My experience with traveling abroad as a colored woman
Traveling abroad as a solo female traveler can result in many unexpected, funny and also a bit scary incidents. Traveling abroad as a (solo) female colored traveler has its own dimensions. Usually, I’m not quite ‘aware’ of my colored skin, but sometimes I’m involved in incidents which makes me realize. So in which countries did I encounter some fun and ‘typical’ incidents?
The Netherlands is the country where I was born and partly raised. Dutch is my mother tongue and I have a Dutch / European Union passport. I only realized the value of this passport when I met other travellers who don’t have the same ‘easy’ rules of entering a country.
When I came back to Amsterdam from my travels, it happened a number of times that somehow I drew the attention of the specially trained military police at the airport. Is it because I act suspicious? No, of course not. Apparently, they have been trained to keep an eye on what they think are solo travelers, especially the colored ones. So it happened that while I was traveling with my mom (white skin with black hair) she could walk past the control post, whereas I was being pulled out and needed to open my suitcase (we had the same stuff in our suitcases which went through the same scanner). Of course there was nothing special to be found and the military police didn’t know that I was not traveling alone.
The same happened to me when I travelled with my former parents in law. The military police pulled me out, ignoring the words of my former mother in law saying “she is with us!”. I only carried a couple of souvenirs in my suitcase, but so did my former in-laws.
Do I believe in random picking? No. Do I care? Not anymore. I’m just putting my dirty laundry on top ;)
How many colored persons have you seen on a snowboard or ski’s? Exactly, not many. In general, colored persons are not very fond of the cold. When I went skiing in a small village in Austria, there were three colored persons on top of the mountains and walking through the village. One of them was me. In a country as Austria where a lot of inhabitants have ‘different’ perceptions on colored persons, of course that draws the attention.
One evening my partner was leaving the apres ski bar and while he was walking through the village, he wasn’t sure if he was going the right way to our bed and breakfast. He stopped and told a local villager that he was looking for the right directions to a bed and breakfast (he didn’t mention the name of the B&B yet), because he needed to pick up his partner for dinner.
“Ooh, it’s that dark girl right? She is in the B&B over there. Just go left here and then take the first left again”. My partner was too astonished! How did the villager know who his partner was!
Apparently, when you are being considered as ‘not ordinary’, you are being watched ;).
“Mzungu, mzungu”! While I was walking through Kampala, the children came running towards me and touched my arm. For them I was this strange creature that was not black and not white. Something in between, but she has light skin so she must have money.
The adults had their own way of assessing me. I had a discussion with the local women. “You know, in my home country I’m considered black, not white”. They couldn’t believe it. “Noooo, you are not black, you are white!”. So what am I? A chameleon?
One day I was waiting outside the post office for my translator, while suddenly an Ugandan man approached me and his opening line was: “I want to marry you, where are you from?”.
“I’m from the Netherlands”
“Why do you want to marry me?”
“Because there is money in Europe”
I smiled. “I don’t think it will work out, you need to find a nice bride here”
We chatted a bit more about immigration policies and earning money in Europe. He left with his head held high and I appreciated his honesty. Marrying for the money. The sad truth is, for a lot of people money is the reason for getting married, not love.
Australia / New Zealand
“Bomb control ma’am, please open your bag”. She handed over an A4 page for me to read carefully. I replied: “I don’t need to read this, since it’s already the third time this happens. I know the procedure”. She looked astonished and quickly went through my bag.
“Thank you”, she said.
In the three months that I was backpacking down under, I have met two other colored backpackers. One of them was Dutch as well. Why were there no colored backpackers? Had it something to do with the type of countries I chose? Had it something to do with the way I travelled? Or did I choose a different path and was that the reason that I didn’t meet them? Who can tell me?
I was in a bar with my Dutch (blond, blue eyes) travel buddy, when I got into a conversation with a very nice young couple from Chile.
“You must be from Brazil!”
“No, I’m not, I’m from the Netherlands, just like him (I pointed at my travel buddy)”
Eyebrows were being raised.
“Ooh, but you look Brazilian. You don’t speak Portugese?”.
So (like standard procedure) I had to explain about my roots (in case you are interested, please read my ‘About’ page). Which is always a convincing story when people tend to raise their eyebrow when I tell them I’m Dutch.
After a while she said: “OK, I can tell by your dance moves that you have Caribbean roots!”
I was traveling by bus, outside the capital of Budapest, surrounded by children who turned their head at me and kept staring until I had reached my destination …
Now the experiences above are not exceptional. I know there are many solo female (white colored) travellers out there who have impressive stories about being a ‘curiosity’ in certain countries in the world where they were traveling :)