This month, we take a look at the power of (re)imagined realities. We rethink our biased perceptions of China, African and African-American identities, as well as explore the role of travel writing in Africa from an emerging project in Uganda.
I thought long and hard about the kind of content I’d like to put on this platform. When I travel, almost inevitably, I find myself in conversations about politics, history, and the overall social context of the place.
In Iran, for example, it was impossible not to ask about the Cultural Revolution, and the ins and outs of the Iraq War. If I’m in Hong Kong, there’s no way a conversation goes by without a mention of the 5 Demands.
And this is just the politics of what can be externally observed. The politics of traveling, to some a glaring fact of life, and to others a non-existing reality, simply can no longer be sidelined.
On the one hand, I’m dying to document my experiences with borders, all kinds of borders, including those in the imaginary realm that presents the toughest obstacles to overcome: discrimination, misinformation, xenophobia. On the other hand, I take this month as an opportunity to look at the other side of the coin, to escape reality for a moment, but still challenge it by re-imagining an alternative where such obstacles are, indeed, outdone with.
The exercise thus becomes: what could be better, and what is our methodology in re-imagining an easier, better way to move?
Firstly, I opt to interview people. I have my experiences, and my memories, which can be strengthened and complimented by the experiences of others. Engaging in an inclusive writing process allows me to formulate a holistic point of view, something which is essential in the decolonial framework. Making a conscious effort to fill in certain gaps, and include a diversity of voices in my narratives, is what is driving me. This is why I reached out to people I met as far back as 4 years. Having these conversations after such a long time has passed only sediments the feeling that our shared experiences remain intact, and are worthy of a discussion.
Second, I explore different forms of understanding. The piece on China opened my eyes to Chinese philosophy and international relations theory, and the conversation I had with a key figure in the Uganda literary scene really shed some light into the history of writing as a means of expression and knowledge transmission throughout African history. If I’m cognizant of what I don’t understand, then I’m open to receiving more insight. In this way, writing becomes both a means to learn, and a way to listen.
I must recognize that this isn’t an easy undertaking. It’s taken me years to re-launch this project. I’ve had the time and space to think about how I travel, and why talking about this is important to me. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that, in some aspects, some of my interest points are pretty peculiar. In other aspects, though, I also believe that there is a small corner of the internet that should be dedicated to content like this.
At the end of 2018, I had spent close to a month in Hong Kong, after having lost incredible opportunities to travel due to VISA-related issues. In the heat of my frustration, I took to Reddit to vent. I created a post about what it would feel like, in my head, to travel as a white male. The post exploded, and I was both shocked and touched by the many relatable experiences people shared. It’s simply not easy to travel if you don’t belong to this demographic. Things were even more exacerbated when I visited Cambodia for the first time. There, I witnessed what neocolonialism looks like. From endless construction schemes taking over the Cambodian coast, to the influx of young western backpackers enjoying the cheap beers and everything that comes with it. I simply found myself unable to participate. I remember receiving an invitation to a “drunk cruise” that my hostel was organizing, a tour in the fishing villages with unlimited alcohol on the boat. I can see why they could be fine with it, but I can’t be seen participating in something like that. I’m African. Where I come from, what my context is, shapes my personal ethics of traveling.
So this month, I propose to start afresh in this world of travel blogging. While I am still struggling to fit this project into its own box in the internet world, my mission here is to relate to those those are thinking about migration, and are willing to challenge the concept with me. We know that we have the elusive freedom of movement, and yet we all face restrictions to our mobility. We need to understand the connections between movement, and everything else that governs and influences our lives.