Unfiltered Joy: Traveling while Black and Female
[**I've been a client of Hair's Kay for almost 3 years now, and this salon (i.e. Miss Kay) will forever be a monumental part of not just my hair journey, but my LIFE journey. The following is taken from a blog post written after I spent time traveling abroad this summer. To see this original post and others, feel free to visit my blog: https://prettyfablackgirl.wordpress.com/ **]
Four days ago I got back from six-weeks of country hopping: Spain to Morocco to Germany to Greece to Hungary. Since returning to the States, people have been asking me, “When are you gonna upload your pictures? I want to see them!”
“Soon,” I respond, but I still have yet to post them.
I will probably post them tomorrow, or maybe sometime this week, but my delay has been intentional. I’ve hesitated because I know the photos I post will be so curated, exclusively depicting the beautiful and breathtaking moments I experienced abroad. But posting pictures feels like lying. It feels untruthful because as beautiful and amazing as my trip was abroad, it was also extremely difficult.
Should I take time to document the pain? I asked myself.
I’ve decided I should. I’ve decided I want to. In recognizing the pain, I am learning how to navigate this world as a black woman [with an afro], and through this post, I am choosing unfiltered joy.
“The wound is where the light enters you.”-Rumi
Traveling abroad was great and full of love/laughter/light, but I also sustained many wounds traveling while black and female. Sometimes I was lucky enough that the wounds only reached surface-level, bruises that disappeared within a day or two. But some wounds punctured deeper, cracking me to my core, and I’m still wrestling with God, asking Her where the light is…
Athens, Greece. It was 11:35PM and the street lights shone brightly on the main square of the city center. Meiling and I were searching for the free charter bus to the Summer Festival concert. A group of four girls, looking to be in their early twenties were passing by us on the square.
“Excuse me,” I politely began, “do you know where….” my voice trailed off. I didn’t finish my question because midway through, the group of girls looked me directly in the eyes and then proceeded to walk past me, as if I didn’t exist.
In every country I visited, there were dark-skinned, black migrants who were street sellers. Some coming from African countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, others coming from even farther places like Jamaica. The citizens of the countries I visited had gotten very good at disregarding these individuals, deeming Black as a subpopulation to be ignored, just as those girls decided I wasn’t worthy of their time nor attention because of the color of my skin.
Those girls cracked me. I didn’t want to let them have power over me, but sometimes it’s exhausting to be superhuman, constantly holding up a shield against the bullets of this world.
Budapest, Hungary. It was our last night and it was one of those TREAT-YO-SELF situations, so Meiling and I went to a fancy Hungarian restaurant. We dressed up all swanky and I had just unleashed the fro because it was time to let it be free. The braids were cute and all, but I missed my hair.
“What would you like for drink?” The waiter asked us.
“Water, from the tap, is fine,” Meiling responded.
“Thank you,” I added. The waiter’s eyes lingered on me for a second too long.
Minutes later, our waiter returned with our water and a question, THE [dreaded] question, “Can I touch your hair?” My heart sank. “I just like it so much,” he continued, despite the clear look of discomfort plastered across my face.
“No,” I responded with the fakest smile I could conjure up.
To be black and female is to constantly be in a battle of not letting the world and the people around you define your worth. It is the continual back and forth swing between being unseen and too seen…
I don’t share these experiences to garner pity. None of these experiences abroad surprised me because, let’s be real, being black in America has prepared me quite well. Instead, I share these experiences to be truthful and to acknowledge the wounds alongside the moments of light and beauty that will be abundantly documented through the photos I post.
The Joy I experienced abroad was complex. It was the disrespect I encountered on the streets of Athens mixed with the middle-aged black woman who stopped me on the streets of Santorini, Greece with a smile and asked, “How are you doing my sister?” Joy was traveling on the metros of Germany with the eyes of strangers glued to my skin/hair/body fused with stumbling across an African festival in the city centre of Berlin and discovering an incredible Ugandan artist.
Should we take time to document the pain? I think we should. In recognizing the pain, we learn how to navigate this world, we learn how to choose unfiltered joy.