reposted and edited from here
Late in 2022, I got the opportunity to travel around the globe with my long-time friend Bekk. He’s a legit whiz kid who started coding because his mom did not want him to be/could not afford for him to be poor. Bekk even started a non-profit at fifteen, teaching his peers how to code on embedded projects using raspberry Pis’ and circuit boards. After that, he worked coding full time and decided to go to college for math because coming from a household of little means makes that document matter.
Our friendship started in Clemson around bout 2017. We met through my now fiance Damali. At that time, I was a different person. I was undergoing a kind of culture shock. Now, readers, I am going to be very honest with you. That period was peak Donald Trump hype. I’m talking about people walking around with trump flags as clothing. KKK flyers scattered by trucks waving confederate and American flags were a norm at Clemson. By the time Bekk and I had met, a strong, umm, bias had developed because I was called ni***s left and right by white people who just thought it was fantastic. I mean I love the word too, but damn, read the room. Whether going to parties or walking around campus having to assuage someone of their potential racism, for me being black at Clemson was daunting when outside of the black community.
I was also a terrible student. So the sense of alienation was palpable during my first years there. It had turned out that Bekk, too, though so good that he would swing grade averages because of how high his grades were, felt estranged from the Clemson community because of his awkwardness. I do not know when I had turned, but once I realized he read often and had exciting thoughts, that I could learn from him, and that we have a similar backstory, we bonded.
What does the whiz kid do after graduating in the middle of a global pandemic? He travels the world. I have always wanted to go places and see stuff, so we planned a two-month trip while getting together at Raf’s home when the chance came.
Walking into Raf’s house was weird because neither of us knew his family was wealthy. And I mean Raf and Bekk were roommates. Traveling around the world with someone who shares a similar perspective, one where elevators in houses are freaking crazy, allowed us to share an appreciation for even being able to walk in the places we walked. A virtuous cycle as Hau put it(Hau is a mentor of Bekk who we met in Thailand).
Planned is a strong word, to be fair. We just said we would meet in Barcelona on the 27th. After New Year’s, we’d see where else we could go.
However, I had a few questions on my mind before leaving. One of them was:
Is being black a global thing?
It turns out yes. Yes, it is very much. It’s all love in most places. In Şanlıurfa, I experienced being a minor celebrity. But the West is the West
On landing, we met in the airport and proceeded to do what I call the covid and customs shuffle. Double c shuffle, if you will. Every airport has a different version of this. The Charles de Gaulle CC shuffle on entry involves a mandatory mask, a mandatory in-person check-in, a check even before airport entry of ticket, verification of a PCR test taken within 48 hours, and customs and security checks. Exiting BCN required a covid vaccination check and an entry form. No customs, however, which was clutch. You can stroll in and out of Spain if your EU visa isn’t up.
If there is one thing you should do in any city, it’s see it come alive. The nightlife in Barcelona is active right up until sunrise. When morning arrives, teams of garbage people come out and clean, just a few hours after the latest groups find their way home. Hints of coffee and bread can be smelled coming from the cafés. I even saw someone drinking wine and having a croissant around 6:30 am or so. But I have depression.
Being in Barcelona exposed me to some truths about myself and how I engage with others or my environment. I suppose initially; I felt apathy. Then insecurity. Originally, my apathy felt a defense from the sensory overload of being in a completely foreign place. Then I saw the Starbucks around the corner from La Sagrada Familia. The other side was occupied by a McDonald’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and anything else you might find on the average main road of a popular shopping area. I now see the apathy I felt was probably the early awareness that I should prepare myself for what is essentially a global industry dedicated to attracting tourism. Imagine going to Paris and seeing a Versace ad on the side of a national monument. And for a moment, I had wished for some Versace. I don’t want low-bar capital references. I want the good stuff. I totally wanted(and still do) to go shopping for designer boots. I had wanted to be more attractive, more affluent, enigmatic, etc. Why not if this was all it took to be here. That would be better than some La Sagrada Mc’ds. I seriously thought about how I could be more than who I was. Or different. So that the aesthetics of my capital consumption felt more authentic to my own style. But the only jacket I brought was given to me by my grandma and I was keen on wearing it.
I noticed something in a Madrid hostel that would probably give me the push I needed to ground my mind. It turns out that every person traveling is dealing with some sense of identity, purpose, history, etc. That extends to people in general. I also noticed that cities have character. Madrid and Barcelona’s character traits were essentially casual beauty. It really takes walking around for 24hrs+ to notice that. Like shit really doesn’t start until 10 or 11. Or 3 pm if a store owner decides to not open. This is something America fundamentally lacks in its cities or so-called lazy towns. There is a supposition here that business owners serve customers as opposed to themselves. In places that have been inhabited for thousands of years by various cultures, you feel that. America is sterile due to genocide and the plague of indigenous populations. Or to put it another way, the history of a building in Europe can extend for literally a thousand years. Along with their artifacts(cultural, societal, global). Anything that old in America should be considered ancient, teleologically speaking.
About three days into our Madrid trip we got omicron. We ordered uber eats the entire time. It was the epitome of chill. Very much needed after the first week in Barcelona. Amazing actually. It was here I learned, yeah, I don’t like being around a bunch of people in loud settings, but I love meeting new people. Get Airbnbs more often. Sleeping is underrated. Madrid is gorgeous. Be grateful.