We’re only in the third month of 2017 and hostile practices that would restrict travelers with invisible (and prejudiced) borders has already singed our moral fabric. No longer is the USA seen through a rose-tinted lens. Not even Instagram’s Nashville and Ludwig filters can make this scenario pretty.
Culture, religion or skin color should not restrict the freedom your passport allows and no good can come of imposing limitations from having one of the best anthropology lessons in the world - societal immersion.
As I write a book on my real-life travel experiences, it dawned on me that even “Black Travel” is seen as a mysterious entity. Whispers about ethnically-diverse groups actively embarking on unconventional trips or even double-take glances at social media communities who encourage Americans - pick a cultural prefix of your choice - to take the path less traveled. Yes, we travel and we trek hard.
Do you know what an 18 year old Bedouin horse breeder in Jordan, a Mongolian nomad mother of five, a Brazilian Capoeira teacher who attempted to murder his family and the Lesotho Minister of Health have in common? Me. An avid Black female traveler who has met, stayed and broken bread with all of these characters and many more.
We need some optimism to those who would feel confined from understanding other civilizations – a modern day, international version of the Negro Motorist Green Book that allowed those who were physically and legally oppressed to navigate the country with a little bit more ease and joy.
May the following excerpt about one of my adventures shared with my family and friends make you laugh, curious and google your next destination.
DAY FOUR: MONGOLIA
Friends and family, I am safe and in one piece, surrounded by rock and my optimism.
It’s taken me about five hours to ‘get right’ with the new daily chore I’ve been delegated by my Kazakh guardians. Not going to lie to you, there’s something very odd in holding the teats of a horse to fill a bucket with milk as my contribution to the household supply of kunis. I didn’t even realize I suffered from teat discrimination. It’s such a weird moral dilemma. Cows I’m on board with, goats are fine when back in Jamaica. But a horse? I feel like I’m taking away the fillies’ dignity with a strange perversion.
So there I was, sitting on a stool among horse, goat and cow shit in the Altai mountains facing tough decision – to squeeze or not to squeeze.
Let me backtrack to tell you how I got here.
I started in Bayan Ugli six days ago and was met with some sad news. Unfortunately cow disease has spread through the mountains and officials are worried about it spreading to the livestock across all the provinces in Sagsai; so the local Golden Eagle festival has been cut short from three days to one.
The festival began with the ‘calling’ competition where each of the hunters beckoned their eagle down from the mountains one by one. This was followed by a battle on horses - two men each holding one end of a goat’s fur and tugging for ownership, galloping across the terrain and almost being dragged off their saddles. It’s even better to watch the locals discuss the tactics of battle warfare in Mongolian to each other.
I sat by the river bank during the break of the competition talking to my guide. We then felt some stones hit our backs, turned around and that’s when I’m struck with the sight of four Russian men squatting down less than half a meter away from us; two of them with their hands holding the end of my twists like I’m a biological experiment. I hit their hands away and said very calmly “Do. NOT. Touch. Me”. “African? South African?” they repeated over and over again. “Yes” I reply, “Because all black people only live in Africa you mother pussbucket wanker!” They then backed away, muttered to each other in Russian until one of them had an ‘eureka!’ moment. “Now they get it”, I thought to myself, “Now he understands why I’m offended.” I prep myself to act humbly in response to the apology. He turns to his friend and exclaims, “Ah. Feminists.”
The next day with no festival to head to, we drove to meet my newfound family. Mama, Papa, two daughters and three sons. Four eagles are tied to their white ger along with their two horses and we’re surrounded by hundreds of herds – about 600 livestock.
Word got around that I’m here so cue curious neighbors beginning to walk over to the ger to take a peek at the new visitor. Strangest moment of day one with the family was the father showing me a cut on one of the eagle’s legs. My guide translated that he was asking for tweezers. I didn’t have any to take out the webbing but I did offer some of my face cream to place on the leg. So now I’m a semi-vet of the family birds.
I loved the family’s ger, it’s like sleeping in a rainbow. Lots of embroidery adorning the walls and ceilings, hand sewn quilts draped over make shift beds, beautiful fur hats, horse saddles and winter coats hang from the wooden frames whilst the dried dung fire burns from the stove and the flames ‘dance’ against the walls all while the family gathers in the middle drinking salt milk and exchanging stories in Kazakh. Let’s not forget about the freshly skinned sheep that hangs next to the door and the head on the floor which is our dinner and breakfast over the next couple of days.
I realized I wanted this family’s contentment, the smiles they drew from each other over simple jokes and even the respect for their land.
That, and finally get round to milking the horse. I still feel like she’s judging me.