Four days ago I got back from six-weeks of country hopping: Spain to Morocco to Germany to Greece to Hungary. Since returning to the States, people have been asking me, “When are you gonna upload your pictures? I want to see them!”
“Soon,” I respond, but I still have yet to post them.
I will probably post them tomorrow, or maybe sometime this week, but my delay has been intentional. I’ve hesitated because I know the photos I post will be so curated, exclusively depicting the beautiful and breathtaking moments I experienced abroad. But posting pictures feels like lying. It feels untruthful because as beautiful and amazing as my trip was abroad, it was also extremely difficult.
Should I take time to document the pain? I asked myself.
I’ve decided I should. I’ve decided I want to. In recognizing the pain, I am learning how to navigate this world as a black woman [with an afro], and through this post, I am choosing unfiltered joy.
“The wound is where the light enters you.”-Rumi
Traveling abroad was great and full of love/laughter/light, but I also sustained many wounds traveling while black and female. Sometimes I was lucky enough that the wounds only reached surface-level, bruises that disappeared within a day or two. But some wounds punctured deeper, cracking me to my core, and I’m still wrestling with God, asking Her where the light is…
Athens, Greece. It was 11:35PM and the street lights shone brightly on the main square of the city center. Meiling and I were searching for the free charter bus to the Summer Festival concert. A group of four girls, looking to be in their early twenties were passing by us on the square.
“Excuse me,” I politely began, “do you know where….” my voice trailed off. I didn’t finish my question because midway through, the group of girls looked me directly in the eyes and then proceeded to walk past me, as if I didn’t exist.
In every country I visited, there were dark-skinned, black migrants who were street sellers. Some coming from African countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, others coming from even farther places like Jamaica. The citizens of the countries I visited had gotten very good at disregarding these individuals, deeming Black as a subpopulation to be ignored, just as those girls decided I wasn’t worthy of their time nor attention because of the color of my skin.
Those girls cracked me. I didn’t want to let them have power over me, but sometimes it’s exhausting to be superhuman, constantly holding up a shield against the bullets of this world.
Budapest, Hungary. It was our last night and it was one of those TREAT-YO-SELF situations, so Meiling and I went to a fancy Hungarian restaurant. We dressed up all swanky and I had just unleashed the fro because it was time to let it be free. The braids were cute and all, but I missed my hair.
“What would you like for drink?” The waiter asked us.
“Water, from the tap, is fine,” Meiling responded.
“Thank you,” I added. The waiter’s eyes lingered on me for a second too long.
Minutes later, our waiter returned with our water and a question, THE [dreaded] question, “Can I touch your hair?” My heart sank. “I just like it so much,” he continued, despite the clear look of discomfort plastered across my face.
“No,” I responded with the fakest smile I could conjure up.
To be black and female is to constantly be in a battle of not letting the world and the people around you define your worth. It is the continual back and forth swing between being unseen and too seen…
I don’t share these experiences to garner pity. None of these experiences abroad surprised me because, let’s be real, being black in America has prepared me quite well. Instead, I share these experiences to be truthful and to acknowledge the wounds alongside the moments of light and beauty that will be abundantly documented through the photos I post.
“‘Joy is making productive use of pain.’ It is not naive. Yes, Joy may come in the form of smiles and laughter, but this Joy also acknowledges the brokenness of this world, sits with and listens to pain, and wrestles with the tensions of this life…” (post from my Instagram account).
The Joy I experienced abroad was complex. It was the disrespect I encountered on the streets of Athens mixed with the middle-aged black woman who stopped me on the streets of Santorini, Greece with a smile and asked, “How are you doing my sister?” Joy was traveling on the metros of Germany with the eyes of strangers glued to my skin/hair/body fused with stumbling across an African festival in the city centre of Berlin and discovering an incredible Ugandan artist.
Should we take time to document the pain? I think we should. In recognizing the pain, we learn how to navigate this world, we learn how to choose unfiltered joy.
P.S. Shout out to Meiling for being an incredible travel buddy and solidarity sister who was always there to process the complicated realities of walking through life as Wakandan Queens–love you!