Losing, to Gain Again…

by Nnenda Chinda, ITALY

I remember the day I arrived in Italy. I remember it very clearly. It was a very hot afternoon in Rome. It was the 1st of October 2005. Actually, although my parents had discussed sending me to school initially to live with a family friend until they decide to join me from Nigeria, it was never really a concrete plan. Just talk. Italy was an interesting choice for us – I always heard of people moving to the U.K. or the States, but never other countries in the continent. You never heard of someone moving to Spain or, say, Greece. Perhaps, and surely, there must have been, but I’d just never met anyone with that experience.

Back in the 70s, my stepdad moved to Italy thanks to a job advert in electronics advertised in the papers in his hometown of Peterborough. He took the opportunity and moved to Rome. It is easy to fall in love with Italy (and just as easy to fall out of love with it!) – He fell in love with the dolce vita lifestyle. Rome in the 70s, he used to tell me, was the place to be. It was a lot more carefree, and there was so much one could get away with! He, my stepdad, had became really close to an Italian family-they were Romans and they gave him the best experience of life in Italy, and from the way he always talked to me about them I could tell Italy really was his home. We followed suit, as many Romans do when they buy country houses in neighbouring towns to escape the summer heat and, and bought a house in small village just an hour north of Rome. Since the age 11 we would visit every holiday, and at every opportunity we had. Italy became our second home, but little did I know that a year down the line it would be the place I’d call my home – at least a physical home ‐ for the next 6 years.

Italy for me was like a time warp. Visiting during my summer holidays, everything seemed and felt so different to life in the hustle and bustle that is Lagos. Our village, Vetralla, gave one the impression of being stuck in the Middle Ages. It was, indeed, positively medieval and unlike anything I’d seen throughout my life in Lagos. I think this is why I loved Italy. Living in a small provincial area, it was not long before my family became a subject of spectacle, and bewilderment, for many – it is hardly surprising as the only black family, rather, a black woman (my mother) with a white man (my step-father) and two children of different colour spectrums. Hard not to catch any attention! Nevertheless, the locals took to us and we took to them, at least for the most part.

During the flight to Italy, my stepdad insisted I start learning how to decline basic verbs like ‘I am’, ‘I go’, ‘I stay’, ‘I come’ and so on… It was tough going, very tough, as I had to cram so much vocabulary, bearing in mind that I would have to start school in no less than a week and in a completely different language, and communicate on a daily basis in that language, too. I had never realised how much language would become my window to the world. And the quicker I learnt to speak and understand it, the better equipped I would be in order to survive in my new world. For a very long time, I was mute.

I had mixed feelings during the fight to Fiumicino Airport, in Rome. Of course, I was excited to start on a new venture, but it then suddenly hit me that I would be living in a part of the world I really knew nothing about. You see, visiting a place is one thing; you’re there for 3 weeks? A month? You never do really grasp the day-to-day realities or nuances of being thrust full-time into an unfamiliar surrounding. You suddenly quickly become a threat. Besides, there was a sense in which I would have to grow up really fast, and I felt that from then on I would have to become responsible for myself. I had to learn the language in order to communicate and be in that part of the world. That was my responsibility, and this no one could do for me. When you grow up as a suburban child in an affluent area of Lagos, like I did, it can very easy to take many things, people, food, familiarity, comfort, for granted. I had to lose all this, in order to gain it again. As one might imagine, I very quickly started living on the inside. It was infuriating at best. I HAD BEEN UPROOTED and was at a loss.

11 years down the line, I still think of that skinny little girl who left Nigeria for Italy, having bought into the promise of a better and more exciting life abroad, in Europe… I think of the hours sat down crying, trying to cope with unfamiliarity, prejudice, school work-load etc. I think of the excitement I felt when my parents finally decided it was time to move to the UK to provide my sister and I with even better educational opportunities, and again, I bought into the myth that England would provide me with unrivalled opportunities:  a more multi-cultural environment, posh boarding schools, elite universities, job opportunities and so on.

Nevertheless, I think of the resilience and hard work I put into my studies whilst in Italy, which, undoubtedly, helped me secure a place at Cambridge University. I think of the good food (I took it for granted a lot, until I came to the UK), the lovely weather, and the kind people, who made a truly remarkable experience. I think of the sacrifices my parents made, and continue to make, to give me the best. And I think that despite, and because of, the challenges, I can be who I am today, and really, there is only one place I’d rather be – Italy.

Forging My Identity in Denmark

by Judah Chandra, DENMARK

I remember getting my admission letter to Denmark, and thinking that I did not know very much about the country, and imagining what it would be like when I arrived in September 2014 for my Erasmus year abroad. The first thing that struck me was how much I felt I stood out. With my full Indian heritage, I noticed how different I was from the predominantly white, ethnic Danes around me. This feeling of being the ‘other’ was fairly palpable for me, and it led me to tailor my studies to look at Danish national identity and what it meant to “be Danish.” As in many other European countries, there has been a widespread focus in recent years on national identity, amidst a climate of immigration being seen as negative, and rising terrorist fears. Like many others who stay in Denmark for an extended period of time, as the months go on- the honeymoon period disappears and you begin to see both the pros and cons of living in a country.

When I first arrived, I had seen Denmark as most of the Western Media does- a socialist paradise, amazing welfare, “hygge” (check it out) and consisting of pretty people. Over my time there, I noticed and understood some of the flaws in their system. That’s not to say that there aren’t still amazing things about Denmark- there are. Only that I became more aware of just like every country in the world; there are always problems. Apart from this, I did enjoy my time there as a student. I was part of a range of departments where Danish students organised really fun events for us exchange students from all around the world. I enjoyed having conversations about politics, race, national identity, and national differences. What also struck me in these conversations was that there were progressive young people around who could readily accept that I was both Indian and British. As the only British POC in many of my classes, it also allowed my fellow international students to understand that England was more diverse than the BBC documentaries and ‘Downton Abbey esque’ TV series showed. I also enjoyed exploring Copenhagen and other cities such as Aarhus (the second city) and Odense (the third city and home of H.C Anderson- the chap who wrote The Little Mermaid).

It’s difficult to compare Denmark to the UK, as ultimately their histories, geography, language and culture differ. But one quick comparison is that Danish sure is a strange language to learn and is often said to sound like a “person speaking with a potato in their mouth”. Just ask a Danish person to say their dessert called ‘rød grød med fløde’ and you’ll have an idea on how strange is sounds- particularly to a native English speaker. So should you visit Denmark or even study there for a year abroad like I did? Absolutely. I am of the belief that autonomous individuals can decide how they view and learn from experiences- particularly when travelling and exploring new countries. I personally would never take back the experience of my time in Denmark. In many ways, it shaped me into who I am today and I am still in contact with international friends who I met over there.

So some tips if you do ever go out there: – If you’re in Copenhagen (the capital), make sure you visit Malmo, Sweden which is a 30 minute train ride from the station. – Definitely visit Aarhus- the European Capital of Culture 2017. – Learn Danish or at least a few words such as Hi (Hej), Bye (Hej Hej), Thanks (Tak), Beer (øl), Cheers (skål), – Have fun- and if you’re going in winter then you should wrap up warm as it’s pretty cold out there. All the best with your adventures and remember, fortune favours the bold.

There Is A Stranger In My Home

by Caroline Omotayo, ITALY

Last week for the first time in 5 years, I went to Italy. I was born there and I moved to London when I was 9, so it was sort of a homecoming for me. The important bit about my story is why my parents decided to move to London, it’s therefore more of their story than mine.

My Dad moved to Italy from Nigeria when he was 22. Hoping to start a better life in a land supposedly filled with opportunities, he took the jump. He arrived to a land that was filled with opportunities… but just not for him. Despite studying to become a chemist, the only door that ever opened for him was that of an ‘operario’. Translated, it means the bottom of the job ladder. In summary, the job market saw colour first and talent never. In truth, we were lucky that we were able to entrench ourselves in our small community and despite not being well off, we became well known in the town and our family friends soon became well, family. However, fast forward 30+ years it appeared that the same mentality which restricted my family’s economic progress still remains.

I was excited to go back. Firstly and lastly because of the food, but also to see if anything had changed. I was prepared for the underlying theme of the trip to be about Brexit, but instead, I came back with a new perspective: I’m too woke for Italy.

In between the laughs and conversations, I noticed something different. We were just from two completely different worlds. The revelation occurred in the midst of statements such as “People run with machetes in Africa”, “You look like Naomi Campbell” (as flattering as this is, I don’t and you frankly need to increase your black girl palette), “There are lions in Africa”. For once, I found myself short on words. In that moment, I became more connected to the black beggars in the streets, the prostitutes lining the camps and the man walking downtown because he could not afford a car.

I wanted to make sure that I corrected their ignorance. I was confused about why I had never noticed such comments before. Was it because I was too young? Or was I just not listening. I discovered that it was the latter. The ideas were always there, I just upgraded my seat to the adult table. I was no longer a kid and ignorance was not bliss. The issue was not that “Well there are not that many black people” or that “We are all suffering from the economic downturn due to the governors”. Governments, ministers and institutions are all built by people and people regurgitate opinions, which in turn create false road maps of places and countries. As my food quickly lost its taste:

I realised how important it is that we change our narrative of our native countries.

When we talk of change and development we think of it in monetary terms. Investment is created through perception. If a country is perceived to be ripe for opportunities, it suddenly becomes attractive. Now, I am not an economist and I know it is way more complex than that, but my point is perceptions are created through discourse. What discourse are you perpetuating of your country? What stereotypes are you repeating and allowing to be passed down through generations.

You may not be able to donate a million dollars to a cause but you can donate your voice.

The dark tall grey buildings of London which I so often wish I could replace with the coloured cobbled streets of Italy, changed me. The Italy I knew was just a fantasy, the trip was really an awakening, that frankly I had always been a stranger in my home. I hope to one day help to change those of opinions, but for now, I’ll start here.

*inspired by an airplane reading of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Diaspora’s Girl

by Deborah Shorindé, CANADA

I can count the short trips I have taken to Nigeria on two hands.

The motherland therefore did not mother me directly. Rather, it kneaded me through the faithful scolding of my exasperated mother, the unfailing bravado of my father, and the aunties and uncles of no blood relation that I often bowed low to. They carved out hopeful spaces of belonging in South East London, and I never really noticed their efforts to create a home for me while away from their own. I was a child of diaspora: awkward, anxious and unsure yet, youthfully overconfident in the same instance. The decision to move to Oakville, Canada was my father’s, and I am still not quite sure where it came from. Regardless, it was a warm, comforting refrain to my awkward ears. My weirdness, blackness and gender were all ailments that had left me spoken about but rarely spoken to in my South East London high school. However, my resolve did waver. I was happy to turn my back on my city, to shake the dust and power on. I was also terrified that I would never find another city to call my own.

Heralding my departure on the 27th of July, the London 2012 Olympics began and my family and I set off for Oakville. My expectations never quite made it off the plane. The humidity hugged me tightly, as if we had known each other for years. Filling my lungs, seeping into every fold, Oakville’s weather was the first sign that my months of dreaming, wishing and expecting had been futile. The landscape was vast and sparsely populated, while the roads were shockingly wide. In the months to come I would be left reeling, grasping for home in whatever I could find. Moving here was not the dream that I had woven together in my mind’s eye. I could not see myself in the bodies that bumped and brushed against me in my new high school’s hallways. I was one of sixteen black people in a school of 1500 students, and I was often reminded of my difference. I longed for a more densely populated city like Toronto or Mississauga, where signs of life danced into view or earshot often, and the chances of seeing a cute black boy were significantly higher. Ironically, a year after moving I myself chose to move to Waterloo, a university and a town that mimicked a lot of the features and associated disappointments of Oakville.

I do not blame timing, lack of knowledge, my family or myself for these experiences. To admit this feels strange, but Oakville and Waterloo and the experiences that they exposed me to are now a part of me. They are a part of my voice, that takes up space and fills up a room.  They are a part of my mind that no longer accepts my own expectation and understanding as truth. Finally, they are a part of my hunger and appreciation for South East London, my city and my home.

“You’re So Lucky”

by Shirley Ahura, IRELAND

Last year, my friend and I got the crazy notion of buying tickets to see Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour in Dublin, Ireland firmly stuck in our heads. We just came back from what was a truly magical weekend, and as much as I tried, I couldn’t help but feel that many parts of our trip were tainted by some of my experiences there.

For the record, can I just say that I am in love with Ireland. A beautiful land of beautiful human beings, it really isn’t an exaggeration when they say that the Irish are the friendliest bunch on the planet. Nothing made me more sure of this than when my friend (a six foot gay Spanish guy clad in pink shorts and a vest top) and I (a fully cornrowed black feminist revolutionary) approached two dubious (read: chavvy)- looking Irish guys smoking on the street corner, asked for the directions to Croke Park Stadium, and neither of the men batted an eyelid- instead hurriedly and helpfully sending us on our merry little way.

But there’s always one (read: two or three). The first was in actual fact a Spanish woman who came with two gay guys and quickly befriended my friend. A relatively normal conversation was being had (did Lemonade really run it better than Beyoncé the visual album?), and there I was, as keen as ever, trying to keep up in my broken Spanish, when all of a sudden she turns to me and ‘jokes’, “We are black”.

?

Literally, I felt my face metamorphose into a massive question mark, for I truly had no idea what she was going on about. I shrugged it off (I’m sure many of you are familiar with the shrug) and joked back, “Really? I would never have known”. Fake smiles and all.

On another occasion, my friend (bless him, always trying to promote me) tells them about how I dance professionally, and that they should wait to see my moves. At this, ‘black’ Spanish homegirl turns to me with an expression that I can only describe as heart-eye emoji. In fact, the hearts in her eyes were throbbing so much, I turned away out of discomfort (but I could still feel her eyes boring into me and my cornrowed scalp). This all culminated in another extension of the ‘I want to be black’ parade that was so obviously happening with the Spanish woman taking centre stage. “I love” she said looking at me, “I wish I…”. She didn’t need to finish her sentence for me to know what was coming next, so I (at least mentally) exited stage left of the conversation.

[Sidenote, can I just say that I cringed so hard at the times when Beyoncé held up a Black Power fist and her Irish fans just stood in front of her like clones, emulating her except with less (read: no) meaning behind their own gestures, that if I wasn’t black you’d mistake me for a sweet and juicy Tesco’s Extra Special range cherry tomato].

Later on, we leave the concert and the air is literally buzzing with the love for Beyoncé from the Beyhive.  An inebriated Irish girl doesn’t so much come up to me as she does sidesteps to me, picks up (read: grabs) a braid and goes “You’re so lucky you have braids”.

“You’re so lucky” Really.

After an eventful night of dancing to Beyoncé until ungodly hours of the morning in one of Dublin’s most happening gay clubs, an (again) intoxicated Irishman notices me and comes to sit across from me in the 24 hours Spar. “What’s the crack?” [Typical Irish phrase that I’ve come to love. Translation “ What’s new?” “Where you from, London?” [realising my uncertainty on how to answer and therefore my un-Irishness]

“Yeah”

Reaches over to spud me (oh no) “Yes…bruv/blud (oh god no) (forget which one he uses, but they’re both as bad as each other).

Gets up to leave “…Tupac?”

What I got from this dilapidated state of verbal affairs was that because I was black I a) Naturally originated from London b) Naturally can only be greeted via spud and termed blud and cannot recognise any other way, informal or formal of saying hi as standard English goes c) Naturally listen to Tupac. “

I go “I may be black but I do other things….”

 

Analysis: It seems that one drop of alcohol literally opens the floodgates for people to speak their minds and unleash all they’ve wanted to say/what’s plagued their minds, intrigued and piqued their interest about blackness for so long.

The Travellers of Colour Collective: Six Months On

by Kiki Nartey

As The Travellers of Colour Collective approaches its six month mark, it feels only natural to reflect on the growth and manifestation of what was initially an informal idea that casually sprung to mind whilst sitting in my German apartment. As a person of colour who was to embark on a year abroad, I always saw myself as being placed in a unique position, and wished to document it in some way. The specificity of my experiences as a minority in a less culturally diverse environment was something I knew I could extend to other people of colour, who may have been able to resonate with me, and I thus drew inspiration from the affinity I shared with them. In creating my blog, I wanted to provide a platform for expression that was somewhat missing before. Since its launch, it has been wonderful to witness the expanding nature of discussions surrounding the role of race in travel through my blog.

The beauty of having a collection of stories is the plurality of experience yet individuality of every written account. Each blog post from The Travellers of Colour Collective comes with fresh perspective, enabling us to think about our racial and ethnic identities in a multitude of ways and in a plethora of different cultural contexts. As people of colour, our existence and experiences are often homogenised, particularly by mainstream media; so the advantage that The Travellers of Colour Collective has is its ability to showcase the diversity within our experiences. It has also been interesting to collect stories from those who have come back from their travels and people who are still currently abroad. The differing approaches to writing are evident, since some are more holistic in their reflection of their travels as people of colour, whilst others are writing at a present moment in time and are therefore discovering more about their identity under a new cultural framework.

The issues that have been brought to light as a result of the series of blog posts is an aspect that continues to be of paramount importance in The Travellers of Colour Collective. The refreshing honesty with which my writers document their experiences facilitates the very necessary discussion of how race impacts the way we can be perceived and ultimately treated in certain cultures. The intersectionality between race and gender, for example, is a recurring topic, with few who have candidly divulged their experiences of being fetishized abroad, specifically as women of colour. Others have written about their interactions with children, observing the way in which they understand and react to racial difference. Many blog posts in The Collective also include testimonies of positive cultural exchange and the opportunity to educate those who have not been exposed to cultures outside of their own. Thus, I believe that The Travellers of Colour Collective has achieved the aim of highlighting the unique challenges we have, or may face, as people of colour, but to also use this as a source of encouragement and empowerment to continue to venture out into the wider world.

Whilst this platform serves as a safe space for people of colour, the readership amongst non-POC audiences plays a significant part in emphasising the purpose of my blog. I was very keen to make the content accessible to all readers, in order to foster appreciation and acknowledgement from those who are largely unaffected by or simply oblivious to the nuanced experiences shared by people of colour.

So far I have been humbled by the progression and positive reception of the Travellers of Colour Collective since its launch on 1st September. Each new blog post represents an added voice that contributes to the continuity of a unique but extremely pertinent subject, and I hope that my blog continues to serve as a platform for us as people of colour to bring our distinct experiences deservedly to the forefront.

Comments

Adeorike: “Aside from the fact that she is a friend, I was keen to contribute to Kiki’s blog because it was an idea that intrigued me quite a bit. Platforms in which people of colour could share their experiences abroad with each other are rare. Kiki creating this blog that was so accessible to many of us was encouraging, enlightening and inspiring.”

India: “I don’t even know how I first came across The Travellers of Colour Collective but I remember feeling an amazing sense of kinship with the people sharing their stories. I felt that I couldn’t hold back my own thoughts, particularly on my eye-opening trip to Thailand, and I submitted my piece to Kiki. Seeing it published on the (frankly, gorgeous) website made me really happy. Just like the other testimonies inspired me to keep travelling no matter what, I hoped that my story would do the same, while also preparing other black and brown people for the possibility of experiencing racism and feeling exoticised in other countries. Kiki’s blog is a godsend and connects likeminded people whom I never knew existed before. As a black woman specifically, I needed real people’s stories to inspire me to keep getting the most out of life.”

Harvin: “I feel that Kiki’s blog is an excellent platform that brings POC together to share their experiences. This is extremely important- as people of colour we should be united, never divided by our uniqueness.”

Katie: I think it’s spectacular what Kiki is doing. Her platform allows people a safe space to share their experiences while also enlightening those of us who can be naïve to the impact of race in aspects such as travel.”

‘Whose Australia?’ Deconstructing a Semester Abroad in Melbourne

by Kulani McCartan-Demie, AUSTRALIA

I will begin this post by acknowledging that for perhaps the first time in my life, travelling from my safe, multicultural home of London to the other side of the world, Australia was met with an underwritten sense of displacement. I was somewhat out of place, an Ethiopian-Irish female spending a semester studying in Melbourne— often deemed among the more ‘diverse’ cities of Australia. I was surprised to have only met a handful of POC, let me be honest, I can count these individuals on one hand and even that it self is me being pretty generous. One individual I will always remember, was ‘Ababa,’ I remember the day after I arrived, seeing a lady cleaning the kitchen who looked familiar to my Ethiopian family. I asked one of the Australians, who had lived for a couple of years in this particular flat about her; what her name was, where she was from? They shrugged and almost looked confused that I dare ask such a question. Me being me, I approached inquisitively the next day asking her name and where she was from. I knew that she was East African, but nevertheless I asked her where she or her family was from. At first she told me she was from ‘Africa’—perhaps used to the limited knowledge of African countries from the average Australian—but I remarked “but where in Africa Aunty?’ and soon learnt that she was from Eritrea and her name was ‘Ababa’. I told her that I was half Ethiopian and within ten minutes she kindly offered to bring me Injera, an Ethiopian staple bread and Berbere, a key Ethiopian and Eritrean spice to cook with. It was amazing that despite being so far from home, I found someone from the Horn of Africa who taught me how to make staple Ethiopian dishes and bought me fresh injera! I would often spend my mornings catching up with her, whilst making a cup of tea, learning about her life and when she migrated to Australia, what the UK was like, and learning of her upcoming return home to see her family after many years and attend her son’s wedding ceremony in Eritrea. I was very fortunate to meet Ababa and hope I will one day meet her again.

 
It was incredible to learn of a strong African diaspora in Melbourne, in ‘Footscray’, a sort of migrant hub area closer to the city. I was particularly proud to experience the Oromo diaspora in Melbourne, the ethnic group my dad belongs to in Ethiopia. A few days before I left Melbourne to return home, I attended the annual Oromo Cultural Festival held in Federation Square greeted by thousands of Oromo’s and non-Oromo’s from all around Australia and the world. This celebration promoted self-empowerment and sought to raise awareness in the wider community about the lifestyle, culture and ethics of members of the Australian Oromo community. To see Federation Square embellished by rows of sky-high Oromo flags marked a proud moment for my Dad and me. From being awkwardly interviewed on national Oromo TV, reaffirming my ‘Oromo-ness’ to the cameraman who questioned this (given my lighter complexion), to being introduced to many Australian Oromo’s as the daughter of ‘Dr. Demie’ from London, by a family friend. I was proud to witness how strong diasporic and cultural networks are working globally.

I recall a time I walked passed Flinders Street station, Melbourne’s equivalent of Kings Cross, and there a black man stood, in the centre of the road on Melbourne’s prime Flinders Street, holding up a placard entitled, “Stop Australia’s Racism”. Amidst the traffic, I really wanted to go up and hug him and tell him that what he is doing is so critical and valuable to this country. I guess my time spent in Australia is characterised in two-fold; I found it such a beautiful place experiencing some of the World’s most beautiful white sand beaches and crystal oceans, but equally a country underwritten by an uncomfortable colonial history. This is why it was imperative that I studied the politics and history of Indigenous Australia- writing on epistemic and ontological whiteness and the treatment of mixed race and Indigenous Australians throughout history proved very important to me. How could I go to a country and not seek to learn about its past and its Indigenous communities, who are silenced, disenfranchised and undermined by the state everyday. I think in this sense it drew interesting comparisons to my next semester in South Africa, which echoed similar characteristics of incredible beauty alongside racial, ethnic and political cleavages, and albeit another beautiful country which has undoubtedly enriched my life experiences to date.

 

Photos:


Oromo Flags Lined outside Federation Square in Melbourne

 

   

Young Oromo girl in traditional clothing holding her hands crossed in Oromo peaceful protest gesture, ‘X’ in solidarity with Oromo’s.

 

 

 

 

One Year, Two Cultures

by Maddy Crabbe, CANADA/ITALY

My return to London in September 2016 marked being away from home for 11 months. I studied abroad in Canada for eight months and worked as an English teacher in Italy for three. I really enjoyed studying abroad, and although it was challenging at times and I had serious bouts of depression, I was able to pick myself up with the help of friends I’d made along the way, as well as a steady growth in my self-confidence. My best memories of my year abroad are from joining the University marching band. My proudest moments were performing at Toronto Fashion Week and at the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Montreal, for which we won an award. I began solo travelling halfway through my year abroad, with trips to Kincardine, Washington D.C and the Niagara Falls. I found these times a really good time to reflect, and enjoy my own company. Towards the end of my year abroad, I felt the desire to continue travelling, so after receiving a job advert for teaching in Italy, I applied to work last summer as an English teacher at summer camps. I had the best summer of my life teaching adorable children, immersing myself in the culture by living with various kind families and embarking on an adventure so different to anything I’d ever done before. Despite having some problems coping with racist attitudes and micro-aggressive behaviour in Italy, I had a wonderful time and I am sure that I will go back next year to do it all over again.

It’s taken me 23 years to get here, but I am glad I am here

by Mazzie Lafa, SPAIN

Hi, I’m Mazzie, I am 23 years old and I live in Spain.

While I love Spain, I have to say that some people generally have no filter. Maybe it’s because in Spanish the language is very direct, especially when people say things into English. I moved to Madrid in July 2013 for an internship and ended up staying for three years. My first summer was great because I was with a mix of different people, we were all “anglos”, (British, American, Scottish), with a mix of French and Spanish friends who came later. We literally spent the whole summer partying, it was hilarious, I didn’t really have to think about living the Spanish life as we were all there temporarily.

After deciding to stay, I became an au pair in a small town in Barcelona, Castellar Del Valles, one hour from the city centre with about 18,000 inhabitants. There I experienced all the staring, older and younger people, they wouldn’t even come and talk to me, they would just stare and I would know they were staring, they didn’t even try and be discrete. After a while I got to the point where I would stare back and eventually they got the point. I was there from September 2013 to June 2014.  I learnt Catalan and got a job, but with a woman who didn’t pay me. I felt like I was losing my mind slightly and I became deeply unhappy. My unhappiness in Barcelona was due to a mixture of things other than just race; not having a strong group of friends, ending a relationship, not having lots of money and working too much just to make ends meet. Even though I eventually formed a group, I was still slightly unhappy with everything around me. It was 1 year and 4 months of loneliness, so I moved back to Madrid in January 2015.

During this time I wanted to re-establish myself, so I found myself the perfect teaching assistant role in a school in January 2016 which will hold me out till June 2017. Working as a teaching assistant has been a great experience, but it has not been all roses. I used to wear braids a lot and kids thought it was cool to pull on my hair whilst telling me it’s pretty; I had to let them know that it was impolite to touch people’s hair. I had a Chinese girl become really attached to me and would always rub my skin and touch my face. I had a Moroccan kid call me Ebola as well as the N word in Arabic, and once I told him off and explained the offensiveness of the word, he never said it to me again.

Another thing that has struck me while living in Spain is meeting Spanish guys who listen to rap music, thinking that I’m OK with the N word, when really I want to darles una ostia, (if you get that you get it). They think it’s a cool word to say and don’t realise how ignorant they sound.

In spite of all of this, living here has been a worthwhile ride. It took a long time to get to where I want to be; living on my own, having friends, being able to travel and see the rest of Spain. I set goals for myself at the beginning of 2016 and they all came true. I’m still in Spain, still going strong and I enjoy the life that I have and won’t give it up for anything. It took me 23 years to get here, but I am glad I am here.

 

 

Blackness and Cultural Exchanges in Peru

by Lotoya Jackson, PERU

Last year I had the opportunity to follow in the path of an ancient people, the Inca of Peru, and crisscross the country by bus, train, and horse for two weeks. It was an unforgettable experience in a country steeped in rich traditions and outdoor adventure where I ate cuy, or guinea pig, sandboarded down sand dunes and hiked 43 km on the Inca Trail.

 After backpacking solo to 30 countries as a young, black woman, I’m used to various reactions from locals and other travellers to my skin and hair – curiosity, disbelief, kindness, and everything in-between. Luckily, I’ve had more positive experiences than negative ones during my travels and Peru is one of those places where I felt conscious of my blackness but rarely in a negative way. With few black people in Peru, naturally, I did get long looks, group stares, and the occasional giggle but many of the interactions I had with locals felt like cultural exchanges rather than anything malicious.

 In Puno, the owner of my hostel was fascinated with my dreadlocks. When I first arrived she touched them and squealed loudly before checking me in. Later she called her young daughter over to have a look while telling her “see you don’t have to straighten your hair every day”. My guide on the Inca trail wanted to know just how I created my deadlocks, so around the campsite at night, I showed her. In return, I learned about the cultural significance of braids to the women of the Quechua indigenous groups. Like many places in the world, being black in Peru means being conscious that you stand out but knowing that it’s an opportunity to share and learn and to change attitudes.

 

To read more stories of Lotoya’s travelling experiences in various countries around the world, visit her blog  http://www.msjacksontravels.com/ and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/msjacksontravels/.

Within the Heart of Europe

By Puja Daya, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

Not only did I fall in love with the city, I fell in love with the people I met, the places I saw and the things I learned. I guess this is the experience Erasmus gives to any student of any ethnicity. Although, being my roommates first ever Indian friend or person she knew was astonishing to me.

With my home country of England being so multicultural, for the first time, I found myself to be the only person of colour in a classroom or in most rooms in fact (though the streets were filled with people from all over the world). Did this effect the way I felt or the way I was treated? No. As my difference was appreciated and embraced by the people I met. In fact, I learnt more about myself through the questions asked about my background and culture and began to love it more than ever before.

Prague itself maybe a loved newly upcoming destination for holiday goers and expats, however the many ethnicities of Asians and Africans are not officially recognised within the demographics (being very few of us who set up home there) … nevertheless it flourishes with Vietnamese culture, people and food. Expanding itself with a number of traditional restaurants of Thai and Indian origin, allowing it to be seen as the most multicultural city in the Czech Republic.

So I’ll end with the note that travelling doesn’t just show you different cultures, it allows you to embrace your own.

 

An African Girl in Europe

by Caroline Meryl Achieng, CROATIA, BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

As a dark-skinned girl, walking through streets in Rijeka, Croatia was horrifying as men in traffic from the opposite direction to where we were walking, kept on hooting, shouting lewd comments, and making gestures as we made our way up the hill. I chose to ignore them completely though I could hear the taunts. Going from Mostar to Sarajevo was a little unnerving for me as a drunk guy grabbed my hand and planted slobbery kisses the length of it including the back of my palm, as he cooed, “My sweet chocolate”. Then there have been guys that I have met around Europe that have said they loved my lips like that was meant to be a compliment. In parts of the continent where blacks are rarely seen in the flesh, and mostly viewed half-naked in music videos, the approach has been whack, outrageous and frightening to say the least.

Having said that, my travels in Southeast Europe haven’t all been plagued by negative experiences. From the moment we got off the bus at the Mostar station, there were women milling around, welcoming us into their country. Maybe it was because they were touting hostel rooms, but they were very friendly. During our time at Hostel Nina, everyone was polite and I didn’t feel like a foreigner. On the train from Mostar to Sarajevo, as we were entering, a small boy who had spotted the man holding my hand and kissing it beckoned me to follow him. He led me and my daughter to sit with his family in the train, and we were soon engaged in conversation with other passengers in our cabin- a young university guy and his mum, and a couple with a small baby. As the train journey came to an end, I thought to myself how friendly Bosnians were; they created such a communal space and were sort of looking out for each other.

 

To read more stories of Caroline’s travelling experiences in various countries around the world, visit her blog ‘Travelogues of an African Girl’: https://africanahgirl.com/

A Nanny Noir

by Olivia Konotey-Ahulu, FRANCE

When I first moved to France, it seemed as though every week I would be asked whether I was ‘métisse’, or mixed race. Inevitably, this prompted an identity crisis over whether people thought I was actually white-passing, but fortunately baby-sitting two young French children quickly put an end to that line of questioning. At least once a week, the fact that the nanny was ‘noir’ seemed to come from nowhere; once, when the four-year old was listing colours, she added, ‘noir, comme toi’, as though she knew I needed to know. It made me aware that, even in Paris, it’s possible to live in a racial and cultural bubble. But, bizarrely, it was nice to be reminded of my colour.