As an African-born child with an American mother of Trinidad and Jamaican heritage, some would say I was born to travel. And after visiting over 40 countries across the world, I highly recommend this experience to anyone. The editorial I wrote earlier begins with “Overseas travel is something I wish more Americans would do. Seeing the rest of the world changes you for the better, I think. You do become more open, more curious and even more down to earth about our similarities and differences as people”; and this article with three distinct voices and contributors is about escaping Brooklyn. We are focused on understanding what Brooklynites do and where they go for their summer vacations besides staying in the US.
Beyond Europe as a destination point, Brooklynites are heading to two continents and three regions in a large numbers. In South America, Brooklynites are selecting Brazil as the destination point of choice. In the Caribbean – we were surprised that though Jamaica is the main choice in numbers, Barbados is a much preferred place to visit. And then, there is the continent of Africa. Ghana is the draw, much marketed and comfortable to be called the motherland but Egypt takes the cake for most travelers and Morocco is just being discovered, and even though South Africa is on the horizon, its cost keeps travelers at bay.
So, whatever, you do this summer – if you are heading out of Brooklyn and the US – try one of these places as a destination point, even just for 5 days, though I personally recommend a 10-day stay.
- Atim Annette Oton, editor
Brazil – The Sleeping Giant: Land of Heritage, History, Hospitality and Hope
by Earl S. Davis
Brazil, a multi-faceted , astounding country, evokes the imagery of an exotic land of lush greenery, white sandy beaches with emerald blue waters, beautiful women, handsome men, cattle and coffee, soccer, samba music, and of course, the majestic statue of Christ the Redeemer welcoming all to Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, itself. To coin a phrase, Brazil is all of the above, but much, much more, particularly from the perspective of African Americans who are knowledgeable and historically astute enough to recognize the relationship and bond between Africans, African Brazilians and African Americans. The one thread that permeates this association is the lineage of African descent and the separate direction the institution of slavery ,via the Atlantic Slave Trade, imposed upon these diverse groups.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro, “discovered” in 1501 by the Portuguese, once the capital of Brazil and it’s most famous city, is a strikingly beautiful metropolis nestled in the middle of a spectacular mountain range. Five star hotels line Atlantica Avenue and the famous Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, and shield the huge “favelas” (neighborhoods) that accommodate most of the African Brazilian population. These “favelas” are often a “city within a city”, with their own distinct sections, cultural institutions, hospitals, churches, etc. Although Brazil is often pictured as a “white” country, according to leading African Brazilian organizations, African Brazilians (including people considered mixed mulatto or Moreno) constitute 60% of the population of Brazil. In the northeastern State of Bahia, which we will focus on later, the African Brazilian population is said to be over 80%.
Rio has a multitude of attractions that could be of interest to tourists such as the Christ the Redeemer Statue on Corcovado Mountain that welcomes visitors, Sugar Loaf Mountain, accessible via cable car that provides a panoramic view of all of Rio, the world famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, first class restaurants with sumptuous delicacies (especially the Churascaria, where you can eat as much as you desire of a large selection of meats which are continually served.) Rio’s nightlife is pulses with excitement — with bars, discotheques and dance halls in virtually every district and neighborhood. An especially popular attraction is the all day “Hippie Market” in Ipanema every Sunday, where loads of items can be negotiated and bargained. The African Brazilian influence in Rio is strong, but submerged throughout the city itself, while abundantly obvious in the hillside townships (favelas) surrounding it.
“Bahia: the air, the food, the dress, the music, the art, the dance, the expressions, the spirituality – are all of African origin.”
Unlike Rio, the city of Salvador, Bahia, about 1200 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro, is teeming with the influence of African culture (mainly Nigeria, Angola, Benin and Senegal), derived from the importation of peoples from these areas, beginning in 1519, during the slave trade. Salvador is the capital of the state of Bahia, but is commonly just called “Bahia”, to describe the magnificent culture, energy and tradition that emanates from the “heartbeat of Brazil”. Bahia is more than 80% Black, and the residents proudly proclaim this and embrace their African culture.
Churches (they say there are 365 of them, one for every day of the year), restaurants (serving up mouthwatering local dishes such as Mocheca and Fejoada); and social institutions, all reflect the influences of Africa. Catholicism may be the official religion, but the practice of syncretism (integrating the Yoruba religion and Orishas, or Gods, with the Catholic religion and Saints) allowed the Nigerian-based entity of Condomble to survive and now flourish in many of the states in Brazil, particularly the northeastern provinces. The air, the food, the dress, the music, the art, the dance, the expressions, the spirituality – are all of African origin. Interweave this aura with the splendid weather (75-80 degrees), magnificent white sandy beaches, blue green ocean, delectable cuisine, hospitable and friendly people who welcome you because you are a visitor, but more importantly, because you are one of them.
Brazil is an adventure that all African Americans should experience to glimpse an African presence flourishing in the Americas, as well as to assist African Brazilians who are struggling for equality — as we were less than half a century ago — and by all accounts have not yet achieved. You won’t regret the gesture.
Ghana and Ashanti Calls:
The Land of Kente beckons you this summer
by Atim Annette Oton
I first arrived in Ghana en route to Lagos, Nigeria years ago and was struck by the similarities of progress in the city and differences in the temperaments of the people. As a place, Lagos is like New York, fast and furious while Accra, Ghana is a lot laid back and relaxing. While Nigerians are called the happiest people in the world, Ghanaians are said to be the friendliest people in West Africa.
Steeped in rich culture, the place to start a visit of Ghana is the breezy capital of Accra that gets its winds off the Gulf of Guinea. You will feel comfortable here as an English speaker and begin to understand the concept Akwaaba, meaning “welcome.” You will also begin to grasp the significance of Kente, adrinka symbols and the Ashanti people.
Kente is an Asante ceremonial cloth hand-woven on a horizontal treadle loom, bright, narrow strips with complex patterns, and the Adinkra symbols are symbols derived from the Asante tribe of Ghana, and each symbol has a spiritual meaning. The Ashanti tribe of the Akan people are the largest tribe in Ghana and one of the few matrilineal societies in West Africa. Once renowned for the splendour and wealth of their rulers, they are most famous today for their craft work, particularly their hand-carved stools and fertility dolls. Where do you begin in Accra? As a traveller and like most, I begin with a city’s cultural history – found in its museums.
Start with the National Museum; it is well worth a visit. Consisting of two floors, and with a diversity of topics and subjects, exhibits here include thrones, fishing implements, stools, wood carvings, masks, displays on dances, the slave trade, currency, pottery, youth of today and their future within the society, leather work, war, puberty rites, prehistory and contemporary art, just to name a few. And with a small admission fee, expect to spend several hours here.
The next place to go is the National Arts Centre. Most tourists are sent here to buy Ghanaian ‘things’: wooden masks, carvings, fertility dolls, kente cloth, beads, brass figurines. This place is more like a craft market; browse to see what’s there and what’s new. But be prepared, it’s huge and aggressive; and not the best place to get a good deal but like the museum – a place to see what Ghana has to offer in crafts.
For more local history, stop by the Parliament House and along the coast from Independence Square- the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, a tasteful homage to Ghana’s first President, ousted in the mid-1960s and spent the rest of his life in exile in Guinea. Nkrumah’s impressive mausoleum sits in green gardens and tucked away at the back of his posed statue is a museum to his life. It’s an eye-opener with lots of photographs of Nkrumah with some of the most famous people of the 20th century from Jawarharlal Nehru, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Nikita Khrushchev, John F Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Pius XII, President Nasser of Egypt, and countless leaders of countries.
In Accra, the Labadi Beach is most unique in all of the West African capital cities, as it is one of the cleanest beaches but for another experience, head off to Coco Beach – it is quite large, covering at least five miles. The Aburi Botanical Gardens, just beyond the town of Aburi and perched on a ridge north of Accra, provides a welcome getaway from the bustle of Accra with well maintained gardens and a variety of exotic plant life from around the world. Aburi also has many wild monkeys to worry about.
For a person with African ancestors, Ghana, like Senegal, is the place for profound slave history. A must is the Cape Coast Castle, a fort that was one of the primary slave holding sites in Ghana. Spend some money here and get a guide for the history lesson and depiction. It will bring you to tears.
Such an ironic place – the castle is in fantastic shape with a not-to-miss museum where a video is shown about the slave trade. But as you progress deeper into the fort, one of the things that stands out in my mind, through all the dungeons and the horrible stories-is a door called “the door of no return”. Located at the base of the central courtyard, just beyond the female dungeons, an enormous arched doorway encloses two impressive black doors, and the last stop on the guided tour – a climactic moment where you watch in quiet anticipation as the guide opens the door to reveal the expanse of angry sea where enslaved Africans would have been led to awaiting ships.
Return to Accra to wander around the Kaneshie market, the second largest market. Here, you will find stalls and small shops selling all kinds of artisan goods from all over Ghana as well as African music and paintings by local artisans. Here is one place to shop and bargain. Remember to respond with a-third of the price; that’s an African trade secret. Makola Market, the city’s main market is a must see but do not plan on buying any crafts as this is where locals go to purchase everyday items. Before you leave Accra, try the food, your taste buds will thank you. Foods like Fufu (fo fo), the most widely served traditional dish, consists of pounded balls of yam, plantain, or cassava. Soups (don’t think western – but African) are made of groundnuts, okra, other vegetables, and a large amount of palm oil.
I recommend going for Panafest, a yearly festival celebrating Ghanaian roots and heritage with people from other African countries as well as the African-Americans. This year’s takes place during the 50th anniversary of the independence of Ghana. And with the 200th anniversary of Emancipation day, this summer (from July 22- August 4) is the time to be in Ghana. So, grab your passport and head out today to book a flight.
Beyond Cairo, there is luxurious Sharm El Shekh
By Laylah Amatullah Barrayn
Visiting Egypt is a must for obvious reasons – the ancient Pharonic culture is fascinating – the wars, myths, magic and temples have been a staple for the North African country for centuries. However, travelers are opting out of meandering about the Great Pyraminds at Giza and trekking through the Valley of the Kings. Tourists are now setting their sights on the more luxury side of Egypt.
Sharm El Shekh. Never hear of it? This city located on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula has been a finely guarded secret for many years. With stretches of white sand beaches and sun, locals have always vacationed at Sharm El Sheihk, it’s almost like Egypt’s version of the Bahamas or Miami. But more recently, Sharm, as it’s locally known, has been converted to a destination for the monied and luxury oriented traveler – resorts like Le Méridien, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton are among your options for lodging. However, with several moderately priced hotels, The Sheraton and the Hilton for example, the budget traveler can also enjoy the warm tropics of Sharm, too.
The Bedouin arts and culture is another draw, many visitors take cultural tours to learn about the Muzziena of south Sinai. The filigreed silver jewelry and colorful wool rugs of the Bedouin make great souvenirs. Other things to do, besides partake in the raving night life and plentiful restaurants is scuba diving. The Red Sea is a popular destination for scuba diving, not to mention that there are 250 types of coral reefs and over 1000 species of fish living in the waters. Not bad for the desert. Read more about Sharm El Sheihk and Egypt at http://www.egypt.travel
Morocco – Trans-Africa Express
by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn
Belly dancing and falafel are among the things you think you’ll find in Morocco. Not so much in this North African nation are you going to find such Middle Eastern delicacies; try Amman, Dubai or Cairo. More travelers to the African continent are making their introduction
through Morocco. The Kingdom of Morocco is a nation of beauty, mysticism and antiquity. It’s distinct culture in dress, the hooded cotton robes, pointed babousce slippers to the famous Fez hats are recognizable worldwide.
Visiting most of the major cities you’ll be able to experience modernity and antiquity in one visit. Cities like Marakesh and Fez are known for their exquisite Medinas, which are nearly 2,000-year-old, walled in cities designed in a labyrinth style. Medina at Fez, or locally known Fès, has two parts, the Al Bali Medina and Jdid Medina, the larger and smaller medians. The Fes Al Bali is also the home of one of the oldest universities in the world, the Qarawiyyin University, founded by two sisters Fatima Al-Fihri and her sister Mariam in 859. Fès hosts World Sacred Music Festival, an annual gathering of musicians, visual artist and scholars that focus their art and work on spiriatualiy. Some of the past performers were Miriam Makeba, Youssour Ndour and gospel singer, Liz McComb. The Djemaa el Fna located Marakesh, the other imperial city is the largest open air market on the African continent. This mystical city comes alive at night where people shop, enjoy mint green tea and relish in the dancing and story telling. Two hours away is the coastal city of Essaouira. The best time to visit this famed city is in Mid-june where there is the annual gathering of the Gnawa, an ethnic group of musical healers that originated from Mali.
Only six hours away, Morocco is probably the cheapest and quickest African country to visit. In terms of lodging, you’ll find hotels and riads starting off around $30 night. Speaking of riads, a name for the old palaces converted into guest houses is a must-do for anyone
staying in Morocco. To not stay in a traditional riad is like to visit Egypt and skip over the Pyramids at Giza. For more information on Morocco please visit www.visitmorocco.org
Barbados, West Indies – Bajan Bash
By Laylah Amatullah Barrayn
For the last couple of years the trend was to find a small speck of an island in the Caribbean that no one had ever heard of before, and make that your vacation destination. This year, it seems, that travelers are venturing back to the conventional spots. One particular destination that is being rediscovered or for many, discovered, is Barbados. Here is an island that is most versatile and offering for sun seeking tourist. It’s a mixture of culture, luxury and fun. Barbados is small enough to travel the entire Island by road, yet large enough to not feel like your on Gillians Island.
Most visitors revel in Barbados plentiful resorts along it’s east coast. The House and The Crane are two impressive properties good for romatic getaways. Almond Beach resorts is a favorite all-inclusive spot for families and groups. Sandy Lane is one of the world’s most expensive and exclusive resorts, it’s where Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren held their famed 2004 wedding – they were granted the entire resort.
Also, many flock to Barbados for the annual Jazz Festival. The festival takes place the first week of January, but the residuals last for weeks after that. Another festival gaining popularity with tourists is the native Crop Over festival.
The Gap at St. Lawrence is an lively entertainment strip that tourist and locals enjoy alike. During the day it’s a posh dining and shopping center with cute boutiques and cafes. But, at night The Gap rivals any night life hub in the Caribbean. Spots like The Ship Inn, with is rotating star guest Djs on the 1’s and 2’s and Jam Rock Cafe Music Bar and Grill are great spots for a great introduction to The Gap.
As mentioned earlier, visitors love the idyllic beaches on east coast. But many visitors are opting to renting houses on the solitary yet tranquil west coast. The west is less inhabited simply because the waters are too rough to swim, but the valley’s and scenery makes for a great getaway. For more information on Barbados check out http://www.visitbarbados.org