Tag Archives: United States

Moving into the travel curve….

10 Jul
passport stamps

passport stamps (Photo credit: jesse edwards)

 

As I continue to look for old journals that have entries from previous trips, I am taking the time to recall a woman I went to school with who made a comment a while ago that I just can’t seem to get out of my head.  We were going back and forth on twitter about this blog, Black Away from Home, and in sum, a concern arose for the small percentage of African Americans who actually make the effort to leave the “glorious” U. S. of A to explore the shores of another land.  I’m not just talking about taking a cruise (because you really only see the dirty port and a bunch of tourist-driven “artisan markets” of mass produced schotskies), or the obligatory girls (or guys) trip to some Caribbean island only within a 2 hours flight of US soil.

Time Zones

Time Zones (Photo credit: r.rosenberger)

 

I’m talking about crossing time zones by plane, to a location that has ALWAYS (not just since 9/11) required a passport stamp for admittance.  Those places where you may even have to change your watch to a time the day before you boarded the plane.  TRAVEL.  ON PURPOSE.  I wonder what is the psychology behind the lack of desire of African Americans to experience lands other than the United States.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m clear that there are plenty of things to do and see in the United States.  I also know that very few African Americans have explored this land either.

This is a photo of a public space in the cente...

This is a photo of a public space in the center of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on 27 December 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think about a sorority sister of mine who got the most awesome opportunity to teach in Abu Dhabi for 18 months.  For many of people in her circle, the instinctual reaction was “Why?” accompanied with a look of disgust or pity before her explanation.  Why does this seem to be our initial reaction to things unknown, particularly overseas travel?  I am extremely curious as to whether or not this is at all related to some sort sociocultural memory that we may have of “extended travel” that did not end too well for usn our past.

This is not a question in jest.  I seriously am wondering whether or not the memory of the Ma’afa (Middle Passage) is so ingrained into our genetic make-up that it takes a particular type of person to be able to overcome it and travel the world.  Has the treacherous voyage of our ancestors to this side of the world stymied some of us into ever traveling long distances again?  If that is an excuse that some of us would like to use, than how would we explain the movement during Jim Crow of many of our African-American artists who fled the US to live in Paris (James Baldwin, Josephine Baker) or during the post-soul movement those scholars and activists who fled to Africa and Cuba (albeit sometimes in exile) like Stokely Carmichael and Angerla Davis?

Photo by Rudolf Suroch of Josephine Baker. Hav...

Photo by Rudolf Suroch of Josephine Baker. Havana, Cuba. 1950 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about Garvey, who encouraged African Americans in the early part of the 20th century to move back Africa, and the group who actually did and established Liberia?  It can’t just be that we are predisposed NOT to travel, there are so many examples of those of us who have.  When did we get to the point of complacency (or fear) that is seen as a novelty to travel overseas, or a representation of your personal wealth and status because you have traveled overseas (as someone who has only paid for 4 of the 18 overseas trips I’ve taken, MY monetary wealth is dismal at best).

I want to be one of the ones to encourage us to try it again.  This time, we are in control of where we go, how we will experience it and when we will leave.  We’re not fleeing oppressive conditions or circumstances (at least not too oppressive at this point, I may have a different response come January 2013 given the current move of US politics).

Another factor is money is always an issue.  Especially considering now in the Post-Bush economic debacle that pushed African Americans to the brunt end of economic woes and joblessness (No need to correct me.  I know who is president, but I also pride myself on being a literate citizen).  However, I also know that there are many travel agencies that specialize in “service travel,” or trips that cost little to nothing and allow you the opportunity to do service work (not necessarily mission work) overseas.

Travel Guides

Travel Guides (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

The opportunities are out there.  I encourage ANY African American who has dreamed of going somewhere (even if a fleeting thought), to research it and GO.  Pack your bag, get your travel guides and experience some place other than home.  It is time for us to collective step into the travel curve.  Let us become a growing number of African Americans who have an up-to-date passport with a stamp from another country less than six months old.  Allons-y! Vayamonos! Let’s go!

 

I encourage your thoughts on this topic!  Leave a comment.  This is still a ruminating thought in my head.  As you can tell from the post, I’m not real sure what to do with it. (Sorry for the eclectic mix of thoughts)

 

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London, March 11, 2010

28 Jun
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. (Photo credit: meg_williams)

I found Black London and it was at “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof!”  (2012 aside: This version starred Sanaa Lathan, Phylicia Rashad and James Earl Jones to name a few noteworthy Black actors) The play was phenomenal!  Aside from that, the London theater culture is a rhetorical space worth discussing.

Londoners have maintained the notion of theater as an event.  They meet up with friends and buy tickets walk-up.  There are pub style bars all throughout the theater and they still have ushers, true ushers who greet you at the door and point out your needs not just your seat.

Moving to the patrons, in this case majority Black patrons.  They flocked to see this play, not a fried chicken, Tyler Perry, B-list singer turned actor-starred nonsense that is filled with Black faces in the US.  It was refreshing.  I know this sentiment is elitist, but the thought that I am not an anamoly when it comes to cultural interests has cushioned my cultural comfort level.

Oddly enough, today I felt more at home than at home sometimes.

English: Glass art by Dale Chihuly at an exten...

English: Glass art by Dale Chihuly at an extensive exhibition in Kew Gardens, London, in 2005. The boat is in front of the Palm House, where there are two other glass sculptures. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kew Gardens was also beautiful today.  Victorian England exuding confidence in her wealth.  To imagine that there was someone tasked to collect plant species so that there could be one housed in the Royal Gardens.  It’s abusive in many respects.  But, that’s the power of England at the time.

English: London black cab (Hackney carriage) C...

English: London black cab (Hackney carriage) Camera: Canon Digital Ixus v2 Exposure: 1/20 sec. Focal Length: 11mm Aperture: F/4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am glad I was able to go to the play tonight.  I even got to ride in a black cab too.  Just a BLACK evening! lol

 

On Day 6, I feel Black, but not really American.  I feel like an outsider in America, feeling most comfortable with the Blacks I was “with” this evening.

What actually constitutes a sense of belonging?  Is it based on shared experiences or general cultural similarities?

 

Going back to family

18 Jun

After a series of unfortunate travel events trying to get back to the States, I am finally back to give my last debrief of my travels to Brazil

As I spend Sunday as my last day in Brazil, it is only appropriate that it is our “free” day.  I now get an opportunity to view a bit more of leisure life in Bahia.  The plan was to visit the Museu do Rodin.  Also a part of this plan was to walk…extensively (I’m not sure some of colleagues knew about the “extensive” part).

First things first:  the streets of Salvador are not conducive to strollers, so if vacationing with babies consider the baby harness (check Babies R Us or your baby gear outlet of choice).  As we walked along the coastline of the Barra (BAH-ha) neighborhood, families filled the beach and the streets.  There were also running groups and other groups of people living an “active” Sunday.

There is a portion of Avenida Oceanica, between the lighthouse and the fort that is closed off to through traffic for trampolines, children’s bike lanes and family dance classes to be put in the street for family entertainment.  This definitely caters to the middle class life of Brazil, so do not expect to see much diversity among the group when it comes to Brazilians.

There are a few things that I have learned on this trip that I did not expect to learn:

1) Afro-Brazilians are appreciated by culture only.  There are many Brazilians who tout the democratic horn of cultural and traditional appreciation, yet the people of whom these cultures and traditions belong have a difficult time rising up the socioeconomic ladder in the country.  This is not to say that ALL Afro-Brazilians are poor, however, it IS to say that if Afro-Brazilians make up 76% of the state of Bahia’s population and 95% of it’s poor,….well you draw your own conclusion.

2) Despite some of the grim and grimy aspects of the country, it is a place you MUST visit.  See it for yourself, experience it, and take it all in.   If traveling with family, I recommend you stay in the Barra neighborhood.  It is safe for family to travel and you can get taxis relatively quickly and easily to visit Pelourinho and other parts of town.

3) If you are of African descent, living in America, by all means, LEARN PORTUGUESE.  I liken this advice to what we tend to say here among certain circles, “if you model it, eventually, somebody will repeat it.”  I say this because I, in my humblest of opinions, believe that if we as African Americans take the time and the effort to adapt culturally to as much as we can about Brazil and then go visit, we will in essence be modeling the Black intellectual for the Afro-Brazilians (a 2006 statistic states that Afro-Brazilians make up 2% of the intellectuals at the universities partly due to the blight that is the public education system there).  I am convinced in a Washington/Duboisian mixed model, it can do some good in motivation.  I’m sure I may catch a bit a flack for this statement, but I ask you to think about your role models or people you admire, what did you do in your life because of just seeing them live theirs?

I leave Brazil with a desire to return…with my family.  I need my children to experience what I experienced and I want my family to see what I saw.  I cannot say we will definitely be there for the World Cup 2014 (some airports need a bit of work to handle that traffic still), but we can always make it a goal.

Back the US reality, but I do have a lot of writing to begin!

Ciaociao!

 

To the margins…in order to push it center

10 Jun

English: Hospital of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, B...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As my time winds down here in Brazil, there is a burning question that I cannot seem to put at ease:  Of all these wonderfully beautiful Black people, where do they live?  I have not seen a Black person leave any of the ritzy homes around this hotel?  I see them in the streets.  I see them heading somewhere when they leave their jobs at the end of the day.  But where are they going?  Why haven’t we been able to see those neighborhoods?  The program’s title does include “Afro-Brazilian Heartland.” Where is the heart of this land?

The program of which I am participating is wonderful in terms of exposing us to various aspects of Bahian culture: the African roots of food, dance, religion, music…..but what about where the Africans planted their roots?

The other day, we had a scholar on environmental justice talk to us about about the concept of environmental racism in Bahia.  Aside from wonderful information about that (I encourage ALL people to read up on it, we might learn a thing or two about our own society), she showed us some maps of Salvador….demographic maps. Salvador is 77% Black (I think I said 85% in another blog, here is my correction), many of whom live in substandard conditions around the city.  I urge you to do a quick internet search of Salvador, look at the images that come up, and point to where those areas “around the city” are located in those images.  I am almost positive you will not see them.

I visted Saramandaia neighborhood (what we Americans would call a favela).  To get to this neighborhood, we had to park the van and walk through and up very narrow streets.  With all the twists and turns, we probably walked about 1/2 mile above where we parked.  This neighborhood, although visible by the main roads, is not accessible by the main roads.  Here in this visibly invisible neighborhood above the city, I found where the Blacks (that make of the majority of this 77%) were living.

Saramandaia was and may still be considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Salvador.  But if I go back to the environmental racism lecture, the reasons may be similar to whythere is  Black on Black crime in the United States.  My brother -in-law says (paraphrasing) “there’s nothing worse than a man who thinks he’s got nothing to lose.”  What do we tend to do when we think we have no options and no way out?  We fight back with whatever is closest, sometimes, that’s our own.

But there is hope for Saramandaia.  There are a group of men who grew up in the neighborhood who are giving the children other options.  Grupo Cultural Arte Consciente.  Look it up.  Learn about it.  Share it with a friend.  Why?  Because too many people come to Brazil and will never have the desire nor the opportunity to visit the favelas.  They will remain, hidden from the tourists, and pushed aside by the state.  Environmental racism:  Because no one in a favela has the money to own the  land in which they live, the Brazilian government will not fund programs to ensure that there is public sewage and solid waste disposal.  So long as nobody knows about them to help them with land rights, it will never happen.

Afro-Brazil is the pulse that drives tourists to flock to its land.  The pulse of samba, the pulse of the cuisine, the pulse of the vibrancy that is Brazil.  But the coracao (I know, no accents) of this pulse is pushed to hills, by way too expensive property and a desire by mainstream society for the true Afro-Brazil to be heard but not seen.

 

I want to expose the heart.  So we can watch it beat.

 

Boa noite!

 

 

 

Bahian Cuisine: Part European, part African, part Amerindian….All GOOD!

9 Jun
Moqueca capixaba

Moqueca capixaba (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So let me just preface this by saying Bahian cuisine by United States health food standards could possibly be a coronary in training according to preparation; however to be able to taste it and to learn the modifications for it, is REALLY worth it.

We visited the SENAC Culinary Museum and School in Pelourinho this afternoon.  Admittedly, after an entire morning of lectures I think we may have all been too tired to recall what SENAC stood for, so I will not try to guess it now.  We had a fabulous chef and instructor teach all about the history of Bahian cuisine and taught us how to prepare some of the meals that were most closely asscoiated with Africans, particularly, those dishes used for offerings in Candomble.

Let me say two words in regards to food preparation….palm oil…..used in abundance and with a VERY free hand.  Now there is a myth that palm oil is horrible for you because of a high cholesterol content.  After today, I have reason to believe this is a myth created in order to degrade all things African as it is used almost exclusively in African and Bahian cooking.  Truth is, palm oil is a great source of Viatmins A and B and is not high cholesterol, it binds to the enzymes of cholesterol to help balance it in the body (quote the chef, he said it, not me, but I did look a little bit to verify his info).  I do have two more words in regards to Bahian cooking….coconut milk…also in abundance and with a free hand.  Every single dish we had today contained both of these ingredients and they’re the only ingredients  for which there are no exact measurements in our recipes.

So what did we have?  Moqueca de peixe e camarao, farofa, vatapa, pepper sauce and coconut rice.  Now I know my husband has already tuned most of this blog out due to the use of coconut, and he may very well be “taking a reading break” at the mention of the coconut rice, but he’ll be back to finish reading later to at least see what all these names mean (to look out for them should they appear in our kitchen in the future, lol).

Moqueca is a type of stew made with tomatoes, onions (again, my husband has left the blog), cilantro, green peppers, LOTS of coconut milk and palm oil.  You layer it almost like lasagna with the fish in between the vegtables (let the fish sit for 40minutes in lime juice before adding).  Once the dish starts boiling you’ve got about 15minutes left to cook.  In the last few minutes, add the shrimp.

Farofa is of African origin, it is cassava meal with dried shrimp and this “secret ingredient” of a shrimp, cashew mix.  It’s cooked in (of course) palm oil.  This dish needs to be dry and mealy if you prepare it.

Vatapa is a very thick stew of palm oil, blended onions, coconut milk, shrimp, cassava flour, bread crumbs blended with coconut milk and mixed well until a thick paste consistency.

Now some of this may not seem the most attractive in their description, but if the Internet would let me leave a taste at the end of each description, you wouldn’t care about the appearance.  Also, it is crucial to note, these are Afro-Bahian dishes, therefore born out of a slave culture.  How often have you heard of slaves having lavish meals that were beautiful to look at and eat?  The meals fulfilled their purpose.  The chef did note that as Afro-Bahians moved up in status economically (which we learned in one of our lectures this morning could have been by owning slaves….stick a pin there, more on that in another blog), the shrimp was added because the inclusion of protein in these dishes reflected your wealth.

The layers of flavor including the pepper sauce made for a wonderfully delicious, satisfying meal.  That is why this evening, I am only have a few pieces of bread and water because I am still full!

Tomorrow is our last day of lectures.  We begin our transition back home.  I may begin to re-pack my suitcase tonight.  I have gifts for my family I need to squeeze in.

 

Boa noite!

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