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What A Visit to Eurocentric Regions of Africa Taught Me As a Black American
Written by Lauren Everett
You’re in your twenties, aiming to thrive instead of surviv, and you’re in the midst of planning your first trip to Africa. You have your sights on Cape Town in March, the perfect time of the year to visit one of the most sought-after destinations in the world. What are some of your vacation planning priorities?
Amazing accommodations, seeing all the must-see sights like Table Mountain and the breath-taking Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, maybe even squeezing a couple of hours to visit Boulder Beach and its sandy penguins. A full week of amazing food, beautiful sights and it’s your first time setting foot in Africa and many people you see don’t look like you? No, you didn’t catch the wrong connecting flight; you’re in Cape Town, South Africa.
Like most Black Africans, not necessarily knowing where to start when it comes to tracing back our African lineage is a shared experience. One would think that just making the trek back to Africa would be a great start. Sure, West Africa would be ideal for getting closer to our ancestral roots, but what about those regions that closely resemble our American home front? South Africa, Cape Town
Making a conscious effort to do your research before you step foot on your plane will better prepare you for your travels and future encounters. A former and late undergrad professor, who immigrated to America from West Africa let me know “you won’t get a true African experience in Cape Town, but you will still love it.” True to form, I fell in love with the awe-inspiring city, but for other reasons than I could have anticipated.
Being intentional while traveling to a country still riddled with the after-effects of apartheid meant visiting a place that’s emphasized Cape Town’s culture and history, like Robben Island. The famous island and prison where famous activists like Nelson Mandela were housed, gave me great insight into the changing social and political climate of Cape Town and how it affected its Black residents up until today.
From the moment we got off the plane to make the beautiful trek to Hout Bay where we stayed in a beautiful B&B owned by European natives and cleaned by Black Africans, it was hard to miss the disparities that hit you left and right. It was no coincidence that all of my Uber drivers, waiters and busboys were all Black Africans.
With the spirit of intention, I made it a point to have in-depth conversations with each of my Uber drivers for the duration of my trip. Well versed in sociopolitical and economic topics, the most asked question I received was “What is it like in America as a black person with Trump as president?” No stranger to the political climate of our country, we shared intimate background and experiences from our native countries as well as our hopes for our people and each other. A very different experience from actively avoiding conversation with all the drivers I have here in the states!
Just a little over a year since President Trump’s ‘sh*thole country’ comments, it was no surprise that all eyes were on America. From many of our interactions with Black Africans, it was rare to see Black Americans as tourist, so I welcomed any all questions and was equally accommodated and left feeling warm with a ‘thank you my sister’ to end the conversation. Of course, the tourist attractions, all the way down to the restaurants we patron were all intentional.
Seeing art by African artists at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art was sentimental and inspirational for someone who loved art and culture. Ending our trip with a visit to the popular Mama Africa restaurant on Long Street and tasting native cuisine compared to the lamb chops at a Greek restaurant, all intentional… all the food was delicious by the way!
Getting the most out of any trip takes planning. But intentional planning and knowing what you want to get out of the experience, while also impacting others in the process, is important. Cape Town, the second largest city in South Africa; still reeling from the after-effects of apartheid and other political blunders has so much culture and value to offer every one of us. A little more attention to detail, intention and an open heart and mind make every travel experience better than the next, Cape Town included.