What Traveling Taught me About Race

Stereotypes are still prevalent

There are archaic stereotypes attached to being Black that are still unashamedly thriving in parts of the world. Living in a country like the UK, where racism is more subtle, can easily numb one to the fact that there are places where people still hold obscenely derogatory beliefs about Black people and are guided, in their relations with Black people, by this misunderstanding. In other words, you might experience blatant racism when traveling. The bulk of this travel-related racism is pure ignorance and a lack of understanding on what not to say to or ask a Black person due to the fact that these people have little or no day-to-day interactions with Black people or may have never met one before. Some are down to lazy inane thinking, where people believe that what they see in the media and entertainment, as a representation of Black people, is actually true of ALL Black people, while a few will be conscious malignant discrimination. In my experience of traveling, I have only experienced the latter once

 

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Madrid, Spain

People are able to dismantle stereotypes

Though stereotypes exist as mentioned previously, people are capable of overlooking surface level differences between themselves and the Black traveler. Travel has the power to restore your faith in humanity. The joys of travel outweigh the negatives and not even racial differences have caused any issues which have made me second guess my love for travel. This is because I have never received really bad treatment due to race whilst traveling. As said earlier, I have only experienced blatant racism once, so far, as a traveler. I have mostly found that people from different cultures and backgrounds, who look nothing like me or who have never met someone like me have been very welcoming and open. I have been housed and fed by strangers, befriended by people with whom I had no language in common, involved in deep conversations with strangers in strange places and invited to family dinners where I stuck out due to the hue of my skin. Travel truly does show that in the end, we are all commonly human.

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Cappadocia, Turkey

Being Colorblind is NOT ideal

Great discussions have been borne from my Blackness/African culture. We all know those moments when someone tries to skirt around the obvious fact that you are Black and it becomes this awkward elephant in the room. I prefer our differences to be celebrated not buried or worse, white-washed. We are who we are and the colour of our skin brings stories, cultures, traditions and rich histories. All these are the basis for great midnight conversations in foreign countries surrounded by the unfamiliar but feeling weirdly at home because you are given a platform to be you and discuss being you. Often, in countries where Black people are a minority, people are very open to hearing about you and your life and this sheer curiosity has made discussing race less tense. It is not my job to educate others on race and Blackness, there are plenty of books for this. But having an open dialogue where we bond over the similarities and differences in our culture can be fruitful for both parties.

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Cappadocia, Turkey

Money > Race

To put it crassly, no one cares about the colour of your skin as long as your wallet has hard currency. People will bend over backward, in most circumstances, to get a hand on that cash of yours and do all the boot licking necessary. I am not unaware of the fact that being a Black tourist might prove to be very different from being a Black immigrant. A Black tourist is often seen as a walking ATM machine as are all other races of tourists, on the other hand, a Black immigrant is usually seen very differently. A Black immigrant is often seen as a taker, someone who comes to take things away from the host community such as jobs or housing. A Black tourist, on the other hand, is usually seen more as a giver, as they are often purely consumers with no request/need for social benefits such as housing or jobs hence they are not “competing” with the locals.

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Bexley, England

You’ll Always Discover Similarities

No matter how different you think you are from the people in a country you travel to, you will find that you have common ground and usually more than you may have expected. I am always amazed at how at home I feel in some countries, such as parts of Italy. Usually, values such as respect and community are found in these collectivist societies which immediately transport me back to Nigeria. Travel throws a lot of uncertainty and unfamiliarity at the traveler but you will also find cases of familiarity which offer comfort and a serving of home.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Being Black doesn’t obstruct travel though it gives the experience a certain hue. In my experiences, openness is more common than discrimination – as curious as the traveler is, so is the host, both parties are inquisitive and usually both open.

I dare say if you want to escape subtle or more blatant discrimination due to race in your home country, become a traveler.

*Please note that all the above relate mostly to my experience of being a Black traveler as opposed to a Black immigrant.

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Back from Sabbatical 😁

Beside, The Astronaut, one of Berlin’s most famous street art

I am back!

It is weird to see how time flies by looking at the last time I posted on my beloved blog, africanwildflower – BUT..I am back now and have blown the dust off this collection of travel experiences.

Since my last post about Hungary, I have been to 10 new countries which I can’t wait to tell you about. In addition, I now have a goal to hit 30 countries by 30, which was inspired by a colleague who aimed, and succeeded, at reaching 25 countries by the age of 25!

Here’s to keeping the africanwildlflower fire burning!

Budapest, Hungary – The City of Baths

Budapest is definitely the most unlikely city I have visited so far. By unlikely, I mean it was never on my “top ten” list of places to go and it seems not to be on the list of many people as my sister’s exclamation of “what are you doing in Budapest??”when I sent pictures to my siblings whatsapp group, shows.

The Danube

In short, Budapest was not planned. My friend and I had some other destination we wanted to visit, but the cost of accommodation and flights put us off. Just when we were about to pause on travelling at all, Budapest happened.

Heroes Square (Hosok Tere)

Kossuth Lajos ter


We were in Budapest in the middle of June – the heat was debilitating. However, thanks to the many baths and spas that Budapest is famous for – cooling off was never far away.

The first thing that struck me about Budapest was how manageable the crowd was. For a capital city, it didn’t feel as overwhelming as London but still managed to feel exciting. The people were also very polite, from strangers on the road to hotel staff.

Budapest isn’t the cheapest city I have been to but it is definitely not expensive either. It took me a while to get used to the conversion rate, for some reason, and truly understand the value of things but I can say it was a moderately affordable city. For me, Bogota, is the cheapest city I’ve been to where I would go on a 45mins Uber ride and pay less than £10!

Baths

Gellerts


We had the opportunity to visit 2 thermal baths whilst in Budapest – Gellerts and Szechenyi. Gellerts bath is elegant whilst Szechenyi is hip. Szechenyi was full of young people in their early twenties whilst Gellerts was more family friendly. Szechenyi was bigger and had glum, wet changing stalls that seemed to go on forever, my friend likened it them to prison cells and I don’t disagree, Gellerts, on the other hand is smaller and it’s changing stalls bore little similarities to a penitentiary. I won’t suggest one over the other as they were both fun and relaxing just with different vibes. Szechenyi’ yellow buldings is especially picturesque.
Jewish District

Budapest’s Jewish district is the soul of the city and you immediately feel a shift in vibe when you get there. The second biggest synagogue in the world, and the largest in Europe, is located here and so are several boutique restaurants and street art. Where the street art is, is usually where the most passion in a city lies – at least this is what I believe.

Cuisine

In relation to cuisine, I will say as a legit foodie, who has eaten food from different cultures, that the Hungarian delicacies did not disappoint. My favourite was this pancake stuffed with chicken soaked in a paprika stew. Typical of how I relate to international foods, I do not remember the name but I hope the description is crisp enough to help you find it if you ever go to Hungary. Goulash was also a staple in most restaurants we went to and is definitely something to eat in Hungary.

I can recommend 3 restaurants in order of amazingness which must not be missed if you’re in Budapest:

Bobyglar – this restaurant fell into our laps as we wondered away from Hosok Tere, a square with statues of important figures in Hungary’s history. It’s similar in structure, and its location centrally at a big crossroads, to Trafalgar Square in London. Of course, it was nowhere near as chaotic as Trafalgar Square but it was still beautiful and full of history.

Anyways, we wandered away from this monument and staggered hungrily into the hobbit-home-looking building to find a nicely furnished restaurant which had an outside seating area that we immediately settled into. The staff were top-notch and I will give not just the delicious food 5 stars, but also the service we received.

Cafe New York – Tagged the most beautiful cafe in the world, this is an absolute must-visit. I have never been to a restaurant that opulent and extravagant, let alone a cafe that exquisite. You might actually be intimidated by the setting and assume your pocket won’t survive the visit. For a place as beautiful as a palace, the Cafe is unbelievably affordable. It’s also a great place for taking unrivalled photos.

Mazel Tov – Tucked in the Jewish district is this Israeli restaurant which has sections outdoors whilst their indoor area is covered with clear canopies. It is teeming with greenery so that even when you are inside, you feel like you are outside. The food was was delightful – I had a sharwama that tasted authentic, fresh and delicious. To make the already charming atmosphere more special, there was live music by this guy with a guitar who sang heart-wrenching love songs all night.

Budapest is a truly beautiful city! The wide streets, yellow trams, Jewish district and Moorish architecture made Budapest feel idyllic and like a cross breed between Portugal, San Francisco and Tel Aviv (none of which I’ve been to, but Pinterest pictures tell you a lot).

Budapest is not very diverse, in the sense that non-White people are a rarity, so my friend and I were stared at quite a bit, but we have become used to this as we often find ourselves in situations where we stand out. If you’ve travelled through most countries in Europe as a Black person, you won’t find the stares in Budapest shocking. In fact, the stares were milder than I have experienced in other countries such as in areas of Greece or the South of Italy were I almost stopped traffic.
Budapest was an unexpected trip that has now become an unforgettable experience.

Vienna, Austria – The Enchanting City

Now Austria is my first venture to a non Mediterranean European country, asides the UK of course. Vienna has absolutely exquisite architecture dating from ages past. I was only in the city for a couple of days but I was in awe of the sculptures and grand opulent buildings from time gone by. It felt like I was in another era, another time, a time were the rich were extremely, grand , luxurious and ostentatious – at least I assume this from the effort, time and expertise that obviously went into these structures. In that sense, Vienna felt truly European. I remember going into a fashion retail store which looked more like a 15th Century Nobles closet than a regular clothes store in the 21st century. The elevator in the store was the most elaborate elevator I have ever been in, it looked so beautiful and intricate I could hardly believe it actually worked. 

I remember seeing a particular dark, imposing cathedral, with an eerie dome on my way back to the airport after my visit. The memory of this particular building has stayed with me.I regrettably, do not know what it is called or where it is located but the way I felt as I stared at it from my cab truly encapsulates how powerful the emotions these beautiful static buildings from another time can evoke.

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Exquisite elevator


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Hofburg Palace

My favorite sculptural piece was the Pestsaule, which is a bit morbid as it is a memorial of the plague epidemic of 1679 that ravaged the city. As I wondered round inner city Vienna, the structure grabbed my attention quite a ways away and of course I floated right towards it. The most enchanting thing about the sculpture were the clouds, I have never seen sculptural clouds. I mean making clouds, something so airy, puffy and weightless look so real using such concrete material is truly genius.

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Pestsaule

So, I was at Vienna at Christmas time and of course I went to the Christmas market located at the Rathaus (town hall) . It was buzzing with life and Christmas cheer. There was loads of food and I ate this delicious bratwurst hot dog. It was pretty cold but the joy and Christmas spirit concentrated at this market made the cold bearable! I love Christmas and visiting the Christmas market really made Christmas that year extra special.

I discovered I lived only a few minutes walk from the Sigmund Freud museum so I visited. It was really informative and engaging. The museum used to be Freuds offices and home in Vienna so I got to see his space and some of his personal effects.

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Sigmund Freud Museum, staring into Freud’s mirror

Interestingly, I also visited this Nigerian restaurant called Wazobia in Webergasse, Vienna. The food was delicious and authentic, although the restaurant itself is not stunning and is located in a basement with bad lighting. If you don’t mind a below average ambiance, you will enjoy good Nigerian food. The owner is also really pleasant.

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Wazobia restaurant, Webergasse

I should add Vienna is super easy to navigate, I was able to get around easily without my friend solely using a combination of google maps and an app called qando Vienna, which is also a GPS navigation platform.

Vienna was quite diverse in a European sense, I met people from Turkey, France, Poland, the UK, Ukraine and USA. It did feel very vibrant and also seemed to have an interesting arts scene. However, it is not diverse in a more international, global sense. I saw very few Black people (not that I expected Black people to be in abundance or Black people need to be in abundance EVERYWHERE) but I did not get many stares like I have in some other places. On one random occasion, a semi-drunk guy shouted “black girls” at my friend and I and kept staggering away. As a Black tourist, Vienna was definitely welcoming. 

Vienna is a charming city. I would love to visit more places in the city and also go to more rural parts of the country, as I know Austria also offers beautiful natural environments.

 

 

 

Must-D0s when at a Travel Destination

There a few things I always try to do when I travel to a new place, I think they really help me connect and not be an insensitive aloof tourist mowing over culture and locals.

1.Befriend a local – where possible, I really like making friends with some of the local people. It’s a great way to really get to know a place and to get recommendations  of things off the tourist trail. They are always happy to spill all the secrets that will help you have a really wholesome trip. I have thankfully been able to either make new friends at places I have been or to already have friends who live there. It is really great when you get invited to people’s homes, eat with their family and hear stories that bring life to your journey and make you appreciate being where you are. In smaller communities, befriending a local also opens the gate for you to be accepted by the wider, perhaps more cautious community.

 

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Trying to befriend a local – Matana, Burundi

2. Run – If you are a runner, it goes without saying that you will be packing your running gear with you on travels. If you are not a runner, well you should be, running and runners are great! Running abroad is a great way  to stumble upon some spectacular places, some out of the way of the tourist bus. Running on location really amps your motivation as you might get to run on white sandy beaches, through mountains, muddy terrains or through a lush forest. Most people run on concrete weaving through buildings, pedestrians, prams and vehicles trying not let the exhaust pipe fumes strangle their lungs. So, getting a chance to change scenery and air quality is always welcome. Again, running has a way of really plugging you into the location and forging a connection. Do check out if you can sign up for any local or national races before you travel.

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Running route – Nafplio, Greece

3.Buy local –  Try to avoid the massive international chains and invest in local businesses when at a new travel destination. It is a great way to get some authentic cultural stuff and  to talk to some interesting people. Open markets are amazing spaces, usually full of life and interesting vendors. Also, buying local (made) means you are less likely to buy stuff made in a sweat shop in some dark alley.Do remember to negotiate prices where possible though! I often try to find cool home decor that are well made , FOOD, jewelry and local fashion designers and artists. It is essential you buy stuff you really like and that is well made with real craftsmanship, it may cost a bit more but you don’t want to accumulate badly made junk.   You may have to buy less but few quality pieces are much better than loads of junk…I would think.

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Eating local – Bath, England

Italy – Calabria

There have been two places on the top of my must-visit list for some years now and Italy was one of them. I think Italy is a must-see for many people. It’s a well publicized destination and has the element of romance and pizzas working for it. I saw no Gondolas or Colosseum but what I did see was equally beautiful!

I was in Italy for three months in a small seas-side town called Locri in the region of Calabria. Italy did not disappoint, if anything it further captured me and drew me in deeper, I want to see more of Italy than I have.

 The people here, in the south of Italy,  have a strong sense of identity and often see themselves as very different from their northern counterparts. Most people did not speak any English as expected,so I had to pick up Italian pretty quickly and was able to have light conversations in Italian by the time I left.

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Promenade, Locri

Now Locri is surrounded with lush rolling hills (perfect for hiking) with the sparkling Mediterranean at its doorstep (perfect for swimming). Surrounding villages are houses built on and into rocks across the hills and getting through involves rides through winding, tiny streets leading higher and higher above the Med. I lived about 5 minutes from the beach, which was mostly deserted as it was a bit chilly when I went. The chill didn’t stop me from throwing myself into the sea several times though. This part of Italy truly takes your breath away, exquisite raw beauty is the norm here. To top it off, there is gorgeous food everywhere, from mouth-watering pastries and pretty little treats to legendary pizzas and delicious appetizers. I believe the single thing I ate the most during my three months in the South of Italy were these mind-blowingly delicious ice-cream sandwiches –  gelato spooned into brioche rolls. I couldn’t stop devouring them in large quantities.

I really liked the feel and “vibe” in Locri, the people were very friendly despite my horrible Italian and the fact I was probably the only non-white person for miles and miles. Surprisingly, in Reggio Calabria or simply Reggio, the major city in Calabria, the people though friendly on communicating with them, stared A LOT. When walking down the busy high street during passegiatta (Italian informal custom of strolling up and down main streets and socializing, usually Sunday evenings), I literally stopped traffic. It was a strange experience for me as this was the first time I was in a place where people weren’t used to seeing Black tourists. Sadly, a lot of the Black people in Reggio where refugees or people seeking asylum;  they were poor and did menial odd jobs, I was obviously a tourist and as such a rarity.

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Locri – my morning jog route

There are quite a few ruins and archaeological sites to visit in the area, many dating years before Christ. My favorite little town in the area was Gerace, which is absolutely stunning, and is, unsurprisingly, perched on a hill. The windy streets, the little cafes, the old castles and the panoramic views of the sea made it feel heavenly.

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Castle ruins, Gerace

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View from the top, Gerace

Calabria was good to me. There were moments when I felt it was all too good to be true. But it was true, I had the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of this place for three months and it was a lot of beauty to behold.

 

 

 

Why I love travel..

It’s the movement.

The progress, the soaking up of everything that’s so new and different.

An invasion of the senses – the smells, sounds, tastes, the feel, the colors…

Travel takes you back to your early years – you’re a sponge and you just soak it all up cos it’s all new, like all things are new when you are child just starting life.Everything is a surprise.

It’s a regression and a progression all at once.

The perfect composite

Starting with the U.S.A – Wisconsin

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Milwaukee, USA

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Milwaukee, USA – Harley Davidson Museum

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IHOP – International House of Pancakes in Milwaukee

 

Right after submitting the final draft of my university dissertation in the year 2013, I left York, England and flew to Minneapolis, USA to visit my Uncle’s family who lived in nearby Menomonie, Wisconsin. This would be my first real travel and the beginning of an unquenchable, insatiable, bugging desire to see the whole world.

This post will be about my first stop in America, Wisconsin and the things I did, what I saw and how I felt there.

My first defining thoughts in America were – “everything is so big, even the people are bigger”. I got relatively stressed out transporting myself from one end of the massive airport I was changing flights at. American airports are HUGE. I was already at the verge of missing my flight mostly because I had underestimated how many miles I would have to travel within the airport. An interesting thing I saw as I rushed was people clapping for a group of soldiers who were walking by. I guess it was their way of showing respect. I have definitely never seen anyone clap for any soldiers in the UK.

Menomonie – I stayed for a few days with my Uncle and Aunt in their little town, Menomonie, before heading to Milwaukee for my cousin’s graduation. I remember us going to a Chinese buffet one evening and finding it difficult to believe “soda” had free refills. I was later to find out this is quite common in the States. Food portions are also much bigger and I spent my first few weeks back in the UK grumbling as everything was more expensive and portion sizes suddenly became a travesty.

Madison – There was a brief stop in Madison on our way to Milwaukee. I got to  see the University of Wisconsin campus there and again was truly flabbergasted at the size of the University in comparison to its UK counterparts. It seemed limitless to me. The only comparison I had was probably the few Nigerian Universities I have visited which are also quite huge. I somehow found my self at the university reception and nearly choked with surprise when I saw iMacs dotted round the foyer for free access.  My dear University of York immediately paled in comparison as I took a moment to appreciate my truly humble educational background – infrastructure-wise.

Milwaukee – We were here to attend my cousin’s graduation which took place in a gigantic stadium – again I experienced shock at the scale of the ceremony and also the liberal and informal atmosphere. A man kept blowing a Vuvuzela somewhere in the stadium.

The Harley Davidson Museum and Company was visited and the best word to use for that experience is… cool. Of course.

Milwaukee caused a bit of excitement for my Uncle and his family as I happened to get “lost” for a few hours. Really what happened was, everyone was exhausted after the graduation festivities and had fallen asleep in the hotel. I, on the other hand,  was not exhausted but still very excited about being in the States and thought sleep was a waste of time so I left the hotel for a wander round downtown Milwaukee. When I returned I met my family in the foyer, my Uncle looking harried and worried. Apparently, there had been some gun firing a few hours ago at a Walgreens I walked past during my wandering. I did see the gunshot holes on the glass door of the shop but for some reason felt no sense of fear or clear understanding that someone had shot a gun, obviously quite recently, at the shop I was causally walking past. This had further worried my Uncle I believe.

I found it amusing that when describing me to the concierge, my Uncle apparently told the guy one of the distinguishing characteristics of mine was that i had a very “distinct accent”. My distinct accent was later going to be a consistent topic through out my American travels.

We found out that Bill Cosby was also a guest at the hotel we stayed in  (not certain this is something to be proud of..)

I returned to Menomonie on my own, having stayed back in Milwaukee for a few extra days.At the bus station, as I was about to board the bus (unfortunately not a Greyhound), an Amish family suddenly appeared and also boarded the bus with me. A pair of young Amish men sat right next to me. Now , having been fascinated by the Amish for quite a while my first actual encounter with them was surreal to say the least. I even had the blessed opportunity to lend my phone to the Amish dad of the bunch. He kindly offered to pay me after using the phone!

Forever engraved in my mind, is the image of a little Amish toddler girl who was part of the group. She had the chubbiest cheeks which seemed even chubbier when squished into a little black bonnet tied quite snugly round her pudgy face.