that treated me ‘badly’ because of the negative stereotypes associated with blacks. If they can’t know me for me and choose to hold on to these stereotypes too bad for them, I am moving along. The highs have been Mt. Everest like and the lows well lows, but as cliche as it sounds the good days have not outnumbered the bad.

Do I regret coming to Japan? Nope. Would I recommend it ? YES!! but be mentally, physically and every ally prepared Japan aint for wimps.

V.  Lloyd- Japan, 2006-Present

For more information on V’s Japan experiences please visit:

101 on how to take a car rapide

After an afternoon in cramped quarters, during which I am pretty sure one half of my body tanned a different color from the other half, I decided to write this update on how to take a car rapide on the Malika – Yeumbeul stretch. I promise that none of this is exaggerated.

#1 Try to take it from a major bus stop. This way, there is a higher chance that you will have your choice of seats which (depending on the time of the day and thus the position of the sun) should be on either side of the back of the car rapide and not further inside it towards the front. You should choose the back if you want to be able to get on and off without difficulty. The only downside to taking the bus at a major bus stop is that you cannot judge the drivers driving before getting on. But they all drive with ambitious illusions about the abilities of their bus. (Though some are less ambitious than others.)

#2 Have exact change. And this is only helpful if you know how much it costs to take the bus to where you are going. Ask around before you get to the bus stop. But I would advice just having lots of change. If you don’t have change, when you pay the bus assistant, look him in the eye and say exactly where you are going. Then they know that you expect change (if there is change to be gotten). If he doesn’t give you change right away or after he has collected money from everyone else, say “Apprenti! La monnaie”. Ask him long before you get to your destination.

#3 Make sure you are inside the car rapide. If you have no choice but to get on a full car rapide, make sure you are inside it! If you find that you are hanging off the outside (as I once did), bang on the car or ask for it to stop so you can get off. Wait till it has come to a complete stop. Do not risk your life by getting off before it stops. I currently question the state of 3 of my toes after an incident like that. I asked them to stop and was trying to get off cos I realized that otherwise, I would have to hang off the car rapide. They slowed down, but I didn’t wait till they came to a complete stop. Ouch!

#4 Once you get on, hold on to something or sit down. I should say that lots of gentlemen take the car rapide cos they always give up their seats if a woman is standing. In the back of the car rapides, there are benches on either side. There are usually 5 people to these benches even if it’s a tight squeeze. So if you get on, and the bench is covered, but there are only 4 people on one of them, feel free to sit down and wiggle your way onto the bench. Everyone will move. And anyways, they would all do the same in your situation.

With these tips, using the car rapide in Yeumbeul should be a breeze. J Be careful not to give a beggar your money thinking he is the bus assistant. Annika and I almost fell for that one. Oh and one more thing, remember to leave all sense of personal space at home.


Anita- Senegal, October 2010

Nothing makes it clear to you that you’re in a totally different country, and culture, than getting an inside view into it’s healthcare system. And, when you’re a woman, the contrasts can be quite stark.

Let me start off by saying that this is not a complaint. In fact I’ve been relatively happy with the healthcare I’ve received so far here in Ireland. But, today ladies, I bit the bullet and went in for my “women’s exam” and let me tell you, Ireland is a very different place than I’m used to.

I think it would help if I highlighted the differences by phrasing this in terms of what was absent or missing from the usual (i.e., American) picture:

  • No demand to see your insurance card, because there isn’t one.
  • No paying up front before you even get in to see the doctor. (Yes, you do have to pay afterwards. This is Ireland, not paradise!)
  • No huge sheaf of papers to sign and disclaimers to approve in the vain hope of avoiding the inevitable lawsuits.
  • No waiting around while your doc rotates between you and 3 other people at the same time. One at a time, baby!
  • No extended contact with the nurse prior to your precious few minutes with the doc. No nurse, the doc does it all!
  • No being forced to wear a ridiculous paper gown that leaves you exposed, shivering and feeling grossly inadequate… because nothing but the most minimal stripping occurred (I was wearing a skirt so only undies went).
  • No privacy during the stripping that did occur. She just turned her back. (Now picture me with dumbfounded look on my face and quite a few seconds delay while it slooowly occurs to me what I’m expected to do).
  • No nurse in the room as the doc’s insurance and proof against possible accusations. Ahh, the innocence. The trust!
  • No stirrups!
  • No fancy wipes afterward 😦

What was there was a kind yet authoritative demeanor by a skilled clinician with a fantastic bedside manner. All in all, an interesting but generally positive experience.

-Sirmelja- Ireland, March 2009

originally posted March 2, 2009 at

*For more information on Sirmelja’s experiences in Ireland please visit:

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