Posts Tagged ‘travel’
I moved to New York last summer and took a month-long sublet in Bushwick, or as my striving neighbors liked to call it, East Williamsburg. It was August, and the city was experiencing record high temperatures. We all trudged through the heavy heat, wondering when the wave would end.
My temporary home was half of a faded duplex that I shared with two young actresses who were my age, but who made me feel much older. I rarely saw them; while I was at the office during the day, they slept off the previous night’s debauchery on the living room couch and floor, surrounded by empty beer and liquor bottles. When I got home in the evening, they were gone, out at their waitressing jobs until the early morning.
Our landlords, a boisterous Puerto Rican family, lived in the other half of the duplex. For the first weeks of my stay, I tried to resist greeting them with a “¿Como estan?” But in Bushwick, reminders of Mexico were thankfully everywhere: taco and torta counters run by short men in white aprons in the back of corner stores; girls in tight tank tops on the sidewalk gossiping in Spanish; thumping cumbia and reggaeton music snaking through my window.
Photo by Guillaume Gaudet
I had arrived in New York, after another one of those exhausting, unnecessarily long flights I love to take: Los Angeles –> Charlotte, North Carolina –> New York. It was after midnight, and I was in an airport shuttle van, the matatus of New York City, with a group of people being dropped off at our respective residences in Manhattan after being picked up at the airport.
I was the last stop, and we floated around Times Square for awhile, dispensing tourists at their hotels and getting stuck in late night traffic clusters. We stopped at the last of these hotels, one right next to an Irish-themed bar, and parked at the curb as the driver helped the passengers unload their luggage. I looked out of the window and saw a group of boys and girls — maybe in their early twenties — outside of the bar. I was captivated by how animated they were: each one of them was smiling, and each time one of them said something, they all burst into genuine, unselfconscious laughter, grabbing onto each other for support and to catch their breaths. They touched each other constantly, affectionately stroking each other’s shoulders and backs. When each person talked, his or her face fully contorted into discrete, distinguishable expressions, and his or her hands would lift and wave around, punching and slicing the air. I hadn’t seen anything like it in a long time. I almost felt like I was eavesdropping on an intimate encounter just by watching them from my window.
Then I realized they must be foreign. When the driver opened his door to get back into the van, bits of their conversation rushed in at me, pieces of a language I couldn’t identify.
I originally got a second passport — my grass green Nigerian booklet that I hear is now invalid — to be my identity badge on really crazy trips, like to Iran and Cuba. I did go to Cuba but ended up using my American passport, anyway. Even before I got it, I knew about the problems of traveling as a Nigerian. I was already used to the suspicious double glances at my name on my American passport by African — African! — customs agents. I was familiar with the half-jokes by new Ugandan and Kenyan friends about whether I was cooking up any e-mail schemes. But I’ve got pride in my ancestral homeland — which is why it hurts to see the way internet fraud has swallowed both the talented youth and the reputation of a country that is filled with brilliant minds with no place to stretch, and that is constantly hustling and heaving as it sways like a drunkard, one step away from falling into madness.
Vice has just released a very short documentary on Sakawa, the mix of mysticism and internet scamming that has given rise to a popular subculture mainly made up of clever young Ghanian men. As usual, Vice is more interested in the shock appeal of Sakawa — those crazy Africans painting their faces and dancing to drums! — than exploring why a generation of young Africans are turning to fraud as a livelihood in the face of political corruption and an overwhelming lack of employment opportunities. What’s more interesting, as Louis Chude-Sokeias writes in Fanzine, is the insanely high levels of creativity, technological savvy, organization, research, and planning involved in these scams that, if redirected, could make the Nigerian megacity of Lagos suddenly thriving within a day. What’s more interesting is “this younger generation [that] rolls with a swagger disdainful of global pity and deeply suspicious of ‘big man’ politics.” I can link you to the fascinating article, but first I need you to send me your bank info please. Too soon?
The brief evolution of the life of a person with wanderlust who lives in one place:
First, you tiptoe around, watching how everything is said and done and discreetly mimicking others, getting stuck behind obstacles before eventually climbing over them, and searching for the local key to health and happiness. (It must be somewhere).
Then, you start walking normally, though still a little gingerly, as you learn the lay of the land, and feel at ease as you discover this new place and make new friends. You even make jokes about those silly mundane hurdles you encountered a few months earlier.
Then, you start stomping through town, sure of your purpose and your ability to fulfill it. This is your project, and this is your house, and these are your people.
Then, the stomping wears you out and you sit for awhile, just wanting to take it easy and enjoy the comfortable life you’ve somehow created in spite of your flighty tendencies.
Then, you get bored of the sitting and feel trapped by the easiness and you start to wonder where else you can start tiptoeing around.