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Rudy, a long time friend, invited me as his guest to the White House Holiday Reception. I would have the opportunity to meet the President and Michelle Obama and meet them, I did. Here’s a brief recount:

After passing through a couple of security checks, we approached the first of many Christmas trees outside the northeast entrance. Upon entering the doors, we were greeted by friendly military and security personnel who directed us down a corridor where walls were adorned with the President’s family portraits, former Presidents, and first ladies.

As we continued forward, we were serenaded with Christmas songs by Princeton University choir members. We then checked our coats and continued forward where there was a jazz band playing good mood music. There were servers offering glasses of wine and champagne. A coffee and tea bar was also available.

Rudy was given a card with 6:45 on it. That would be the time we’d go downstairs to take a photo with the President and First Lady. Since it was only 6:00, we walked into each of the rooms that were open to the guest. There were Christmas trees to the ceilings in most rooms and 2 of the largest rooms showcased tables of roasted vegetables, baby potatoes, smoked salmon, cocktail shrimp, raw oysters, cheeses, fruits, crackers, and breads. There were also dessert and carving (roast beef & turkey) stations.

Most of the furniture looked old, antique, or just tired. Low light came through many crystal chandeliers and the atmosphere buzzed with excitement, and vibrated with anticipation.

We headed downstairs at 6:45 for our photo opportunity, but there was already a line of about 20 people. I headed for the bathroom to finally put on a little makeup. Inside, a young woman with a once beautiful emerald green dress stood devastated as she tried to paper towel off the horrific stains of a spilled soda. A house attendant went to get a blow dryer for her and I tried not to absorb her anxiety.

It felt like I’d been in the bathroom for a couple of minutes and that was just enough time for the line of 20 plus, to dwindle down until Rudy allowed others to go ahead as he waited for me. Whew!

The process was very organized so that each introduction and photo took 20 seconds. We were not allowed to take purses and cameras in the photo room, but the official photos will be mailed to Rudy at some point. Meanwhile, I have the Kodak moments in mind, especially when President Obama put his right arm around me, and my left arm was around him with my hand gently resting on the center of his back. I don’t remember much after that! I did meet Michelle, and shook her hand but I couldn’t even tell you what her dress looked like, the color, etc. She was beautiful, but the President is a breathtaking Brotha! dance_hall

Rudy and I floated back upstairs, mingled, socialized, and took photos all over the place. It was a most wonderful evening that I shall never forget.

I am so glad that I was born in this country. When I think of where I’ve come from, what I’ve come through, and where I’ve now been, it is a personal testimony to this being, ‘the land of opportunities.’ I am appreciative of service men and women in general, and now, especially for the roles they serve in and around the White House. They were warm and gracious hosts! My respect and admiration for President and Michelle Obama rose to another level. They felt, spoke, and acted like regular folks (Michelle even recalled meeting Rudy earlier this year) who just happen to be living incredible lives!

I’m so honored, grateful, and abundantly blessed!

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              san_Basillio       The village of San Basilio de Palenque lies about 40 kilometers south of Cartagena in Colombia, South America. The people of this traditional Africa-like village, founded centuries ago by runaway slaves, live off the land, just like they did on the African continent. Their homes are made of straw, mud and cow dung. Electricity arrived in the 1970s as a government gift in recognition of the former world boxing champion Antonio Cervantes, better known as Kid Pambelé who was born here. Radio and television came soon after electricity. There is also a schoolhouse, named in honor of of the liberator of this village name Benko Biohó, which even has an Internet connection.
      The San Basilio de Palenque vilagers' ancestors survived capture in Africa, the passage by ship to Cartagena, and were strong enough to escape and live on their own for centuries. The Colombian government takes some pride in this village because the people here were the first to free themselves from Spanish rule long before the nation we now know as Colombia did. I say “some pride” because the Colombian government is not doing much else for this town.
           I entered the village on the back of a motorbike and was dropped off at a restaurant across the street from Benko Bioho Square, containing the statue of the legendary liberator Benko Bioho. I had the traditional village meal of fish, rice, and plantains before my tour guide Carlos arrived . As Carlos escorted me around the village explaining its history and today's lifestyle, I kept wondering to myself, why don't these people capitalize on the growing interest in this village? The place is pretty, the weather is wonderful,and the village is peaceful with a lot to learn about the culture. I know, for myself, I would have loved to have taken home some souvenirs, like CDs of local artists, village post cards, or artifacts. I asked Carlos about this and he didn't give me much of an answer.  
When I left the village and boarded a bus headed back to Cartagena, I saw two white women (I don't know if they were Americans or from another continent), hopping on the back of a motorbike, like I did, heading for San Basilio de Palenque. I was sure that this little African village in Colombia has money making potential to become a tourist attraction

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On the morning of 30th of January, 2007, I stepped out of the 8000 foot high Miriakamba compound on Tanzania's Mt. Meru, where I had eaten and slept better than I had expected the night before, to begin the climb up to the 11,000 foot Saddle Hut base camp. Though I was a party of one, not including my guide, ranger and porter/cook (competent and caring young Tanzanian brothers these were—as were all of the guides, rangers and cooks), I was among about forty other climbers this day, and was about a third of the way back among them on the trail. After just a couple minutes of walking, there was an abrupt stop of thumping feet and a definable silence. I and those within my sight looked around to see what it was.

 She was standing on the trail looking at us—elegant, haughty, almost smirking, telling us to mind our step as she nodded her head toward the prize she was guarding—a baby giraffe who stood peering at us from the bushes beneath the path. Mama Twiga (giraffe, in Kiswahili) was twice as tall as the tallest of us. Even from my distance of more than 50 feet away, I could tell her decorated fur was velvety smooth. Her nostrils flared with each breath, but she was quite calm, not even a snort for us. For at least a minute she stood stock still staring straight at us, hypnotizing us into staring back. I can tell you about it, what it felt like, her plugging us into the mountain. I can tell you about it. But really, you had to be there. And you can be there, our 5th Healing Journey to Tanzania and Ethiopia is February 4 to 25, 2012.

Although I didn't make it all the way to Socialist Peak, the 15000 foot high summit of Mt. Meru, that year, I returned the next year with an entourage and, along with my Zanzibari sister Zakia Kibuda (the first woman from Zanzibar to reach Meru's summit), we made it! Every year as I come down from the mountain, I say to myself, 'that is enough.' And every year, the mountain replies, "No, it's not." This year (2011) the entourage included an 11 year old and a 69 year old (also record breakers--oldest and youngest African American females to reach 12,500 foot high Little Meru peak). Our fellow sojourners have also included UK author Shola Arewa, whose book, Opening to Spirit, was the inspiration for my love of Meru (see below); Kemetic Yoga Master Yirser Ra Hotep; and Pioneer Climbers founder Stephen Shobe, who practically ran up the mountain, but gave us reassurance as he passed us on the way back down. Thanks to all my fellow travelers on this journey, for the knowledge that the mountaintop is always within reach.

Meru calls again. Our next journey is near and our rates have been called "an unbelievable deal." Karibuni in Swahili means, You are All Welcome.

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From the moment we disembarked the bus and weaved beyond the huts and mango trees to enter the sanctuary that is Sobo Bade, I thought of it as the perfect space for a writing retreat.  It’s been years since that group of academics and I visited Senegal as part of a CIEE professional development cohort.  Yet today, as I tackle academia’s hectic first days of the fall semester, I think only of Sobo Bade, imagining myself at a table on the cliff of Petite Cote with my laptop, my folders, the sun, and the peace of being able to work without distraction and strife.

The inveiglement of Sobo Bade is not only its tranquility but also its aesthetic beckoning of the muse.  As an artist retreat, Sobo Bade’s situation upon a cliff overlooking the ocean thirty-one miles from the bustle of Dakar and its magical architecture inspires the creative juices of a diverse range of artists. 

It is quite difficult to find an expression to characterize Sobo Bade.  The tourist magazines call it a hotel; I have heard others who have visited through Unesco sponsored programs call it a center, and I call it an artist retreat.  The ambiguity of a classification for Sobo Bade rests in the various ways that visitors utilize the space.  While I was there, for example, a couple from Dakar found it a perfect space for a romantic weekend getaway, a small group of American high school students housed themselves at Sobo Bade while doing volunteer work in the nearby village of Toubab Diallao, an Australian gentleman on vacation with no particular agenda passed through because of the nearby off the beaten track snorkeling.  We came to examine its course offerings for study abroad opportunities for American college students interested in exploring fine, applied, and the performing arts, and each of us was required to sign up for at one of its courses in batik, drumming,  dance, or sculpture.  I chose African dance.

I had been taking a Guinea style of African dance for a couple of years by the time I visited Sobo Bade; therefore, I was no stranger to African dance.  However, I found the intricate moves of Senegalese Sabar quite challenging even though our lesson  was watered down to accommodate us, “the tourists.”   Coming into the class thinking I had a little something going on for myself, I became frustrated when realized that I was not able to keep up in the way that I wanted.  Finally I capitulated to my limitations, went with the flow of my abilities, thought about the calories being burned, and gave into the cathartic bidding of the drums.  From that moment on, I belonged to enchantment of Sobo Bade.

Later that day feeling the need to imbibe my spiritual self, I approached one of the female staff, using my broken French and body language, to inquire about the location of the village mosque to make communal sundown pray.  Once the meaning of my intentions became clear, the staff member showed utter revulsion at my request until I made her understand that I was Muslim.  Revulsion turned to surprise as she admonished me, indicating that if I am indeed Muslim, then I should know that women are not allowed in the Mosque.  In an instance, my dream of being able to pray among my African brethren cialis professional was not just deferred but was obliterated since I was never able to find a way to make communal prayer in a Mosque during my ten days in Senegal.

Discouraging me from my attempt to find the village Mosque, the staffer instead diverted my attention to the dance performance that would begin in the amphitheatre soon after the drummers’ return from Maghrib, the sundown prayer.  So after making Maghrib alone in my room, I headed for the amphitheater.   The amphitheatre, a structure with its various shades of ecru, coral, and sand reminded me of my vision of a colorful Roman coliseum—round, with elevated seating made of stone.  I was early, it seems, so I sat, watched, and waited as my cohort and other lodgers drifted in and found seats.  After a while, a simultaneous stream of locals entered.  Their entry marked the beginning of the show.

It turned out that the locals were the highlight of the evening.  After the professional dancers and interns completed their choreographed numbers, the women of Toubab Diallao were allowed to demonstrate their Sabar skills.  One by one after paying homage to the drummer, young women graced the dance floor—legs flailing high, precision thrusts and bumps directed the cadences of the drums rather than the reverse.   I found their impromptu movements far superior to the choreography of the professional dancers.  Those who demonstrated exceptional skills were honored by their peers with rugged sandals thrown upon the dance floor.  I understood those gestures well since in my Western world we throw out dollars to show our appreciation for particularly skilled dancers, and we place dollars at the feet of the drummers as we have been instructed by James Brown: “Give the drummer some.”

In witnessing the performance within its indigenous landscape, I came to know how the span of an ocean can erase the essence of a tradition.  No African dance performance or impromptu drumming session in the US had ever captured me in the way that I was taken that night.  I let go of being constrained before my cohort of academics and allowed myself to drift inside the summons of the drums.  Sobo Bade became a place where I found within its gates the many layers of me—academic, writer, woman, Muslim, American of African descent, and aficionado of dance and music.

 So whenever, I have moments like I have today when there appears to be more on my plate than the hours and days seem to allow, I think of Sobo Bade. Then I inhale and embrace my laptop and my folders and my list of things to do and imagine myself at that canopied table, looking over the sands and the ocean of Sobo Bade, and I find the peace and the focus to complete the tasks that are at hand.

 

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A few years ago I spent ten days in Uganda delivering African American history lectures and meeting with academics at close to half a dozen educational institutions. Traveling for work often squeezes true enjoyment into the margins of a schedule dictated by others and often positions one as an outsider. However, Uganda was different. Teach and Tour Sojourners, the organization overseeing my schedule and transport, accommodated my desire to see “everything,” do as much as possible and eat, breathe and live like a local. The day after I arrived with Sira, my four year old daughter, in tow, I was hurtling in a jeep towards the source of the Nile River, a convenient detour from my first lecture. It is not an exaggeration to say that it was a full immersion experience to find myself headed on a two hour road trip to the source of the Nile River after being in the country for less than 24 hours. 

The window of the truck was my window into this new world.  And the roads, which alternated between bruised passageways--filled with random yawning holes that often forced drivers to careen into oncoming traffic or devise shoulders out of thin air--and incredibly smooth and modern stretches of highway became a metaphor for my experience. I took in everything I saw, realizing quickly that the city was a place of stark contrasts: development and underdevelopment; urban and rural; modern and traditional.  In the urban areas billboards were everywhere. They advertised everything from OMO soap powder to MTN-- the ubiquitous cell phone service provider--to the various social and political messages: Voting is important. Remain abstinent. HIV/AIDS can spread in social networks. Beenie Man and R Kelley will soon be in town giving concerts. Abortion is murder. Domestic violence is wrong. The prevalence and diversity of these signs indicated a vibrant consumer culture and a national conversation about gender, health and culture. There were also many references to Barack Obama, from modest corner stores bearing his name to the slogan “Yes we can” written on the back of informal taxis. Once you left the city, the landscape was breathtaking, lush with greenery and vegetation.  The contrast between the countless shades of green of the grass and fields, the richness of the reddish hued earth and the blue of the sky was simply stunning.

 After a few days of travel, this scenario became familiar.  Industriousness was everywhere. Everyone that I saw during my daily drives around town was busily engaged in work: hawkers, washerwomen, school children, bikes, taxi driver and boda boda (motorcycle cabs) operators. Stores both formal and informal seemed to be thriving.  Class diversification was marked by clothing, vehicle ownership and other markers of consumerism. Poverty and struggle was evident but there were very few people panhandling, very few street children and crime was relatively low. Doors were not immediately locked upon entry to the car, money was freely carried about, and there was little public fear or expectation of malevolence from strangers. The hospitality, openness and humility of the people was almost palatable. 

Although my longer natural hair set me apart from the women wearing either short naturals or weaves/braids, my dark complexion was the norm and allowed me to blend in a bit more. American music was incredibly popular and we soon got used to being lulled to sleep by US r&b courtesy of the informal night spot that adjoined the guesthouse, which was located in a typical suburb. We would also get used to being woken before dawn by a crowing rooster that Sira dubbed “Clockadoodle.” Sira and I learned to “make do,” to eliminate waste, that limited choices were livable, and that one person’s home can be another person’s workplace. We happily gave up the creature comforts of life in the US and enjoyed the unique things and simpler pleasures that Uganda had to offer. Free range meats, sustainably produced vegetables and pungent and accessible fruits were tops on our list.

That weekend we went to Murchinson Falls National Park, located several hours from Kampala in Northern Uganda almost at the border with Sudan/Congo. We saw many aspects of rural life en route. We spent the night inside of the park, visited a waterfall, and enjoyed a morning game drive and a pm boat ride before returning home. It was a wonderful experience. It was also very touristy. The minute we set foot in the park, I went from part of the majority to being the only black face outside of staff and workers. It was disconcerting to say the least but such is the politics of safari tourism. Although I appreciated the natural splendor of the park and the many wild animals and exotic birds we would observe on our game drive, these realities weighed on my mind during the weekend. After another few days of university visits, I ended my trip with a day dedicated to visiting local museums to learn more about cultures and ethnicities in Uganda and a visit to the nature conservancy on Lake Victoria.

I had a wonderful time in Uganda. I felt safe here, like I belonged, like there is a culture of kindness and hospitality that envelops you from the first moment you step off the plane.  The weather is warm, the food is delicious and the landscape is simply beautiful. Yes, there is poverty and want but despair is in short supply. At almost every school I met at least one Ugandan who had  been educated in the United States and had come back home to uplift their people. Many of the institutions we visited were fewer than ten years old, yet most had taken steps to partner with US institutions and were creatively managing their resources. Uganda is no utopia. The legislature is currently considering a draconian anti-homosexuality law, the president wants to rule for life and the gender tensions bubbling under the surface are both provocative and troubling. Uganda has come a long way but there is still a long way to go. However, it is still an incredibly worthwhile place to visit and especially to volunteer as an educator. I know that Sira and I will be back one day.

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Robyn C. Spencer received her PhD in History from Columbia University in 2001. She was an Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies, and History at Penn State University from 2001-2007 and currently works as an Assistant Professor of US History at Lehman College in the Bronx, NY. Through writing, teaching and public presentations, she aims to educate others about the contributions of urban, working-class African Americans, especially women, to the Black freedom movement. Her areas of expertise include Black social protest after World War II, urban and working-class radicalism, and gender. She is currently completing a book on the Black Panther Party's political and organizational evolution in Oakland, California and beginning a new project on the movement against the Vietnam war in Black America. Professor Spencer's research tracing the path of social protest movements has taken her to dozens of states, Europe and six African countries. Recently, she has begun to publish materials from her extensive travel journals.

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As one who has traveled to more than 100 cities in 13 countries, I take pride in avoiding tourism and getting as close to the locals as possible. In my opinion, it is among the locals where you get a real sense of the country's culture. Juan, an Afro-Venezuelan friend said it so well, “the barrio is where the culture is.” However, I'm finding that Perú more than any other country I've visited, with the exception of the Philippines, there is a price to pay. Although, I make only a modest income with a non-profit organization, people in many countries seem to feel that I'm in the same income bracket as Bill Gates or Donald Trump. As I get closer and more acquainted with the people, the more I find that I'm approached like an ATM machine. One lady with whom I have a very good rapport, showed me her gas and electric bill asking for help.

A dance instructor asked me about my motive for hanging out in a poor, non-tourist area when most visitors from Europe and North America stay in major hotels and go to popular tourist attractions. My response to him was that this is the way I practice my Spanish (by immersion), and at the same time, explore the black Latino experience. You don't get these things living in five-star hotels and hanging around expensive tour guides. Speaking of tour guides, I found it more more rewarding and more economical to hire a struggling citizen who can use some extra cash and bring me closer to the real people.          

To get around, I prefer as much as possible, to use the same type of public transportation as the locals. Of course, dressing down is important because you don't want to be marked as a tourist with fancy clothes and bling-bling; it invites robbers, cheats, and pickpockets. Most of my time was spent among the so-called lower class. On two occasions I ventured into one of Lima, Perú's roughest neighborhoods, La Victoria, where Perú's famous, historically black soccer team have their stadium. I went into the area wearing an team jersey. Thus instead of being harassed, I was cheered. People shook my hand. Others drove by honking their horns and giving me the thumbs up shouting "ALIANZA LIMA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A! I wonder if they thought I was one of the players. After all, I did fit the profile--black and athletic.

By living close to the locals, I endure a standard of living that will “annoy” the average tourist. As a result, I have more spending money to enjoy myself, and at the same time, help others who need the help in a way that I can afford. It was a total joy, a heartfelt pleasure, and worth every penny to see how they were enjoying my company and my treats as I achieved my goal of making lifetime friends, learning the cultures, but most importantly, improving my Spanish.



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How excited I was to be headed to Seychelles for the 2011 International Carnival in Victoria. I could not wait to visit the African island in the Indian Ocean that is quickly becoming the new global hot spot. But to top off this vacation escape, I was going to this tropical paradise by way of Dubai.  My chance had finally arrived to visit the modern, most desirable tourist destination city of Dubai, known for being over-the-top in every way.   Dubai and Seychelles are two places that I’ve heard so much about and longed to experience.  Now I would be doing them both in the same trip. This was my two- for- one vacation of a life time!  Oh my God, this was as good as it gets.

The whole trip was exciting, proving to be beyond my wildest vacation fantasy. To begin with, I flew to Dubai on Emirates Airlines, the most luxurious airline there is. The aircraft was so chic and plush.  Riding in coach, I really felt like a queen in first class on my way there. I had to remind myself that I was in coach as I wondered what more could be in first class that I did not already have at my finger tips in coach. There was plenty of leg room, reclining seats that went way back, far enough to get a good night’s sleep.  Just as I thought there could not be anything more for a comfortable flight, I was upgraded to first class for my return trip. Emirates’ first class is a trip made in heaven!  On my departure trip to Seychelles, I spent a day in Dubai to get a sneak peek at the beautiful city that I would see more of on my return trip.

I arrived safely in Seychelles where you could smell the beauty of the island and waters getting off the plane.  I immediately noticed the comfort of the island’s climate, and I felt so relaxed breathing in the fresh air of this new tropical hot spot where the temperature seemed almost perfect. I observed the country side of luscious rolling hills, majestic mountains and greenest greenery as I rode down the winding roads to my hotel. I caught glimpses of the inviting white sand beaches that seemed to be flirting with me as I  arrived at my hotel that turned out not to be a hotel. It was a precious secluded villa, the Carana Hilltop located right across from the seductive white sand beaches.  Shaded by coconut palms and all kinds of fruit trees, with the stunning mountains and tropical forest as the backdrop, this was more like a home away from home, and the perfect base for me to explore the island and experience the Creole culture at my own pace.  I was all set to do Seychelles and its first multicultural carnival.

Seychelles is indeed multicultural with a melting pot of people from various ethnicities, customs, and traditions, who all came together to settle and build it, and the revisit to its multi-ethnic origins with the "Carnaval International de Victoria" proved to be a real treat. The grand opening took place the afternoon in the center of Victoria where visiting dignitaries, representing various participating countries were present to witness the official launch of the carnival.  Later that day we attended an official press conference where all the dignitaries and notables attended, including American legendary songstress Dionne Warwick, who was a presenter. Speaking also was Majid Al Mualla, a vice-president of Emirates Airlines whom I wanted to run up and hug and thank for my glorious flight.  I managed to keep my composure when I met him and only mentioned that I had wonderful flight. Even though I told him it was not necessary, he went ahead and upgraded my return flight to first class! My trip of a lifetime was getting better by the moment!

The three-day carnival started with large, open, alfresco restaurant-styled activities where the capital city of Victoria was turned into an entertainment venue with music and food from around the world. That evening a program on stage around the clock in the middle of Victoria took place with speakers, singers, dancers and performers from the various visiting countries participating. Speakers included Seychelles’ president, tourism officials and Warwick. The performers from all over really rocked the stage. One performer, Lima Calibo, was really sensational.  A soca darling from Trinidad, she danced and sang while waving her red, white and black flag back and forth.  Soliciting the crowd to join in, a group of little children did go up on stage and had a great time jumping and waving with her. Another group London’s Notting Hill Steel Pan Band really put on a show!

I got up early the next morning for a little downtime before the grand carnival parade.  I meditated on my balcony in the midst of palm trees, scenic views of the mountains, and the peaceful sound of the birds, enjoying the stillness of the moment in what must be God’s most tranquil and refreshing place on earth. I could reach out and pluck an avocado or any fruit I wanted from my balcony which I did as an appetizer before breakfast. I seemed to have stepped into another world when I arrived for the parade in Victoria where everything was lively and upbeat in contrast to the peaceful moments of meditation on my balcony. There was a special section for VIP’s and media with the comforts of shade and bottled water, where I sat near Seychelles’ President James Michel and other dignitaries. Seated there also was Ms. Warwick whom I got to chat with while waiting.   

There was excitement everywhere as the spirit of the carnival was upon the local islanders and visitors alike.  The parade began with exhilarating music and carnival dance. Then came unique floats representing China, Korea, Indonesia to Hawaii, UK, France, Italy, Brazil and the African countries of Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zanzibar and South Africa. The nearby Indian Ocean islands of La Reunion and Madagascar also participated with distinguished, beautiful colorful floats as did the European Union who showed off their member states by flying a flag from each country. It was later confirmed this float parade had the largest gathering of spectators ever in Seychelles. After the parade everyone just hung out and enjoyed the festivities, street parties and bands until the wee hours of the night. The final day was Family Fun Day where we got to walk around the city, enjoy more festive activities and immerse ourselves in the Creole culture of Seychelles.

When it was time to leave, the only thing that pulled me away from Seychelles was the idea of seeing more of Dubai. When I got to the airport in Dubai, which looked more like an upscale gigantic shopping mall, my wounds as a result of pulling away from Seychelles were immediately healed. I really loved walking around this modern day airport, window shopping and watching people, who acted more like they were shopping than having to catch a flight. I was given first class treatment by Emirates Airlines who picked me up and took me to their fabulous hotel. I did a tour of the city with Arabian Adventures, who also offers Safari Cruises, dining among the dunes and camel riding. The city of Dubai is unbelievably beautiful and modern with majestic architect, unique skyscrapers and everything else. When I returned home and was asked about Dubai, the only response that I could give was, ‘It was incredibly indescribable, you’ll just have to go.’  And yes, you’ll just have to go, too.

Going to Seychelles by way of Dubai is a must-take vacation. Rest assured that you’ll get  more than what you bargained for when you take it. And you can take it because this travel route has been made more readily available as Seychelles and Emirates Airlines have come up with a packaged deal that you simply cannot refuse. Seychelles Tourism Board CEO Alain St. Ange once said that he was sure that journalists would become ambassadors for the islands after a visit. And you know what, he was right. I am now a self-proclaimed ambassador for Seychelles, and Dubai, too. After one visit, you will become an ambassador, also. I guarantee it.

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Spring has sprung with warming temperatures and summer just around the corner.  When it comes to beach vacations, why not go to one of the best?  Virginia Beach is an award-winning beach where you will find one of America’s best boardwalks with oceanfront resorts and hotels to meet your every need. The beach city is also an ideal place for meetings and conferences. So much so that the African American Travel Conference (AATC) chose this magnificent city as the place for their national meeting this year. Who wouldn’t want to have their conference in a city where you can experience all types of beach pleasures and delightful entertainment to top off business meetings?

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Since my mid twenties, I’ve become a very keen traveller to Afrika.  I really got into it in 1997 - after spending so much time studying about our history, culture and people etc. – throughout the 1980’s.  

My first ever trip there took me to the Gambia, West Afrika, for the 2nd Roots Homecoming Festival in 1997. An exciting, thought provoking and HOT (phew!) adventure that brought to life many of the articles, seminars and videos that I had continuously spent so much time revising. Attempting to solidify my growing knowledge, a blessed number of delegates and I from the UK, spent the next seven days discovering much of what the Gambia had to offer and increasing our cultural consciousness. An absolutely radiant debut/return home.

Well, this travelogue is about my latest visit there to celebrate the same event. Now in its 10th year, it promised to be an apt anniversary to mark the great efforts made by the Gambian government to forge evolving links with Afrikans spread throughout the Western hemisphere – who’s fore parents had once been enslaved – and (quite possibly) could have originally been Gambians themselves!  

Upon arrival, the weather was as to be expected – gloriously warm, with beautiful blue skies and a cool, cool breeze. This instantly put a big smile on my face as I left the plane.  Walking towards the shiny, glass airport doors, I was unexpectedly greeted by friendly festival aides and escorted to a calm sitting room inside.  Once seated, I was offered refreshing cold drinks while several pleasant people enquired as to how my flight was and where I had travelled from. I gotta admit, nobody can make you feel quite as welcome and esteemed as our brothers and sisters in Afrika!  

As the last of the delegates arrived, we were given VIP treatment through the standard airport arrival procedures and then whisked away to our hotels.  The coach was a buzz with people introducing themselves, catching up with each other and talking expectantly.

Well, the fun didn’t stop there, as that same evening we were officially registered onto the festival and engaged in a formal reception, introduction seminar and subsequent banquet at the Senegambia hotel.  By the end of the evening, I was pretty tired from the journey and prior events, so I decided to have an (almost) ‘early night’ (about 1.30 pm) so I’d be ‘right and ready’ for the official opening in the capital city of Banjul the next day.  

This is where it really started to heat up (activity and temperature wise) as the President of the Gambia, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Dr Alhaji Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh graciously opened the 10th festival - with its theme being ‘Celebrating African Unity’ – and spoke of the relevance and need for the festival; the lessons learned from the preceding years and how Afrikans in the diaspora must seriously consider building links with the Gambia – and other Afrikan states.  The President is a very amiable leader who is greatly loved and admired by Gambians and his ‘down to earth’ presence can only make you feel warmth towards him.  No ‘airs and graces’ there – just a really approachable, genuine and sincere man!  

As the President’s speech came to a jubilant end, a stunning masquerade and procession of local dancers, performers and griots entertained us, as the cheerful crowds joined in with singing, clapping and dancing.  It was a breath-taking day and I just didn’t want to leave.

From there onwards, we were taken on a fantastic journey to astounding settings such as Juffereh, (the village of one of Afrika’s most famous sons Kunta Kinteh); Albreda, (a neighbouring village filled with affectionate and adoring citizens); the newly named Kunta Kinteh Island (formerly known as James Island); the village of Kanilai, (for our futampaf rites initiation and naming ceremony - you’ve just gotta do this one!) – all sandwiched between world class entertainment, marvellous food and the company of fantastic international travellers from around the globe.

We returned once more to the Senegambia hotel for the spectacular farewell dinner and awards ceremony, which brought us the best in Gambian fashion, art and live musical performances.  What a night!

All-in-all the 10th Roots festival was an undeniable and spectacular success.  With the way in which the event is developing and the vision of the President, I just know we’ll be able to look forward to the 20th anniversary with equal expectation, anticipation and glee.  

See you at the next one in 2013!

cialis professional: Top left, Bridge to Kunta Kinteh Island (formely James  Island)
Right: Descendants of Kuntah Kinte


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With the theme "Celebrating African Unity", the 10th edition of the Gambia Roots Festival attracted scores of delegates from the Diaspora, who joined their African counterparts for the grand opening. The event was graced by their Excellencies the First Lady of the Republic, Aja Madam Zineb Yahya Jammeh and Vice President Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, and other dignitaries. With a view to forging closer ties, cooperation and development, this biennial event, conceptualized in 1996, is designed to encourage people of African descent to discover, reconnect, and embrace their ancestral identity. The occasion also provides a unique opportunity to reflect on the inhumane slave trade that had swept across the continent, and it also seeks to showcase the rich cultural heritage of Africa, the Gambia in particular, while creating the platform for the promotion of global peace and understanding.

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Image - Traveling Among Black Latinos in Black Latin

As one who has traveled to more than 100 cities in 13 countries, I take pride in avoiding tourism and getting as close to the locals as possible. In my

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Image - The Opening of the Gambia’s 10th International Roots

With the theme "Celebrating African Unity", the 10th edition of the Gambia Roots Festival attracted scores of delegates from the Diaspora, who joined their African counterparts for the gr

Friday, 18 March 2011

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Sunday, 24 October 2010

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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Image - Going Back to My African Roots!

A traveller from Great Britain experiences the 10th International Gambian Roots FestivalSince my mid twenties, I’ve become a very keen traveller to Afrika.  I really got into it in 1997

Friday, 8 April 2011

Image - From Nigeria to Atlanta: One CNN Fellow's

My visit to the US for the first time was quite an experience. My arrival in Atlanta gave me the feel of Nigeria because of the weather, but something unique

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

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Image - Reflections of a Sobo Bade Retreat in Senegal

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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Image - Women Travel for Peace: A Community Based Trip to

As our ferry approached the opposite shore of Senegal’s Soungrougrou River, the air began to throb with rhythmic drumming. Waving arms and brilliant smiles beckoned to us. The stunning village

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Image - Beaches and the World's Coldest Beer in Dominican

The Dominican Republic — one part baseball mecca and one part beach colony, with a ton of Caribbean history and culture thrown in for added flavor. The island of Hispaniola sits

Friday, 1 October 2010

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