Category Archives: globalisation

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.

Commonalities of Cultures

I discovered this a few years ago, but there seems to be a high correlation between Welsh and African American names. I discovered this arguing with my boyfriend about the almost stereotypical name of Jamal Jenkins, a character from the old children’s tv series, Ghostwriter. We reached the conclusion that while I saw it as a common Black surname, he viewed it as a typical Welsh surname. This then led to a sharing of surnames that also seemed to be both noticeably Black and Welsh, some of which are listed below:

Jenkins, Jones, Williams, Davis, Brown, Harris, Thomas, Evans

A quick search lead to the Data Wales website, which addresses this phenomenon with some interesting, if not well-researched, ideas.

In this context it might be useful to look at examples of Welsh place names in some of the southern states. Alabama has counties named Morgan and Montgomery… Georgia has the counties of Evans, Montgomery, Jones, Floyd, Morgan, Thomas, Glynn and Jenkins. There are smaller towns and villages named Davisboro, Evans, Jenkinsburg, Jonesboro, Morris, Morgan, Morganton, Pembroke… One correspondent had quizzed several African American friends about their names. This group, in the main, did not think that their ancestors had adopted the names of slave holders. They might well have adopted place name surnames from some of the locations above.

…it is true that in certain cases slaves adopted the names of their Welsh “owners” but several correspondents have reminded me of the “Underground Railroad”, a system designed to help slaves escape northwards. Apparently Welsh Quakers were prominently involved in this system and it is possible that some slaves, aided in this way, adopted the names of their helpers.

He also thinks it possible that due to the co-mingling of Welsh and African American communities during the creation of Baptist and Methodist churches in America (who knew the Welsh had anything to do with that?), surnames may have been shared and then passed down as followers took the name of their preachers and religious leaders.

The best thing about this discovery was that it all started with a fairly low-key conversation in the local pub. Yet another example of how interacting and communicating with another culture can provide you with insights into your own.


Cultural Code-switcher.

I just turned 26 last week, marking my third consecutive birthday spent in London. As I get older I find myself constantly search for a means of defining myself which encompasses my intersecting identities. I wonder how I can navigate, analyse and interact with the world around me in ways which don’t simply reflect and reinstate pre-existing Western and kyriarchal structures. A friend said yesterday that it is quite weird for Americans to think that we’re not allowed in certain countries, in reference to our continued restriction to Cuba.

As I reflect on it, however, it’s not that strange (to this American at least), to not be allowed into certain spaces. My life has been a continual process in understanding what spaces I can inhabit and in what context. What does it mean when I can walk safely through parts of London considered “dangerous” or “unsavoury” due to my appearance and how this is then identified and read by others within this environment? What does it mean that this Africanised, “Othered” appearance has both helped and harmed me in various places, tying me to the intersecting histories of black, brown and white women who have moved through European landscapes? How do I properly assess my identity and its relationship to urban spaces when I am viewed through the prism of others’ systemic and cultural prejudices and assumptions. Depending on the country I have been a spectre of Josephine Baker, an example of American imperialism or a lowly immigrant worker. My presence has been both an indicator for Yankee individualism or foreign anonymity, both rendering my body an object in how it is consumed by cultural fears and desires.

So I wonder, is it truly possible to understand an environment properly when so much of it is tied to my physical form, whether through race, nationality and gender? Along with this, how does my use of technology complicate my spatial relationships and understandings? So much of my travels have been influenced by what I have found online, making my understanding the world both limited and opened. I then continue the process by writing, classifying and discussing online my experiences, which helps to create a virtual environment and idea of urban space that is both a reality and completely fictional. I hope that my writings are at least complex and varied, allowing a world of narratives and identities to coexist within the same (digitised) space, even though at the moment they are just hinted at. A week after my birthday I wonder once again who I am, and if it is possible to perform ethically and authentically as an international citizen without creating a single, flat narrative of what I witness and experience.

‘Sitopia already exists.’

Taken from Sociological Images:

In the past year, food and sustainability within an urban context have become very important to me. I grew up as a product of typical urban, lower middle class American food consumption- I didn’t care much about it’s origins to an extent, only its convenience. This also led me to not really care about food at all and its relation to my general health, which led to extremely unhealthy eating habits. As I got older, this changed slightly and I tried to expand my culinary palette and started buying vegetables at the local market (though I have to state that at this point I was living in a rural suburb.)

Once I moved to London and had to fend for myself, I began to really analyse and adjust my relationship with food. When I graduated and moved to west London, the garden became a vegetable patch complete with a compost bin. For a large percentage of the year, the house became somewhat self-sustaining, with most veg and herbs coming from the back yard. The household also began to shop at local markets as well as supermarkets. I tried to buy seasonal fruits and started looking at where my food was being raised. I also seriously started questioning my meat consumption, which has caused me to limit how much meat I eat (though I was always a rubbish carnivore). What I enjoy about living in London is that it is fairly easy to buy local and British, which not only helps farmers but helps combat deforestation (and the loss of animal habitats), forced labour, and the loss of food in other nations. Most importantly, I started to care about food, how it sustains me and my role in promoting positive and negative food practices. I realised that I couldn’t continue to be complacent in bad agricultural and meat policies by ignoring the issues at hand. I am now cheered every time I hear about urban argricultural movements and developments, from urban farms and vegetable plots to urban beekeeping and gardens created in low socioeconomic areas. So many of our issues with food are tied to class, culture and consumerism, so I am glad that it is finally starting to be addressed in a productive and open way. I am still learning about food and consumption, but I feel that I am gaining the right tools to understand and do my part.