This week, I have decided to discuss African Britishness on travel as it is a topic that resonate with most of us.
As an adventurous soul, I love to travel. It affords me the opportunity to explore new cultures. Travel costs money and I am still slowly making my way round the globe. I had thought about different ways to write this particular piece and decided to plunge straight in. So here goes!
Travel is easy if you’re white.
You blend seamlessly into a western world and are respected in a ‘coloured’ world. By colour, I mean a non-white world.
I have not travelled as widely as I would have like to but decided that I would not let colour be a barrier to my travels. As a person of colour I know that the country you journey to determines how you’re treated.
Many years ago, I frequented Paris. It was next door to the UK and easy to get to. I had a rich friend who opened a boutique and at that time I was in between work so we decided that I would be the buyer of clothes for her boutique.
Oh joy! It combined my love of adventure with one for clothes. Paris was easily accessible and had a thriving wholesale clothing district in Rue St Denis and its surroundings. It also had costume jewellery shops in Temple area. I presume they are nearly all closed down now or have transformed into other form of stores.
I remember my first trip like yesterday. As soon as I landed, I dropped my overnight bag in a hotel and promptly decided to tramp round Rue St Denis district and the wholesale shops. It was winter. I wore a huge curly wig, and an expensive electric blue wool coat that drew a mix of polite and glances from chic french women.
Life in Rue St Denis
Rue St Denis was also a popular red light district and had a lot of sex workers sidled against doorways wearing wispy lingeries that advertised their bountiful wares. I am an avid photographer and would snatch photos here and there. I once got caught and ran off as a 6 foot trans turned an accusing look at me before starting to march towards me.
I made friends with a Jewish merchandiser who on that first day took me round Paris and to the Eiffel Tower. Once our business was concluded, I was on my own.
I felt like a ghost. No french person spoke to me, shared a smile and I did not feel enough friendliness to chat with strangers especially with the language barrier. I had long forgotten my school girl french and all I knew to say was combien? – how much?
I was adventurous enough to venture into Parisian restaurants and mostly did Eeny, meeny, miny, moe with the menu as impatient french waiters could not be bothered to interpret, even if they spoke English. This got me stuck with whatever I ordered, whether good or bad.
I finally gave up on my lone eating at the restaurants and discovered some ‘killer’ Turkish kebabs near my hotel and stuck to this or MacDonald.
Years later, I went to Paris with my mother and although she was disgusted at what she termed ‘the french attitude’, we had a better eating experience.
After Paris, I decided to forget Europe and stick to USA and Africa. I had family there and much better time.
In 2009, I started cake decorating after reading an article on what aspiring writers could do while waiting to hear back from publishers. The article encouraged writers to focus on hobbies.
Thus, I decided to enter the world of cake decorating. When I told certain people, they looked at me like I had ‘dumbed down’, but I enjoyed this world. I was working part time and used one day to go to cake decorating college.
One offshoot from this was that I created a blog – (now fully dead) and decided to write about cakes and cake decorators.
Hostile Reception as an African British at a cake Festival in Milan
In 2014, I found out that I could travel to a well known Italian Cake Festival in Milan. I made contact with them and they made me a Media Partner. They displayed my logo on their site and I wrote a lot of articles about them. The exhibition was at the Sheraton by Milan Airport and famous English Cake artists like Michelle Turner were going to be doing demos.
I arrived at my comfortable hotel, dropped my bags and went to look for my host. Finally, I found her and introduced myself. Afterwards, I realised with shock that she had taken one look at me and turned icy as she had not imagined that I was black and I never imagined it to be a problem.
It was a downward spiral from there. Although my logo was proudly displayed on their beautiful banners as a media partner, my hostess disappeared and treated me like she could see through me whenever she sighted me. My exhibition table was reluctantly set up, and when I asked her about the dinner that they were hosting the next evening, she eyed me and said I had to pay!
I was not happy but knew I would see my experience through. I attended the dinner the next evening and looked forward to meeting some of the well known English cake decorators. Once again, no one attempted to be friendly although I tried to beam a smile whenever I could while wandering through ghost-like.
The beautifully dressed Italian women kept to themselves or viewed me with suspicion and hostility. I later realised that Italian men had a massive appetite for African prostitutes!
The Revered Skill of English Cake Decorators
The English cake decorators gave me odd looks and set to ignore me.
I was in a no-man’s land.
The food was good and the desserts the best I had ever eaten. I set about trying to join groups and saw a closing in as soon as I walked near one.
Finally, I stood by one group long enough to be allowed it and then made friends. They were really nice and in awe of English cake decorating. The Italian cake decorators were excellent at modelling sugar ice figures. I could not believe their talent, yet they regarded English cake decorators as more advanced.
Once I got back to England, incredibly warm and friendly, after what I encountered, I wrote a complaint to the organisers who promptly denied racism. I let it go.
After my experiences, I determined that I would only travel if I had a friend in a European town or city. I have not given up on Europe but needed friendlier reception.
Do remember that it was in Switzerland that Hermes denied access to Oprah. They thought she was some was an ‘African'(whatever that meant)!
Family Holiday in Antalya, Turkey
Recently, I decided to go on a family holiday to Antalya in Turkey. I knew I was taking a risk going to an unknown destination without feedback on whether it was ‘black friendly’.
It is important to say this.
A friend assured me that it was, so I went there with my son and daughter. My son is a 6 footer and my daughter tall with a Naomi Campbell kind of look.
Club Nena, the resort we chose, ticked all the boxes for what I wanted. It was by the seaside and had green, beautiful, foamy sea. It had a spa and Turkish bath and opportunity to be massaged and pampered.
I live in London and life could be stressful with jobs and deadlines so was looking forward to some new experience and a lot of pampering. There was entertainment, plenty of food in a clean environment.
Our flight was good although my son felt a bit unwell on the journey. We came out to a hot humid weather and nice small airport with minimal fuss from immigration.
The journey from the airport to the hotel took 1.5 hours. The driver offered us cold cans of beverage which we accepted and drank with thanks. When we finally arrived at the hotel, we waited for him to unload our luggage. But it baffled me when he pointed to a sign on the bus that showed the price list for his beverages. He had craftily not mentioned this. He extorted £5 for 3 cans. This is to warn anyone else!
Warm Reception as African British
When we got to the hotel, we were duly put into an air conditioned family room with it’s own balcony which was spacious and gave us all some privacy. We found out the next day that we were very close to the private beach and other amenities, and set out to enjoy ourselves.
The resort was fairly large and full of families from Russia, Germany, Netherlands and no English.
Perhaps that should have prepared me. We were in a large lush paradise largely filled with Europeans.
We found out that we were the only black family in the whole of the resort and my 6”3 son was a source of fascination. Being a very shy giant he felt incredibly uncomfortable as we endured stared from Europeans who seemed not to have encountered black families. I took it with my usual equilibrium and set out to have a good time!
Later we saw a few interracial couples and I made friends with a lovely couple from Copenhagen. She was Ugandan/Rwandan and he was Danish. I am planning to catch up with them soon!
There were great spreads of salads and veggie food along with meat, fish and other dishes. It did grow monotonous after a few days but I still think that the whole thing was great value for money.
A few families approached us and we realised that they seemed to think we were a beautiful family or rather my children. We are quite tall and slender. There was not a lot of English spoken. Thus, the workers seemed to be more familiar with speaking German and Dutch than English.
My Experience in Turkey: Bath and Anti-stress Massage
I booked a day of Turkish bath and anti-stress massage. There was no modesty in this as I was first scrubbed all over with coffee beans and then she floated a foamy towel over my body before thoroughly rinsing me with warm water.
I booked a further 3 days of mixed treatment of medical massage, stone massage and reflexology. It was great!
We had arrived when Turkey had a crisis with their lira and exchange rate favoured us greatly. Lots of people took selfies with my son. They thought he was some basket ball star and he relaxed a bit more.
I loved Antalya. The Turkish were very friendly and the town was really clean. My son has decided that he would only go on holidays where he could see a few friendly black faces.
I, however, have not ruled out going back to Antalya.
Understanding the Importance of Travel for African British
This has been long one but I feel it is important to understand how travel is for a black British.
African British people prefer to travel as large families to places unknown. This cushions any effect that might have been felt from unfriendly host countries.
I am looking forward to travelling to Asia and exploring other continents and determined to not let anything deter me. I will follow my nose and taste buds wherever it leads. Perhaps I agree with Jennifer Lee on travel, “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” Perhaps….