by Jodi-Ann Burey
I had great hesitation to post this reflection because it gives insights into a very personal and specific experience that I know does not represent the “average” experience abroad. But even “average” itself is a coded word that is inherently exclusive and keeps the experiences of people of color on the margins. I also hesitated to post it because I fear it may breed resentment among some who, because of the color of their skin, cannot share the experiences I have had. Despite all this hesitation, I am choosing to share my experience because it is just that— my experience. This is my lens. I am offering this to you all, not to represent the experiences had by all black people, or people of color, or people who share the same skin color with those within the country where they travel, but instead it’s an offering of nuance and complexity. It is my hope that you walk away from this post with a more opened mind and a more robust understanding of how different people can experience the world in different ways.
|"Three Generations"-- Picture of the Week|
|The only paved road in Balaka|
On the surface, being a black skinned foreigner has its perks. When I walk down the road, people don’t pay any attention to me. Children don’t follow me or come up to me to practice their English. Going to the busy markets is a breeze. I don’t get followed or aggressively solicited by vendors. I’m a foreigner hiding in plain sight. Even when they do find out that I’m from the States, people seem to be open with me, ask me a lot of questions about my experiences and are even more curious about my Jamaican background. Most importantly, I always get charged the local price. (This is a far cry from my shopping experiences in the States, where I am approached regularly by fellow customers who assume that I am an employee.)
|Trip to the Market|
|These boys INSISTED that I take their photo!|
|Scalding hot bucket bath- my evening ritual|
|"A Fellowship of Women"|
Surely, I have experienced a lot of access here but it is unfair and plainly inaccurate to say this is solely due to my skin color. There are more plausible factors like friendliness, curiosity about people and open to deeper discussions, or having patience for conversing with someone who struggles with English. Perhaps it is that I am a young woman traveling alone, which makes it easier to have extended conversations with strangers. Maybe it could be my fierce independence and my discomfort with having people wait on me. Perhaps it’s the part of me that rejects my Americanness and the presumption that American women can’t do anything on their own— “No Mercy (the lodge cook), I will scrub my own clothes in the bucket and hang them on the line, thank you.” Perhaps there’s something about performing some of those chores manually that remind me of the stories my mother tells me about her own childhood. Maybe my doing them changes how others engage with me here. Perhaps, for just once, my race doesn’t matter as much as we’ve been taught in the States that it should.
|Obligatory selfie in my new chitenje|