It’s the day before the first day of my Kilimanjaro hike and I’m noticing something that’s not surprising but is very interesting to me: hiking seems to be an activity that those of us of the darker skin persuasion don’t swing towards.
I say it isn’t surprising because I’ve been observing over the last 6 months or so and I’ve realised that Black people as a whole seem to stay away from certain activities. For example, my summer was jam packed with things I had never done before and I found in many cases that I was the only Black person around, or 1 of very few.
I spent 4 days on a safari in Tanzania, bouncing across Tarangire, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro in a safari van; I saw maybe 10 Black people in all, not counting the numerous safari guides we met along the way. In Amsterdam, Black people were scarce in the Museumplein. In Istanbul, I don’t think I saw 1 Black person at Ayasofya, Topkapi Palace or in the Grand Bazaar. They must have been there but they were so scarce that I didn’t run across one. Starbucks was there, though. There were a few more Black people in Alaska but when it came time to see glaciers up close or go up a mountain pass on an old train, they disappeared again. But, boy, were we plentiful in Niagara Falls!
At this point, you’re probably thinking that if more Black people had more money, they would do these things too. I don’t know, maybe. I suspect that it wouldn’t be that many more who would. There are countless wealthy Black people out there and I didn’t see one getting on the plane to Kilimanjaro on Monday morning in Amsterdam wearing hiking boots and toting a backpack. Lots of the lighter skinned people were, though. We’ll see how many of my darker skinned people I come across as I climb the mountain. Additionally, whenever I tell one of my friends about the next adventure I’m taking on, they tend to look at me like I’m mad, which tells me that these aren’t things they think of doing themselves.
Meanwhile, I have a theory about Jamaicans (I’m now narrowing down my conversation from what I have observed about Black people in general to what I theorise about Jamaicans in particular because they’re the Black people I know best). I think we like to do things that we’re used to doing and go to places where we’re used to going and we don’t like to go outside of that box too much. Also, we like to shop. A lot. So we’ll spend heaping piles of money buying stuff and re-doing the things we always do and traveling to places that we’ve been to numerous times before (Miami, New York, maybe LA if we’re particularly adventurous) or to chic places where we “must go”, like Paris and London, where we then go and shop some more. We end up with a lot of stuff to show our friends but very few priceless memories.
Me…I love my priceless memories and I’ll go out of my way to get them. The spirituality of driving up a foggy mountain that’s a collapsed, dormant volcano – feeling like I’m driving into the arms of God – is something I’ll never forget. Or standing on the wall of the East African Rift for the first time. Or seeing wildlife feet away from me, live and in living colour. Or watching a glacier calve. Or climbing the highest peak on the second largest continent in the world. Or sleeping in the heart of the Serengeti. Or wine tasting with a close friend in Ontario. I won’t ever forget those things, and every time I think of them I’ll get a thrill of pleasure. I like stuff as much as the next girl but all the stuff in the world can’t give me that.
It makes me a little bit sad to know that there’s so much out there to see and do and learn that could add unimaginable dimension to their lives and my people are missing it because they’re too comfortable where they are and too attached to their stuff.
Meanwhile, I’ve gotten a taste of the good life – of exploring and going a little ways off the beaten path and breaking stereotype barriers – and I’m not giving it up. I hope some of my people will join me some time. It’s really nice out here.