Traveling is a feast for the senses and for the soul. Whenever I’m on the road, I become even more aware of my place in the world, of life’s many possibilities, and of the beauty around me in ways I never had been before.
Last month in Berlin was just such a time. Every summer for the past five years, I’ve traveled with my very good friend, Angela. This year was no different. We went on a trip that took us to Venice, parts of Croatia, and then Amsterdam. While not everything went quite as planned, it was still a fantastic time with (mostly) new places, excellent company, and good food. But like all good things, that time came to an end when Angela had to go back home for work. With one whole week left before my own return trip home, I decided to head to Berlin.
For years, I pretty much refused to go to Berlin because, Germany. Then rumors of the city’s out-of-this-world club scene piqued my curiosity just a little. After that, a certain piece of fan-fiction set in Berlin and featuring the object of my obsession spawned even more interest. Add to this an article that mentions a few places in Europe that apparently welcome Black folks and I was sold. One Easyjet flight later, I was landing in Berlin and ready for adventure.
What I found there wasn’t quite what I expected but it was one of the more memorable parts of my summer. To backtrack a little, Immani Love, a friend and erotic poet/performer who I ran into in Amsterdam, told me she was doing a show at a queer people of color event the same weekend as Berlin Pride. Excited to see her perform again, I agreed to look her up since by coincidence, we’d be in the city at the same time.
Long story shorter, while in Berlin and making plans with Immani to meet up, she tells me the event she’s doing has space for another performer or workshop and I should sign up. The thing is though, I don’t do spur of the moment readings. As an introvert, I need all kinds of prep time and hours of psyching myself up to appear in front of people. I was just about to tell Immani “no” when a conversation with Angela about Shonda Rhimes’ new book, Year of Yes, came to mind. In the book, Shonda challenges herself to say “yes” to things she’d normally refuse to do. I decided then not to let my shyness stop me from getting the chance to share my new book, Rise of the Rain Queen, with folks who’d never heard of me.
At the end of it all, the reading cum workshop I pulled together at the last minute was decently attended and, even better, I met some really wonderful women who invited me to their community garden in the city for a BBQ and lay-about session. It felt SO good, in a city where hours before I’d known no one, to be welcomed among these women’s families and friends, to have them express interest in my books, to talk about my work and my upcoming writing retreat in Jamaica this October, and even the distant possibility of having one of my novels translated into German.
More than seeing new places or gobbling up new foods, this is the kind of experience that I live for while traveling. The chance to connect with people in other parts of the world and share art, laughter, and other marvelous things. Every time I run out of money or tell myself I can’t afford to go somewhere, I remember one of these amazing experiences then I do what I can to make the next trip happen. Travel has become a huge part of my life and my way of connecting with otherwise far flung people and ideas. It injects wonder into my life and I’m ever grateful when I can do it. Travel is essential and, even with its occasional brutalities, a beautiful thing.
Pico Iyer said,
“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”
I can’t help but agree.