Traveling Sisterhood of the Expats

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

There was an interesting post in a Facebook group to which I am a member, “Expat Women of Color”. This is a group that is “designed to educate and provide resources for women of color who desire to or are currently living abroad”.

The post read as follows:

In your cities do other black folk that you meet give you a welcome smile or avert their eyes? I’m a born and raised Southerner whose parents passed at ages 77 and 89. That’s to let you in on how old school I was raised. It really hurts me when a sister or brother will look in every direction except at me when our paths meet. I see Filipinos embrace and travel in packs but sustahs gotta ‘pledge’ you before they befriend in many cases. After they do befriend, we are great pals, but the initial is a trip. i try to be the change that i wanna see but it gets old. Wow… Off my soapbox now.

176636455The responses were overwhelmingly supportive with the majority of women expressing sadness for her experience and sharing their own experiences. I have had similar experiences while travelling, most recently on a trip to Cancun with my mother.

I love seeing other people of color when I travel, especially black women. It makes me happy to know they are expanding their horizons and decided to venture outside of their little corners of the world. I try to make eye contact, smile and say hello but on more than one occasion, the responses were less than friendly and bordered on rude. Either they avert their eyes or give me the “why are you speaking to me” look, which sometimes presents itself as a disdainful grunt. It almost always leaves me puzzled.

So when a young lady responded with the following, I took the opportunity to ask why.

I think Black people, especially women, always give one another a hard time. That’s just it, point, blank, period. I am guilty, and so are others.

She has yet to respond.

Could it be fear, insecurity, or some misplaced, ill-conceived idea of competition? I know women can be catty and vicious to one another and movies like “Mean Girls” capture how this perfect storm of negativity manifests itself.

Or could be cultural? Having been raised in the south I don’t find it peculiar when a stranger makes eye contact and says hello. This small gesture of acknowledgment is nothing of which to be suspicious or wary. However, I am fully aware that my sisters from north of the Mason Dixie are not about that life! If they don’t know you, they will not speak to you.

So it leads me to my next question or thought, as it were.

How is this Facebook forum any different and why are [you] more comfortable with interacting in this environment? Does it provide the necessary boundaries to make [you] feel safe? Is it a way to “connect” while still remaining “disconnected”?

How can [you] transfer this sense of community within this online forum to your travels or daily lives as Expat Women of Color? Can you use it as a catalyst of growth and stepping outside of your comfort zone, opening yourself to a new way of thinking?

If life begins outside of our comfort zone, then are we really living life to the fullest?

It takes absolutely nothing away from you to be friendly, kind and extend some generosity of spirit to another woman of color you meet in your travels. If she does not respond in kind do not allow that to discourage you because you could be the warm spirit and friendly smile the next woman of color needs to get through her day. It may also add to the richness of your experience for you could possibly gain a lifelong friend, sister, or mentor.

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