Travel and claiming authenticity

The urge to travel is getting stronger every week. Now that home has become more established and permanent, I want to visit lands both near and far. Preparing for Morocco has been an exercise in blissful planning and researching, which has only made me think about other places that I want to see. Invitations to see my friends’ hometowns in various countries seem even more tempting and my list of places to travel to over weekends and holidays continue to grow. Since it is impossible for me to do anything without reading about it and writing lists, Morocco has earned itself a folder on my laptop, filled not only with places of interest and what to bring, but also customs to follow, appropriate clothing to wear and food to try. Morocco feels like the next step in my travels, a departure from the foreign, yet still familiar, cities of Western Europe. Not only will it be the first Muslim country I’ve ever visited, it will be my first time in Africa and in the Global South, which is pretty significant to me. I want to travel through Africa more in future, through North and West Africa, especially since some of my studies focused on the megaregions/slum cities of West and Central Africa. I also want to visit some places in the Middle East, though I’m not sure where at the moment.

Having to look for new clothes for my holiday is really bringing home the cultural differences that I am likely to encounter. For both men and women, modesty is necessary, and though clothing will probably be more Western in the cities, I want to err on the side of caution since I will also be in smaller, rural areas. My original idea was to stock my wardrobe full of airy, vintage sundresses, but numerous travel guides and forums have stated that legs and most of the arm must be covered. For a country like England in the summer, clothes that are youthful, light while still covering up do not exist (even maxi dresses, which I’m too short for, show a lot of flesh.) So I’ve begun looking around my neighbourhood at hijabis and Asian women in more traditional clothing for inspiration. It’s absolutely amazing to look at the differences of groups within the same spaces, and the creativity that exist within such clothing restrictions (though by saying restrictions, I am clearly being Western in my thought process, since I doubt that many of these women view it as a restriction). Texture, pattern and colours become more important and create a look that can be vibrant and speak of the blend of cultures, beliefs and heritage that these women occupy. It is not only these women that are embracing and re-establishing their culture, in many diasporic communities all over the world, the rise of blogs have created a global space where traditional fabrics and patterns are being utilised in modern ways that allow people to show an approximate visual representation of who they are and where they have come from.

Clothing aside, thinking about travel so much has made me question what I want out of it, what I hope to see and whether my presence in certain places is a good thing. Many travellers, especially minorities I would imagine, like to believe that they will not be tourists in the ignorant, disruptive stereotypical way. This has especially become important in an age of ecotravel, sustainable tourism and visiting places, many of them postcolonial, that aren’t in the normal tourist spheres of Western Europe, North America and parts of Asia. But it has to be remembered that my status as a minority will always pale to the fact that I am a Westerner who is (relatively) well-off, and how I process foreign places and people is always seen through Western eyes. What I am most afraid of is going into another country and appropriating its culture, whether it is in order to have an “authentic” experience, to have a souvenir to bring home or to feel like a seasoned traveller. I do not want to compartmentalise and categorise my travel experiences in order to fit a general narrative, but I also do not want to approach it in some neo-colonialist way as though it is my playground and it is solely there for my amusement. I simply want to go and experience it in all its subtleties and manifestations for as long as I can, and hopefully learn something along the way, even if it is simply the reaffirmation that there are many ways to live life outside Western expectations.

3 responses to “Travel and claiming authenticity

  1. >Another very thoughtful piece. I definitely see what you're saying and trust me, I've been there. Don't forget to enjoy yourself, though.

  2. >Hey, I gave you the versatile blogger award. Head over to my blog to find it. You're supposed to pass it on. 🙂

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