I’m on a plane—full from a delicious meal (though I can’t tell you the names of what I have eaten) to Tokyo with approximately 200 Asians, mainly from Japan. I’m the only Black person on this flight, except for my 3 traveling companions, my family. We are on our way to Thailand, Bali, and Hong Kong. I’m feeling the same combination of excitement and anxiety I always do when I’m going to a corner of the world where I’ve never been.
My folk (by that I mean my family and friends) have admonished me: Why you always gotta go somewhere, gurl?. They’ve prayed for me: Lord, child, be careful now. You know you trust folks. Don’t’ go over there trusting everybody. And don’t eat everything. You know Sister June’s cousin almost died in Mexico from some bad cheese. I’ma pray every day you are gone. They’ve warned me: You know folks don’t like us now ‘cause that man is President. You need to stay your fast tail here.
I know though, that I’ll never “stay here” (wherever “here” is).
I just can’t. The desire to travel is probably the only thing I’ve been consistently passionate about my entire life (even when I couldn’t do it because of money restrictions and/or family or work obligations).
Simply put, I’m passionate about living (not simply about being alive). I’m curious. I want to see, do, taste, experience all that I possibly can in the years I’m provided. I’ve always heard the loud ticking clock of life—feeling as if I won’t have enough time to experience as much of it as I want. I suspect that my natural Sagittarian nature to wander the world was intensified by my parents’ early deaths: my dad at 35 and my mom at 53. I oftentimes say that they gave me my two greatest gifts: first – life; and second – an understanding of the preciousness and brevity of life. Just one neighborhood, one city, one state or one country isn’t enough. The same foods, traditions and people just don’t satisfy how big I’ve always known life could be.
I travel to be reminded of the bigness of it all; the possibilities of it all. When life is kicking my butt, when people are disappointing me, when things aren’t going the way I’d like; I find peace in knowing that those circumstances aren’t fixed. The world offers other possibilities.
Also, as a Black woman, sometimes I need to flee the United States for the same reasons that my mother, James Baldwin, Josephine Baker and countless other Blacks fled to Europe in the 60’s: I need to be seen and treated differently than Black people are treated at home. At times, I need to take off the heavy backpack of my Blackness and simply walk around with a fanny pack. Sure, people in other countries see that I am Black; but my Blackness means something wholly different; and that difference is liberating.
Ironically, I’ve never felt more American than I do when I’m not in America. The questions residents of other countries ask about me are typically focused on me being an American and driven by who I am (what do you think of your new President?); instead of questions focused on what I am (such as, Do you wash your hair?). I am able to operate freely without being constantly defined and confined.
In other countries, I am not defined by anyone’s expectations of me. And more importantly, I get to explore my own expectations for myself and of life. Traveling gives me the opportunity to discover what I like, what I’m willing to try; who I am when stripped of societal pressures and stereotypes. For instance, Brazil taught me to be more comfortable with touch. There, affection is liberally and publicly shown: between friends, lovers and even strangers. Touch is not seen as something crude or rude. Morocco taught me about the beauty of patterns; and that nothing clashes if done correctly. I learned the sensuality of being covered and modest (truly never felt more beautiful than when only my face was showing). There I also learned about releasing ego in self and having pride in tradition and family. People who lived in poverty would invite you into their homes and grandly serve you tea without care of the surroundings (the honor was in being invited into their home—not in how large or fancy it is). Costa Rica reminds me to ask myself what’s really important in life. France always nudges me to indulge in decadence now and then. It’s okay to eat the chocolate—for breakfast, every morning – as long as you savor it. Kenya was where I learned my greatest lesson about myself. There I learned, from looking at the menagerie of creatures that the Creator designed that nothing about me was wrong or a mistake. I learned that I was—as we all were—created to be unique; and that it is okay for me not to want a cookie-cutter life. On that I trip I finally started to be okay with me.
Each trip – the further I get from “staying here” the closer I get to me; and I am trying to get there—exactly there. I believe that’s ultimately what life is all about: discovering exactly who it is we are, letting go of all that we are not, falling in love with our uniqueness, and then consistently living in a way that honors our spirit. So, I go ….
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more