“Black traveller duty”

I’ve been on the road this past couple of weeks (in fact, I’m in a coach somewhere in Israel as I write this). I don’t get to do as much travel writing as I would like to, so I’m really enjoying this time – and there’ll be a few articles appearing in different places at some point in the near future. This short blog post sprang from an outtake from the diary I’ve been keeping whilst on the road. it’s about something I sometimes find myself having to do from time to time whilst travelling; something I call my ‘black traveller duty’. Let me explain…

Back at home, whenever I meet a Spanish or Latino person, I use the opportunity to practise my Spanish. Something similar happens to me when I travel to certain countries – and judging by stories I’ve heard, a lot of black people have had similar experiences.

‘Urban’ culture is a global phenomenon; no-one can deny that. One side effect of this is that as a black person trekking through foreign climes (especially countries not known for having large black communities), you will, sooner or later, meet a local who wants to ‘practise their Urban’ on you.

I normally don’t get offended when this happens; the people involved mean well and it’s usually light-hearted and certainly not mean-spirited. And anyway it usually amounts to nothing more than a daft handshake – like yesterday in Shef’amer, when I had to fist-bump a young Palestinian man who works in the restaurant I had dinner in. Sometimes, though, it does get a bit weird. In Turkey last week, a market trader in Turgetreis introduced himself to me as AJ – “A to the mother____ing J”.

Ah, well – it’s all good (strangely, no-one’s said that to me yet). And I should remind myself of this next time I meet Alvaro from Cali and want to launch into “Oye, hermano – como te gusta Londres?”

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“The pride of Africa™”

It’s a sad fact of life in the arts and showbiz world that it’s the products with the biggest marketing budgets that tend to get the most (usually undeserved, if we’re judging on merit) media attention. Having been in music journalism for so many years, this really shouldn’t surprise me – but one tends to forget these basic facts until one gets an occasional rude reminder.

I had one such reminder yesterday, whilst flying from Nairobi to Amsterdam with Kenya Airways (“The pride of Africa™”). As do most other airlines, Kenya Airways publishes a guide in which it lists all the films, music, television and radio shows available on its in-flight entertainment system. And also as with other airlines, a couple of films are selected as the top pick for the month, and given a full write-up in the guide. A couple lower down on the food chain might get a paragraph or two; the rest get nothing.

Throughout this month, passengers on Kenya Airways (“The pride of Africa™”) have two African films to keep them entertained: Africa United and Benda Bilili! And which of these two great African films has “The pride of Africa™” chosen as its pick of the month to big up to its passengers – the uplifting family film about a group of Rwandan kids who hitch-hike to South Africa to see the World Cup, or the award-winning documentary about the hottest band to come out of Africa in recent years? The answer is neither. That honour goes to… [Drum roll, fanfare, hip-hop turntablist scratch solo] Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. I know; there’s no way the indies responsible for either of the other two films could compete with 20th Century Fox’s spending power. But something about this seems just plain wrong to me.

So here’s a travel tip from me. If you happen to be flying on one of Kenya Airways’ Boeing 777s this month, ignore what it says in the entertainment guide and watch one (or both) of these two gems instead of Martin Lawrence’s latest fatsuit ‘n’ drag outing… [Trying extremely hard not to swear here]

(That is, if the in-flight entertainment system on your flight is working in the first place. It wasn’t on mine, so we were shown some Jennifer Anniston flick on the overhead screens instead. Thank the Lord for iPods and sleep.)

Salone: PS…

Should you ever decide to visit Freetown soon, be sure to stop at the Caribbean Fusion café on Sanders Street at some point. Best food in Sierra Leone (yeah, I know; the owner’s an old family friend. I’m biased. But that doesn’t make the statement any less true). Pop in, say hi to Valerie (that’s her on the left), have some of her food… and tell her George sent you.