The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Precariousness of Getting There: Travel's Hardships and Blessings

Nicole Maisha, January 2013 - On a recent flight from Washington DC to Dakar, Senegal we had a strange experience.  Before we took off, the pilot got on the PA system and told us there would be quite a bit of turbulence for the first part of the trip.  A couple of passengers nearby were also telling several of us that it would be a very bumpy ride initially because of a storm system brewing over the Atlantic.  But alas, after takeoff and more than two hours into the flight there was nothing beyond the normal bumps here and there.  Then suddenly one of the flight attendants walked hurriedly down the aisle and told his colleague to put away the duty free cart because we were getting ready to "hit some really bad turbulence". You can imagine the fear we experienced upon hearing his words.  Our anxiety was more a reaction to his tense demeanor than anything else.  I turned to my husband and asked him to make du'a (Islamic term for supplication) for our safety and protection. We never actually hit any bad turbulence.  In fact, we didn't hit more than a few waves and bumps that were scarcely felt.  It seems that the pilot was able to avert the storms and winds by slightly changing course.  And that change even got us to our destination about 30 minutes early!

Cape Verdean Ferry

I often write about the spiritual, visceral and emotional experiences of traveling. I'm usually referring to the part where you've actually arrived at and are enjoying your destination.  But when you really think about it, the getting there is just as enlightening.  Plane travel has distanced us from the precariousness of international journeys; however, even when you're in- country you get a sense of how risky and scary any voyage can be.  For example, I was just traveling in Senegal - from the capital Dakar down to Kedougou, the southeastern edge of the country close to the border with Guinea.  It's approximately 500 km and if road infrastructure was good it would be about a 7- hour drive. But the roads in the country's interior are narrow, windy and riddled with potholes in some parts.  To top it off, the buses used to transport passengers are old, rickety and often in poor mechanical shape.  Seats can be old, windows not working and passengers squeezed into tight seats and rows.  What adds to the dangerousness are the mounds of luggage, goods and boxes that are piled high on the roof and the seeming recklessness of the drivers who are often sleep-deprived before setting off on the 12- to 13-hour overnight drive.  You are literally on a wing and a prayer during those trips.  

I've heard many stories, both in the news and from personal accounts, of people injured or even killed in bus accidents.  My friend’s cousin had to get stitches on her face and arms after her bus from Conakry, Guinea tipped over in the middle of the night. Even my husband gets antsy.  On our most recent bus trip to Kedougou he gave the driver a piece of his mind.  When he felt we were going too fast, he yelled out, “hey, you have our life in your hands.  Be careful!”  Then, there was the time I took an hour-long ferry ride between islands in Cape Verde. The Atlantic Ocean was rough, the boat was unstable, people were getting sea-sick, and I was traveling alone.  I seriously thought the boat might capsize.  Obviously, it didn't   Halfway through, I made subtle contact with an older man on the boat who had clearly made the trip numerous times.  We were able to communicate with the few Creole words I knew and he tapped my back and comforted me as he saw my motion-sickness and the shear fear on my face. 

If you are brave - or some would say naive- enough to take these kind of trips (or just one of tens of thousands of people who have no choice), then you will likely be tapping into your personal faith and spiritual foundation for protection. These examples are pretty extreme, I know! But even with the statistical safety of modern aviation, nothing is guaranteed.  You're likely not completely comforted by numbers when you weather the severe turbulence of an ocean storm that reaches you 33,000 feet in the air.  When you travel, you are vulnerable, you put yourself at risk and many times you pray that you make it to the other side unscathed.  It is a hardship and a blessing.  
Pretty nice tour bus in the desert of Bahrain
The bus that goes from Dakar to Kedougou
The acknowledgement of this travel duality – the danger and the benefit -figures prominently in Islamic tradition. Seeking blessings and protection during travel is very important for Muslims.  Muslims frequently refer to the reported sayings and examples of the Prophet Mohamed (called Hadiths) for guidance.  One Hadith says, “Three supplications will not be rejected (by Allah (SWT)), the supplication of the parent for his child, the supplication of the one who is fasting, and the supplication of the traveler”. It is believed that during travel supplication is heard by Allah (SWT) if the trip is for a good reason, but if the trip is for a bad intention this will not apply to it.  Upon returning from a journey it is reported that the Prophet Mohamed would say, We are returning, repenting, worshiping and praising our Rabb (Lord)”. 

Finally, this verse from the Holy Qur’an touches the heart of what it means to travel. “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made into you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other).  Surely the noblest amongst you in the sight of God is the most god-fearing of you. God is All-knowing and All-Aware" (Quran 49:13).  As a Muslim, an adventurer and a world traveler, I gladly and humbly accept those hardships and blessings each and every time I have the opportunity!

Do you have a particular travel ritual that helps you feel protected?
On the hills of Fogo, CV

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Scared Traveler: Finding the Right Travel Partner

Travelling the world alone is an experience in itself. Being able to navigate through the many obstacles that present themselves in your path is a test of endurance and patience. But when the road is taken with friends it’s a blessing in disguise. The company of close friends brings about a different atmosphere. Worries no longer exist, because things that are indelibly you, are put at ease in familiar company. Those that don’t enjoy the luxury of familiar company, travel alone. But when time permits itself for new introductions it’s the perfect opportunity to become acquainted with new friendships. When choosing new friendships it’s important to look for those qualities that will not clash with your own, because once you leap into an adventure with someone regrets can emerge. 

Take these helpful tips when choosing new acquaintance for your journey in the world, for they will save you a headache in the long run. 

Frugal vs. Carefree
There is nothing wrong with being thrifty with money. At some point in time many of us find ourselves being thrifty with our own money. Although, being frugal varies by degree there is one thing that should be kept in mind when travelling  People of inequality spending ideologies are not always the perfect travel partners. Someone who’s more or less a spendthrift should be mindful of those that aren't. One will find inequalities with room amenities (4 or 5 star hotels vs. cheap multi-room lodging), choice in food selection (pricey restaurants vs. convenience store fare) and transportation (hiring of private cars or taxis vs. buses and subways). No matter your spending preference, it’s best to keep in mind that you may be travelling alone if these differences are an issue. 

Church goers vs. Bars and Club goers
As in all things in life there are people who hold strong religious ideologies than many others. These views will affect how they see the outside world, and who they surround themselves with. Although, they hold no offense towards others, the way they behave may be conservative. These degrees of conservatism vary person by person. One’s idea of a good time may be dancing and drinking while another’s view would see these in a bad light. It would be best to avoid awkward conversation or not place yourself in a position where your morals will be under fire by someone that beliefs are more conservative than your own. In the end you will feel miserable having to spend your time in the company of another’s, whose company you wish to avoid. 

Argumentative vs. Freedom of Speech
For those that believe everyone has a right to voice opinions they hold dear to their hearts whether those beliefs conflict with others or reality, they still have that right to share their ideas without being verbally crucified by those that hold no such ideas. There are times people encounter those that look down on the opinions of others in such a fierce way it’s unfathomable to believe that such ideas would warrant such passionate responses. When such things occur one would find themselves in two positions. That is either as an even fiercer responder towards the instigator or using the freedom of speech card. By playing this card, you present the idea of everyone having the right to believe in anything, because at the end of the day opinions hurt no one. This card more likely would keep an argument from ensuing, but there is a small percentage of failure. Keep in mind when travelling with others; avoid those that are boastful of their own opinions. 

Decisive vs. Indecisive 
For those that find making a decision a long drawn out process, it’s best to avoid those that are quick deciders. Indecisiveness brings out the worst in others who hold quick decisions to heart. It’s best to travel with people of like minds in the decision making process. Be mindful of this trait when choosing that perfect partner. 

Young vs. Mature
For years I've pondered why my grandmother chooses to travel lengthy trips around the world with others close to her age. Although, she has invited me along on a trip with seventy year old women, which I pondered for a minute and kindly declined her offer. Knowing the fact full well that grandmothers are grandmothers, and will embarrass you no matter what. My grandmother graduated from the school of infallible jokes. Being the jest for her friends is not something I would want to remember in this lifetime. Since I was at the age of nearly easy embarrassment I could not hold my own in her endless supply of streaming jokes. I have noticed as I have gotten older I'm sort of like my grandmother besides the joking, but I'm more comfortable with people in my age group with shared experiences. I know travelling with someone far younger than myself would make for awkward conversations, and little to find common ground. With that being said, age can be a barrier when travelling and travelling with people older or younger may be difficult. 

I, myself know the importance of choosing the right person or group to engage certain activities with. Unfamiliar acquaintances or those you are barely familiar with can present challenges on your adventure if you are travelling together. Please keep these tips in mind from my experiences to avoid future upsets, and having a lonely trip when your intentions were to travel with someone counters acts what you originally intended to do in the first place. To avoid a lonely, awkward or downright horrid trip find your travel mate based on common ground. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Finding Community Where You Are

by:  eternitysojourner
I’m mourning with my community today.  I’m far from the Queens streets of New York City I grew up in or the Kingston neighborhood where my grandparents lived in Jamaica.  I’m in a small town, unknown by most, a little more than an hour inland from Muscat, Oman.  The statistically high incident of traffic accidents here now feels real as the tragedy has hit home.  The young man hurled from a recent collision was my neighbor’s son.

Since living abroad I’ve always tried my best to blend in, and today is no different.  I solemnly enter the sorrowful family’s home like another ripple in the sea of flowing black abaya gowns which seem most fitting for a day like today.  Trying to imitate the others, I enter with lowered eyes and lingering handshakes, mumbling salutations and inaudible prayers.  The boundary between family and community is so thin that I greet everyone as if they are the mother of the deceased because, in actuality, everyone feels the loss.  From room to room, I continue the procession wondering who is who in this house full of women.  A familiar face directs me to the matriarch of the family.  She lies in bed, as if ailing from grief.  The sorrow was so thick I couldn’t bear entering the room.  I wasn’t sure about coming here.  I don’t know this household so well.  Yes, I feed their goats my compost and we exchange pleasantries when we see each other, but this was my first time actually entering beyond the tall gate.  Should I have brought something to give them?  What exactly should I say?  I exit their home and assure myself that I did the right thing by coming.  This is my community.  They know I’m not from around here but they’ve grown accustomed to my oddness and so have I.

From the time I first moved abroad, I was vigilant, almost obsessive about fitting in.  I was prepared to dress, speak, and behave as the locals do.  I was determined not to cause the slightest blip on the visual or social radar screen.  However, after adopting the dress code and language of another land, I found that I still couldn’t really assimilate.  After my name, I am most-often asked “Where are you from?”  At a distance, my stature and stride set me apart.  My function over fashion sensibilities keep me from wearing cute, heeled sandals in my desert village, and when was the last time you heard of a vegan in Arabia?  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t veil my otherness.  No matter what I said or did, I was still different.

Over the years, I’ve come to terms with this myth of “fitting in.”  I stopped apologizing for being strange and cringing when I’m introduced as the American.  I learned to express my views and articulate my lifestyle choices in a way that was comprehensible but not confrontational.  I realized that I can embrace another culture without wholeheartedly adopting it as my own.   No matter how much I imitate, there is still a line drawn in the desert sand but those boundaries, however real or artificial they may be, don’t keep me from having authentic relationships with people and sharing in our commonality. 

I live in a small town where most of its residents have lived for generations.  They are born, go to school, marry, raise children, age, and die in this very place.  They know where everyone lives along the unmarked pathways and know everyone’s name without a phone directory.  But more important than their deep roots in this neighborhood is their social obligation to one another.  At the announcement of a birth or death, they are celebrating and lamenting with the affected before the story even goes to print.  I used to find this tight knit tapestry of community intrusive but I now see it as inclusive.  Even if only symbolically, every family’s joys and tragedies appear to have the same value, concern, and relevance to all.  Some of my neighbors have more wealth and prestige than others, some are orphaned, divorced, or widowed, some are foreigners, like myself, but none of us seem to be left out, even if we don’t fit in.

At this point in my life I realize my home is where I am and my community is where I live.  I’ve negotiated the tango of “give and take” and try to accommodate the culture in which I reside without losing myself in the process.  I’ll continue to accept the dates and turn down the Omani coffee.  I’ll eat with my hands but avoid the meat.  I’ll don the black abaya but opt for a colorful head scarf.  But most importantly, I will rejoice and grieve with my community, even if we don’t always agree.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

I Ate Dog, Then I Saw His Kinfolk...Uh Oh

 By:  Brittany S

Yep, you read correctly.  You can stop wiping your eyes, or staring at the screen with your face scrunched up and head cocked to the side.  I, Brittany, ate dog…on purpose.  No I am not starving or in a third world country.  No I wasn’t on Fear Factor or the victim of a really demented dare.  I didn’t get paid for it and outside of this post, I didn’t really cause much of a fuss.  It was just a typical Saturday in Korea and I decided “I think I’ll eat dog today.”

            I know a few of you need a moment to process that.  I’m sure a few of you may feel you know me somewhat if you are a loyal reader of my posts.  I know at least a handful of people are reading this like “I was with you on everything, but DOG?! Really?!  You are on your own on that one.”  Need a moment?  Cool.  Take 5.  Look at this completely unrelated video to ease your mind.

            We good now?  Interested in Ameriquest...or maybe pick up on my subliminal message in the tagline?  Cool.  I know…the next thought after the “Eww!” or “OMG!” is “WHY?!” so here it is:  because they serve it.  I mean as long as it isn’t human (and hey, even that isn’t off limits for some people) and is considered a delicacy (or at least local cuisine) somewhere, then why not?  In my personal opinion, there is nothing wrong with eating dog, but Eastern cultures have started to shy away from it because of how Western (particularly American) cultures have made them feel about it.  Why is it gross or primitive to eat a dog?  I believe it is because we view dogs as household pets and family members at best.  How could you eat a member of the family!?  You savage individual you.  But hey, my Grandmommy had a pet chicken once, and you better believe she can fry a mean bird.

Such eager foreigners.  Our food was getting cold...

            Think about it, why shouldn’t we eat dog---because it is a pet?  Well in that case, Grandmommy eats her pet regularly.  I have a friend who had a pet cow named Oprah  (we are from the same state).  Do you think she doesn’t eat hamburgers or steak?  Ever have a pet fish?  So only the small ones are cute and shouldn’t be eaten but the big ones are fair game?  But you’re right…a dog is a “special” pet.  -_-
            Or maybe that is just unhealthy or unnatural in some way…perhaps even ungodly to have such a meal.  Without turning this into any type of spiritual conversation on what not to eat I will just say pork…really?  Pork is like THE most unhealthy meat we can consume.  No matter what we name it (bacon, ham, pork steak, sausage, pig feet, chitterlings/”chitlins”, etc), it is still terrible for our bodies.  Dog is actually a leaner meat and many Koreans believe it is good for your health.  But, I digress.

My friend was happy to share this part of her culture with me...just not happy that we took so many pictures. :-)

            Bottom line, my reason for eating dog is to say that I am embracing a part of their culture that my (American) culture rejects.  I ate it because I am learning to acculturate myself to the world’s culture and not just my own little piece of earth.  I ate it so the next time someone calls me a picky eater I can say “If only you knew…”  It made me feel a little like a daredevil, too.  Don’t be fooled; it played with my head a little when I saw the food in front of me.  I just scooped up a large spoonful and shoved it in my mouth before I could over-think it.  After that, it wasn’t that bad!

WARNING: First bite of dog causes you to change colors.

            I ate it in two forms: a bibimbap and a soup.  I prefer the bibimbap form.  The meat was lean and spicy.  It tasted a little like goat (yes I have eaten that, too…is that one off limits too? J Oh well…).  I sat there with my friends chatting away as if we were sharing a pizza.  Of course we took a TON of pictures (as it was my American friend’s first time eating it as well.  My Korean friend just shook her head and laughed at us.) to document our “Bucket List” event.  Would I eat it again?  Yes.  HOWEVER, I don’t see myself ever getting a craving and saying “Hey, let’s eat dog tonight!”  I WOULD however eat it again if a friend wanted to try it and was scared to do it on their own.  Friends don’t let friends eat dog alone. ;-)  In the meantime, bring on my Grandmommy’s pet chicken and my friend’s pet cow!

It comes out like this...

...then you add raw egg and white rice, stir, and VOILA!

It doesn't look so bad...right?

            The workers were so nice to us and very worried about us foreigners eating dog.  They constantly asked us if it was ok and if we thought it was delicious.  This is exactly what I mean.  Poor Koreans, all worried about what us foreigners think of something that makes them happy and isn’t really our concern.  After we finished eating, we were escorted to a bus stop and informed that it will take about 25 minutes before the next bus comes.  Not even three minutes later after we ate Fido, FeFe, and Fluffy, a dog goes sniffing around in the field in front of the restaurant.  We all just looked at each other like “Uh Oh.”

The victim...

            As time progressed and a bus still hadn’t come, we started making up a whole story about that dog.  It sniffed its way all the way to behind the restaurant and we pronounced him dead on arrival.  After we had a good laugh about it and the dog STILL didn’t resurface, we stopped smiling.  Where exactly do they get the dogs for the restaurant anyway?  I’ve never seen “Beef, Chicken, and Dog” listed at the grocery store.  We imagined the dog fell victim to a bug zapper meant for dogs and would soon be served up.  To make matters worse, shortly thereafter a man came walking by looking for something (or someone).  He practically traced the steps of the dog and eventually ended up behind the building…for a loooonnng time.  Oh great, now the bug zapper got him, too!  That explains why the field on the side of the restaurant looks like the earth was freshly turned.  Poor guy…didn’t stand a chance.
The crime scene...
            Just when we have completely turned our innocent dining experience into a sick horror story, our ride comes and it is time to leave this place.  Even in my brave moment of eating that meal, a tiny part of American me wondered where the dogs came from and felt sorry for the dog I saw.  What can I say, I can’t overcome everything at once—Rome wasn’t built in a day!