Friday Photo: Essaouira

This one time…. I rode a camel. To a Castle Made of Sand (word to Jimi Hendrix). True story.

Photo courtesy of Kristin – my friend/Peace Corps volunteer I was visiting in Morocco 🙂


Travel Lit Review: Kinky Gazpacho by Lori L. Tharps


Kinky Gazpacho Review

Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love and Spain surprised me on many levels.  In this travel memoir you follow Lori through her every encounter with international experiences from International Day in third grade, to hosting international students, to spending weeks in Morocco and then to her eternal love affair with Spain (and a Spaniard). Throughout the entire book you get more than just a travel memoir, but you also get to see these experiences through the eyes of a black girl who’s not even sure of her “blackness.”  Many people dream of going on that international escapade and falling in love and trying to make an international love affair work – I must admit some of the things that happen in Tharps’s memoir couldn’t have been better scripted on Lifetime. It was a great story and I loved being able to study abroad again through the memoir.

More than the history that Tharps discovered and the reflections on race in Milwaukee and Spain, I was most tied to her time actually studying abroad in Spain. For the majority of the beginning of the book I found myself flipping ahead to see how many more chapters before she goes abroad.  Those stories are always the most interesting to me.  How can you not want to know more about her first marriage proposal by the Moroccan boy with whom her first date consisted of meeting his mother (first date?!?) where they ate in practically total silence? I live for hearing about experiences like those.  I also like to hear more about how Americans in other countries adjust to cultural differences.  In Kinky Gazpacho, Tharps remarks about the concept of time in Spain after her date, Manuel, shows up 20 minutes late to her home for dinner:

“The concept of time was a very fluid thing. Deadlines were guidelines. And it was true, if you said you were going to meet someone for drinks at six, not until seven o’clock rolled around could you get even slightly worried that they might be late. So I forgave this smiling Spaniard in front of me…”

I can definitely relate to passages like this from my time abroad in Italy and also from being in Dominca for 5 days.  Watches are optional, there are no schedules, things happen whenever they happen – it’s freeing but it takes some getting used to. I’d like to thank Lori L. Tharps for reminding me of these awakening experiences where you learn to appreciate the subtleties of other cultures.

Rating: 3.5/5

**Not sure if it’s an editor’s or publisher’s issue but at the beginning of this book there are typos and misspellings that REALLY threw me off – I’m a stickler for those kinds of things and it was kind of a distraction. I didn’t notice many (if any) towards the end of the book though.

International Travel as a Window to the Diaspora

We all know the benefits of traveling: exposure, vacation, yadda yadda yadda… but what about the inherent history lesson that sometimes plays out before you? When I was in Amsterdam a few weeks ago I was reminded of a little known (at least to me) piece of history – that Suriname is a Dutch colony.  Now, I’m sure I learned that in high school at some point, but reading a textbook and looking at a map showing arrows connecting all of the colonial empires just didn’t last long in the “long-term memory” of my brain.

Former Dutch Colonies

Most of the Black people I met in Amsterdam were Surinamese, which really caught me off guard because that is not a country you hear about often. (By the way, Suriname is a very small country on the NE coast of South America.)  The 2nd largest group of black people that I ran into were Moroccans.  And the varying levels or racism that exist among these groups is another story for another day.  Being in Amsterdam at that moment and learning about some of the modern-day effects of colonialism has a much more lasting effect than anything I could read in a textbook.  Meeting a young Surinamese man who rarely goes back home and who would be punished for using his local Surinamese language in Suriname instead of Dutch, learning about how the Dutch mine Suriname for promising football (soccer) stars, witnessing the tension between Surinamese-born blacks and other Dutch blacks – all things I could easily wrap my head around now that I’m seeing a history book come to life.

When I was in Milan, I met a lot of Senegalese black people who were actually from Paris and all spoke French.  And the effects of the colonialism were all the same.  The black country was made to believe they were inferior, stripped of their native tongues, convinced that their schooling had to come from the colonizing country, and brainwashed to believe that their native traditions and native customs weren’t important.  The younger generations especially were very disconnected from their home country – sound familiar?

I’m by no means a history professor or an expert on colonialism – I just think its amazing that colonialism is still alive and well today in so many forms (both subtle and overt).  I’m only sharing what I’ve learned through my international travels and reflecting on one of the many little thought-about benefits of jet-setting around the world.  More than anything it makes me think about my own country and how the effects of colonialism are still manifesting themselves on a daily basis through our media, our education systems, language, and so much more.  I also think it’s quite interesting that many of us living in places like Harlem, not realizing that NY itself was a Dutch colony.  Not until you visit Haarlem in Holland will many of us make that connection.  So travel, if not for the beaches, the statues, and the museums, for the history and to learn a little more about yourself and the place where you live.

And just a sidenote: My favorite part of all this is meeting Black people who are fluent in 3 or more languages – English, their native language, and their colonizer’s language – while I’m still struggling with my 2nd! Just lets me know I have to do better.

What other ways does living history manifest itself in International Travel?