Last weekend I went searching for saltfish in Durban. We started at Woolworth’s (which folks in South Africa tell me has become their version of the US’s fancy Whole Foods). But, surprise, they didn’t have any. So we rushed across to the downmarket grocery store at the other end of the mall. Just caught it open. And there it was. As I expected.
Of course I was making Sunday-morning buljol. For my hosts. Q and Dawn. Dawn was once the most visible lesbian activist in Africa. Which is how we met seven years ago. Well, it really was a shared anti-colonial politics. And that we were both doing difficult regional movement building.
For the longest, she’s been urging that I had to visit.
We crossed paths at a conference recently, after a few life changes for both of us. She was back in Durban. The invitation came again, firm and insistent. So I went. And what a host she was!
At the same conference last month a bright young man from Zambia, living on the other South African coast, I had just met urged, come there, too. We didn’t talk much then, or after. But enough for me to find myself flying from douglarish Durban to posh Cape Town. His first guest at the house he had just bought. That he’d moved into only after we made plans.
He shared afternoon stories of his professional development with me, of being mentored by a white gay man. Between us we too held differences that were treasures. I played him Black Prince’s My One Desire one evening. We had gin in common. (But, no, I didn’t sample Indiovu.)
The one guy on the huge Ugandan country team I had connected with during TT’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN the same year I met Dawn, who had shown me Soweto through the eyes of his instructor who grew up there, made the hourlong drive from Pretoria to Johannesburg for a quick hello.
Hopping around, I neglected to make time for the woman whose NGO had paid my fare to fly there. For a meeting where I discovered a visionary Kenyan trafficking survivor who is building a casework project out of many of the same ideas we are in LGBTI communities here.
Sibo and I had met around the Commonwealth the year before I met Dawn. We talk ideas all the time; and some ideas I can talk about only with her. But we do not visit. She made sure to see me between flights, though, a meal at the airport the evening I left, where we caught up on so much.
Then there were the Jozi guys I met online and instantly clicked with, one from Botswana who came by for drinks, then took me sundry shopping at Gandhi Square, the other from Lesotho who drove out to the airport to take me for lunch in Maboneng. We have plans to visit.
There are almost 150 countries a citizen of TT can visit with just a passport, including South Africa and everywhere in the Caribbean outside of Puerto Rico and the US Virgins. That’s twice as many as China, and just 50 shy of Japanese and Singaporeans, who hold the most powerful passports.
But it’s the States that make us humble for permission to enter where we are most eager to go spend time and money, roll up in their culture. Or we shell out for cruises on gigantic boats that dump their bilge in the places they dock, leaving little else behind. We pay travel agents or businesses on the web for formal tours. We go fete at other carnivals. Though we do visit other Trinis, family as well as friends.
But this past week taught me to do something I rarely do, for all the foreigners I’ve met.
Visit with them.
Invest in the art and joy and beauty of the visit. The commitment to thoughtfulness. The adventure of spending time and kindness with someone. The discovery. The blessing and unhurriedness of seeing a place through the eyes of a local.
As a child, it was how we travelled. We visited.