Black and Abroad: Thoughts From a Solitary Traveler
By: Addison DeMoss
Walking through my Bairro in Mozambique during a relatively brisk evening, I decided to have a quick drink before returning home and settling down. At this stage, I had been fairly integrated into my community for nearly one year, but there is always someone new to encounter. While waiting for my drink to be served, a man near the bar playing billiards stared at me intently before making his opening statement. “I have seen you around before,” he said, “but only now have I gotten the chance to speak with you.” “My name is Addison; nice to meet you,” I replied. Then came the question I must have been asked nearly every day since I arrived in Mozambique, and he did not disappoint by enquiring, “Where are you from?” With a smile, I tell him, “The United States.” After this reveal, his demeanor appeared to change, and a conversation that was once spoken entirely in Portuguese quickly transitioned into English. “Ah, so you are an African man lost in America.” While catching me off guard, his statement concurrently brought me a sense of clarity of how I felt during my adult life as a person of color and caused me to reflect on how living in Africa was impacting my development.
Compared to many Americans, I would say that I have been relatively privileged in receiving opportunities to travel internationally through study abroad opportunities or government programs such as the Peace Corps. While a Peace Corps Volunteer, I gained experience in the health sector, working with NGOs focused on HIV/AIDS & malaria prevention and sexual & reproductive health with gender equality initiatives. These organizations brought me a greater awareness of what plagues urban and rural communities and the solutions available to eradicate these issues. Just as meaningful as the methods I learned to improve local communities’ conditions was the camaraderie I established with people who live there. During my 3 years of service, I learned to develop patience in understanding people’s cultural differences while acclimating to another way of life. Undoubtedly, that experience helped me gain a more diverse worldview and create genuine connections with people from various identities.
The ability to travel is a privilege for anyone as it provides opportunities to learn about other societies and their way of life. During my travels, I make it a habit to participate in different areas, including food, music, art, and more. Each category is a direct representation of a community’s cultural identity, and connecting with these forms of culture is a way to establish connections with the people representing them. The most valuable aspect that I have gained during my time abroad has been the relationships I developed personally and professionally. Since my experiences with the Peace Corps, I have continued to travel and forge connections with people, enabling me to understand different perspectives while also building a stronger sense of empathy, even if I may not personally share their lived experiences.
For all of the striking differences societies have due to their cultural backgrounds, what connects these groups is the intersecting similarities they share and their ability to progress via solidarity and advocacy, especially for groups that suffer from extreme forms of marginalization. In these connections, people can learn to be more supportive and not allow their differences to serve as divisive structures. During my interactions with people of different backgrounds, I have gained awareness of my privileges and the disadvantages I face because of my identity. Having the opportunity to converse with people encountering similar forms of adversity or those of their own encouraged me to advocate for global communities overlooked in the international development sector. The path I am currently walking would not be possible if not for the gateway that traveling has provided. For this reason, I firmly believe that travel is one of the most influential tools accessible for societal advancement as a whole and is necessary as a guiding principle for anyone who aims to achieve personal growth.