Travelling while female…and Black (Part 2)

In Florence, photography by D.M. Blake (2011)

Where to begin…where to begin.  I am still listening to Vivaldi.

How is Vivaldi relevant to the topic?  Well, actually, I have found that listening to instrumental music is quite helpful when managing emotions.  And throughout my travels, I have most definitely had to learn how to manage my emotions (although I am not always the most successful).  😉

I have been travelling alone since 1987.  My first trip was a 3-4 hour long flight from Kingston, Jamaica to Boston, Massachusetts.  Strangely enough, I remember feeling neither terrified nor excited–I was busy thinking about the most appropriate way to act, in order to make the best impression on those who would encounter me.  Even at the young age, I had tapped into something that has served me throughout my travels of the years.  That is, neither fear nor excitement will get you anywhere, if you do not behave appropriately.

So, let’s fast-forward some years to 1996 when my mother and I decided to backpack from London to Edinburgh.  Although it was a great deal of fun, it was also my first instance of having someone look at me askance.  What I mean to say was that my long braided hair, bell-bottom (before they were called boot-cut) jeans, guitar slung over shoulder look along with my big blue Jamaican passport causes one of the (thankfully female) guards to do an extra check on me.  It was the first time that I had someone basically put their hands on my person in such a thorough manner.  And I remember recording that in the catalogue of my mind.

Apparently, I did not learn from episode 1996, because in 1999 when I travelled to Berlin to attend an overseas program, again I was stopped and thoroughly searched:  shoes removed and all.  Of course, I was still rocking out in my hippie-mode the long braids, guitar (I think), big blue passport, but then I had traded my jeans for cargo pants…you know, with the many pockets.  The guards at Tegel weren’t having it.  I wasn’t annoyed then…that came later.  I figured I would allow for stereotypes to simply be.  After all, even in the US, people pair Jamaica with the word marijuana, so…

Looking perplexed crossing the Charles River into Boston, photography by D. M. Blake (2011)

Berlin…to Prague?  No, I don’t think so…

Everything changed when I decided to take a trip to Prague to visit a friend in November 1999.  I remember clearly that it was an early morning trip, and already Berlin had become cold.  Even as I journeyed to Prague, I could see the pilings of snow covering buildings and streets–At that time, snow still fascinated me.  (Live in Boston for a couple of years, and you get over the fascination really fast).

So, what could have happened on that trip?  Well, long story short was that I, along with other people of visibly minority status, were escorted (I use that for the sake of politeness) off the train and told to return to Germany…i.e. even with my big old visa that gave me the right to enter into the Czech Republic and thus visit Prague.

Yes, that’s right.  My passport was taken from me and I was kept in a holding area (feel free to read into that a little) until train heading back to Berlin had arrived.  Mind you, in German I directly asked the German border patrol what the meaning of this was.  He equally directly and quite civilly told me that the Czech didn’t want people like us there, and that was the reason for our removal. Wait…People like us??  

Well, that was my first and last time to have an experience like that…and why?  The following is not a definitive reason.  However, I will say that the episode caused me to do something I never thought I would do… I decided to become an American citizen.  I understood that with my Jamaican passport, I would continue to run into problems. Now, please, understand that this is merely my experience and my then-logic.  I understand now that problems with travelling can occur regardless of your passport. The little blue passport, however, did help me in my travels.  No longer did I get the strange delays and the weird looks (okay, so I still got the looks). 😉

(Expat in Korea celestrial81186 at YouTube.  See part two here.)

Okay, so what does this all mean?  No, I am not saying every person of colour  who is not American should run out there, toss their citizenship, and try to become an American citizen.  I am proud to be an American citizen and equally proud to be Jamaican.  What I am saying is that it is possible that the origination of your passport potentially can help or hinder your ease of travel as a person of colour.  Again…these are just my thoughts.  Also, there is a difference when travelling to a place for vacation, and staying in a place for a longer period time, but I will come to that next…  😉

Also, if you have specific questions about travelling, please free to ask and I will address them in my next post.
Until Next Time.
Best,
D.

P.S. I was attempting to find a cute cartoon featuring Black women travelling…and so, I did as we are expected to do these days and went on Google Images…What did I find?  Well, nothing could be posted.  Many of the cartoons were quite derogatory towards Black women.  Now, why is that?

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