Monday, February 21, 2011

"Be Prepared To Have Your Life Change!"

Quinette Free

 Quinette at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

1. What message do have for students who want to travel?
     Just GO!!, Do what you have to do to get out there and do it and be prepared to have your life change.

2. What are your childhood memories of travel ?
   I grew up without much money, so the extend of my travel was the Greyhound bus to Blakely, Georgia to see my relatives.   I grew up around the navy and lived in a neighborhood of mixed races of Navy families who was always coming from somewhere different.

3. Where did you dream of traveling when you were a child?
    I dreamed of traveling to all of the continents.  I loved animals as a kids and I wanted to see all of the animals I watched on Wild Kingdom.

Koala and Baby in the wild, Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

4. Did you travel as a child?
    Just to Blakely, Georgia, although my mom did squeeze out enough money for me to travel a few hours south to go to Girl Scout camp.

5. What did you learn as a child about the expectation for black people to travel?
    Nothing.  My mother was the ONLY person in my entire extended family to have left home when she moved to NYC.  Travel according to my family was something White folks did, as was a variety of other things.

6. Did you admire or know of any Black people that traveled when you were a child?
  Not at all.

7. Why should Black people travel?
   Part of the education process.  I think we have falling way behind in the US and even if you don't have the education to lift you up, I believe travel will make you seek out education.  In return, education as a race will put us head to head with the dominant culture in America.  In many ways, ahead, because we know to be equal, we have to be better and if we have travel under our belt, we can spill out beyond American shores, where many are afraid to go.
8. What was your first trip?
    My first trip ever was to visit my college roomates in Chicago.  My first trip out of the country was to Cuba.

9. How did you plan for it?
    By reading everything I could about Cuba.  I booked through a Canadian travel agency, but the itinerary was all my idea.

10. What was your experience there?
a) positive experience -  It was great seeing a country that Americans are forbidden to go and to see it in all of its non-capitalistic glory was amazing.  I felt like I had discovered a jewel that most people will never get to see.  Even if we are allowed to go someday, it won't be the same Cuba that I was blessed to see.  It was also and opportunity to see where my friends parent grew up.
b) negative experience- Being Black and speaking Spanish pretty well, many thought I was Cuban and Cubans are not allowed in hotels and restaurants for tourists.  I got glared and stared at everywhere I went, which since this was my first trip, caught me a bit off guard.  The friendly Cubans that everyone spoke of was not apparent at first, but came once they got to talk to me.

11. Was your travel experience what you expected?
     It was better as Cuba was more beautiful than I imagined.  The poverty was a bit sad, but the people are proud and work hard.  It never seemed as though you were getting hustled like you feel sometimes in Asia.

12. How is your travel experience as a Black traveler different from what you perceive as a White traveler?
Since many places rarely see Black travelers, what they know of us is from rap music or Black movies like "Boyz in da Hood".  I cannot tell you how many times I had gang signs flashed at me or someone playing offensive rap music because they thought I would like it.  Also places like China, where the don't see many Blacks, I was literally stopping traffic because I am Big and Black.  People were pulling over to the side of the road to point me out or flashing their fingers as the were trying to guess my weight in kilos.  I think in other countries, everything that makes America GREAT, is all White, to the point of seeing whitening cream (mostly sold by American companies) on just about every shelf in places I traveled in Asia.
13. What is your voice as a Black travel blogger?
   My blog started out as a therapeutic writing tool as I was traveling and not specific to being Black.  I am not a Black traveler who wants to go to a place and stay with only Black people, I think that diminishes the travel experience.  But I do like learning about Black people in a place I travel.  For instance, when I went to Norway, there were Black people, and I loved learning what brought them there but to go to Norway and only learn about Black Norwegians would be a gross misrepresentation of the country.  Does that make sense?

I don't want people traveling to the US and only thinking that America is all White or any one ANYTHING. Recognize that the same regional considerations you would make for other countries, also apply to us. Plus multiply the number of people in America by its racial diversity, you get a very unique equation. I want travelers to go away with a sense of diversity, that this "Gumbo" which is America, while made in a one pot, every spice and ingredient has its own distinct flavor that adds something special to dish?

14. Where do you dream of traveling now? Why?
   Back to my special spot on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand.  I just connected with the right mixture of Western/Foreign but very Thai surrounded by miles of beautiful beaches and great diving.  Also South America and Antarctica to finish all 7 continents.

Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Thailand

15. Anything else you would like to add?

Zurich, Switzerland

Pilgrims at Lourdes, France
When I moved from Florida to New York City, I constantly compared EVERYTHING to Florida.  Then one day someone said "Hey! Guess what? You are NOT in Florida anymore!"  That changed my thinking from that point on and I was able to truly enjoy NYC.  I find people do that with travel.
They bargain or relate to people in a place because of how they did it at home or in a place that they loved.  Because they are comparing this new place to another, they are not "getting" the nuances and understanding the culture as it should be understood.

I was so culture shocked when I got to Asia, I was miserable.  By the end of my stay, I had fallen in love with this unlikely place.  And to think I almost bypassed the whole continent.