Decolonising Travel Introduction
From the size of this issue, it’s clear that the evocative (and elastic) theme of Space resonated with many. When I first heard it, my mind immediately travelled. I thought about the space that Black and Brown and queer and disabled bodies occupy in travel, from the moment they exit the home, and the constant negotiations that I, as a traveller in a Black female body, have to make to ensure my safety in public spaces. I thought about Afrofuturism and African Futurism, dynamic interdisciplinary movements that fuse the arts, Sci-Fi, and science and technology with Black history to imagine a better future, which is the subject of a recent and major exhibition at the Smithsonian/National Museum of African American History & Culture in the USA. I also thought about the airport, both liminal space and portal to possibility.
I once had a student from Singapore who marvelled that nearly every writer back home had written an airport poem. “What’s that about?” she mused. Changi Airport is certainly a sleek, pristine marvel, a preview of what the tiny nation-state has in store for visitors. Years later, over lunch in Pittsburgh, where she was completing an MFA, she handed me a copy of In Transit: An Anthology from Singapore on Airports and Air Travel, a collection of poetry, short stories and essays she’d co–edited. Travel writer Pico Iyer views airports as both communities in themselves and metaphor. They are microcosms of the cities that host them, crossroads for travellers between lives, and reflections of Iyer’s identity as a global wanderer. Travel philosopher Alain de Botton calls the airport a “non-place” with architecture and activities that strive for optimism. Both men were writers-in-residence at major airports (Iyer lived for a week at LAX in 1994 and de Botton spent a week at Heathrow in 2009), and recently, in my column for Detour: Best Stories in Black Travel, I riffed on what I would do if I lived at the airport.
It’s also clear that our new section, Decolonising Travel, has resonated as well. I was delighted to receive so many submissions for our launch and to see that so many of the stories eventually accepted were written by former students. Some come from the writing workshop for travellers of colour I started with VONA/Voices: Summer Workshops for Writers of Color (the original VONA-Panorama partnership resulted in many articles and masthead members). One comes from a 2-day workshop with visionary literary arts non-profit Roots.Wounds.Words. Several are graduates of the Master Workshop at Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. One is a candidate in the MFAW Program at California College of the Arts (my day job). Apparently, years of lecturing on the importance of redefining what we view as travel, of rejecting old tropes, and of shifting the margins to the centre have borne fruit — glorious fruit I’m eager to share with Panorama’s readers across the globe.
Anchoring the nine pieces are features by two Panorama writers, Paula Read’s “Notes from a Once Large Planet” and Aimee Morales’s “Counting the Stars”. Read’s beautifully written and researched essay, framed within the context of space colonisation, essentially makes an argument for the importance of the aforementioned Afro/African Futurism and Indigenous Futurism by using family history to explore how the white settler colonialist narrative hampers descendants’ current abilities to imagine other futures. In a series of vivid vignettes rooted in nature and the senses, Morales maps a journey through 12 different houses in the Philippines in her search for a space to call home. Awarded a fellowship to travel the world visiting Chinatowns, a project documented in “Eating Chifa for the First Time”, healer and poet River Dandelion also finds home – surprisingly in a simple bowl of chicken bone broth in Lima, Peru.
Both F. Rowan Waters and Rajani Gudlavalleti interrogate the role of gender in claiming space while travelling; poet-artist Waters’ “girl/body as a theory of space-time”, a piece of flash-nonfiction, takes a nameless girl/body on planes and trains, through parks and Ikea, to interrogate identity and movement, while harm reduction advocate Gudlavalleti uses a youthful act of gender defiance as a launching point for researching the history of female-only trains in India in “Putting My Body on a Mumbai Train”. In “An Illusion”, Finnish traveller Pia Mustamaki puts a twist on gender roles by reversing the male gaze, only to find herself possibly falling into Orientalist assumptions like generations of European visitors to Turkey before her.
In wildly different styles, Ryan Artes, Joseph Aaron Càrdenas, and Tijanna O. Eaton all engage with their legacies, each stretching the limits of language and the definition of travel to include the psychological. Artes, a transracial, transnational adoptee, rejects the standard roots return journey to the country of origin; “I Am the Space Between That Which I Do and Do Not Know” chooses instead to claim space and lost family, language, culture, and homelands through inventive language and imagination. In “Re:1510”, a feverish flash monologue, Càrdenas deconstructs language and demonstrates the levels of foreignness in being a first-generation American living in Thailand. Eaton’s visceral account of her experiences with hook pull rituals, “Cord”, literally embodies encounters with her enslaved ancestors, thrusting the reader into a journey through the history of Black bodies.
I write this from a hotel lounge in Abuja, Nigeria, a space chosen to be the country’s new capital due to its placement in the geographic centre of the country and constructed, much like Brasilia and Vegas, out of sheer will and thin air. Just three weeks ago we celebrated my birthday in Vegas, a desert playground my Nigerian husband loves precisely for its artificiality and proof of American determination. Twelve years ago I visited Abuja for the first time. Across the table sits Panorama’s Africa Editor Richard Ali, who settled in Abuja after Law School and whom I am meeting in person for the very first time. He tells me about the displacement of the original inhabitants of the area and the razing of the forests to make way for the grand boulevards, imposing buildings and green spaces for which the city is known. We clink our soda bottles and settle comfortably into this space we, and Panorama, have created together.
Faith Adiele is a Senior Editor at Panorama