Saturday 31st December, 2005

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Go forth and travel

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions, mostly because I just don’t have the attention span to keep focused on a list of things to do.

But if I did make resolutions, my first and foremost, (after greater financial stability) would be to travel more.

Although it’s great to be in Trinidad, the urge to be off again somewhere is getting stronger daily. And I can’t say whether it’s my short attention span and lack of rootedness or that there’s just so much more of the world left for me to see.

Of all the things I regret about the past ten years of my life—now that I’m another year closer to the next big age milestone—is that I didn’t travel more when I was younger.

This struck me one night at the age of 26 in a hostel in Beijing. I watched 17- and 18-year-old European travellers, all backpacks and pure excitement and it disturbed me that I was the oldest one in the room.

When I was finished with high school, I’d harboured for a little more than ten minutes, notions of joining the crew of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior ship.

I’d met some of the crew a year before when they’d docked at the Cruise Ship Complex. It was at the height of my intense fear for the state of the planet and I felt drawn to this big green boat and the idea of traversing the seas, teaching and learning and saving the world. Kind of like Captain Planet without the ugly costume and the geeky voice.

Of course, my mother had a good laugh at this. My dreams of being an eco-freako died then and I did the only sensible thing and got a job at a radio station after refusing to give UWI access to my still-very-impressionable brain just yet.

She, like many other Caribbean mothers, is of the “keep children close for as long as possible” school of thought.

I have to ask myself, what exactly are our parents afraid of? Yes, perhaps the world is a big scary place. But so were maxi taxis back in the nineties.

Too besides, I’m bored of being the exotic everywhere I go. And the only way to stop that is if more young people, Caribbean people, were to start travelling. Not just to Brooklyn.

It’s possible to get across Europe on less than a shoestring. North Africa is a ferry ride away from Spain. A ferry to Venezuela isn’t that expensive. Why aren’t there tour companies organising trips for young people through the Amazon to explore the wealth of First Nation cultures that lie just on our doorstep?

In the past three years that I’ve spent living and interacting with Europeans, I’ve tried to understand the historical legacy of colonialism and the rejection of that history by a generation attempting like those of us who were colonised, to redefine themselves. I’ve learned that the children of the colonised, like myself, have been forced to steep themselves in culture.

Culture that the children of the colonisers identify with, because Western culture, First World status culture that we are so desperately running after, means nothing and they know it. They’re not only the children of hippies, either.

It’s why I have Rasta sistrens who’ve come and spent time in Bobo Shanti camps in St Joseph. It accounts for Anglo-Swiss Asians who are studying to be Orisha priests.

I guess the thing that struck me is that these European children of colonisers still have a different kind of ownership of the world and of themselves that we, the children of the colonised, we the forced migrants still don’t have. They know no fear. No one can tell them that they can’t.

I know now that some of that confidence comes from travelling on your own. Fending for yourself. Figuring out how to eat, sleep and get to your next destination with little or no money. The people you meet along the way. And, of course, the mind-blowing experiences.

Travel, at any time of your life, is special. But doing it on your own when you’re coming into a sense of yourself as distinct from family or friends or community, well that’s just priceless.

Whether it’s carnival in Bahia or a camel ride to the Giza, our children have a lot to learn in the big wide world. We also have a lot to offer the world and it’s the sharing our own cultural riches that makes travelling such a mutually beneficial experience.

Pity that we have a government that thinks that investing in young people only means more schools. But not everyone strives in an academic environment.We have the failures of primary and secondary education to prove that.

The lessons you learn from taking up your georgie bundle and setting forth into the world, learning to live and be a better human can’t ever be taught in a classroom.


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