Train Fiend


As I kid I was interested in trains, trolleys too. Anything that had a track. Who wasn’t all about “Thomas & Friends”? I would religiously watch the show, was familiar with all of the characters and even had my own toy car from the show (which is still lodged in a radiator at my childhood home). When I watched Mr. Rodgers I always wondered where the trolley actually went. I’d be extra hype whenever I noticed it had somehow gotten onto a new route. Yeah, so trains, trolleys, light rail; these modes of transport are imbedded in my childhood and constitute part of my fondness for travel.

As I’ve stated before, some of my earliest travel expeditions came courtesy of Philadelphia’s public transportation system. Aside from trains, I’ve always had a tendency to study maps. Whenever I’d look at the stops for the El train in Philly, I’d be curious about the foreign depots on the other side of town: Tioga, Church, Margaret-Orthodox. Once, I forwent a movie ticket for a chance to ride the El to the other side of town. At that point in time, I’d never been to those hinterlands of Philadelphia and I saw an opportunity to satiate some of my curiosity.



In addition to convenience, such transportation can make for entertaining scenarios, as well as perplexing. Over my train experiences I’ve been offered a variety of products: M&Ms, DVDs, Size 10.5 hiking boots. Recently in Seoul I found myself on a subway car equipped with vending machines, phone charging stations, and employed with medical professionals who offered to check riders’ blood pressure.

Train rides can be rich in experiences. While in Gabon, I was accosted repeatedly to aide other passengers, who couldn’t read, in finding their seats. I was a tad surprised, but happy that I could be help those who needed it. On another occasion on Korea’s high speed rail, an older woman gave me and another passenger each a sandwich. I ate it mainly because the other girl ate her’s. I felt obliged. The sandwich was edible, not tasty, though I did appreciate the gesture. Being on a train where people are literally hanging out the doors (Mumbai, India) was adrenaline inducing, but not something I want to repeat soon. First class can be a cushy experience. When I was taking the TransGabon back to Libreville from from the country’s near impenetrable jungle laded interior I opted for a first class ticket. I was very impressed by the quality of the car after it arrived 2.5 hours after the time on my ticket. Hey, at least is showed. Interestingly enough, the train would go one to be delayed another 4 hours due to a derailment of a service car. Once a southbound train arrived on the other side of the derailment all of the passengers on each train disembarked and switched trains. I was tired, hungry and cranky. I walked through about all the cars and realized the people who were now on our old train had gotten the better deal. I was a little befuddled due to the quality of our new train and I asked one of the porters where first class was. He smirked, before another passenger answered for him: sit down. I understood the implication. 20 hours later we arrived back in the capital. Only a dozen hours or so off schedule.



Since a large part of travel is being in transit, it’s to one’s benefit to be able to enjoy the various modes of transit. Planes are faster, but just don’t have the same charm as a train. However, I did opt for one on a cross state trip in lieu of the train— I was trying to catch the kickoff for a football game. Prioritize.

Haji: An African-American’s Pilgrimage to Mecca


Sheikh Bahiyuddeen Ali: Everything in Islam starts with a prayer. So when we open up we always make prayer. 

 بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمـَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

 الْحَمْدُ للّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

الرَّحْمـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

 مَـالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ

 إِيَّاك نَعْبُدُ وإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ

 اهدِنَــــا الصِّرَاطَ المُستَقِيمَ

 صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنعَمتَ عَلَيهِمْ غَيرِ المَغضُوبِ عَلَيهِمْ وَلاَ الضَّالِّينَ

In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful, praise be to God.

Cherisher the sustainer of all the worlds.

Most gracious, most merciful.

Master of the day of judgment.

Thee alone do we worship and thee alone do we seek for help.

Show us the straight way.

The way of those whom thou hast bestowed thy grace.Those whose voices is not wrath and those who go not astray, ameen.


Nubian Drifter: Sheikh, we want to talk about your hajj experience today and I just want to know, I guess the place to begin is, when did you make the decision to first go on hajj, was it when you first accepted Islam or was if further in your journey?

SBA: I think it’s the when I first accepted, when I really came into the religion wholeheartedly, because one of the main principles of Islam; it’s built on five. The one is that Allah invites you to his house once in your lifetime, if you are capable. And that was always in my mind, that eventually, I didn’t know when, but I knew that I had to fulfill that obligation so I knew it was coming. When it came, actually, it was like a surprise to me because I think I had just started working. I think that maybe I’d been working for two years and I knew it was a journey that you had to save your money up for.

Actually I didn’t think that the people on the job were going to allow me to go anyway because they weren’t Muslim and they didn’t have a real good concept about the religion. But when I went to them and told them I wanted to go to overseas on Hajj they concurred and said “Listen, we love the way you work and we wish you all your success in going to hajj”.

They gave me extra time off, which I didn’t have. I didn’t have the time and they gave it to me, and they gave me good wishes on the hajj so I just prepared myself. One thing about the hajj you have to prepare yourself. The hajj for me starts here because there’s a lot of internal dynamics that’s working. I mean, because you’re foreseeing yourself going to another land, and dealing with people from all different parts of the world, so it’s always something generating within because you come into an experience that you have never seen before. So the hajj for me started then until I got there [Mecca].

My mind was in wonders because I didn’t know what to really expect. I read about it, but I knew from a spiritual position, I knew that I could fulfill that mission from a spiritual point but I still didn’t know what to expect. So that generated interest in me to make sure that I fulfill that one principle. I want to fulfill the five, but that one in particular.

Going to hajj, well, there’s so much opposition, there’s really so much opposition that you’re going to meet because it’s a test. It’s a test to see if you’re ready and to see if you can stand what you’re going to meet and still have a balanced mind in favoring your religion. And that’s the way it was for me too. It’s like if you ever experience getting on the *23 trolley, you know about the *23 trolley? 

[*This trolley once ran across Philadelphia. It’s since been replaced by a bus that follows the same route.]

ND: I’ve heard about it.

SBA: On a hot day when all the schools are just let out and it’s crowded to the doors, and if you can ride that line with less frustration now you’re testing yourself for hajj. That’s what it is, it’s a test. I equated it with that because I used to ride the 23 and I used to get upset with the school children. But I said, “See, now you’re getting ready for what you’re going to meet overseas” which I did, four fold. That was a good experience because I was able to contain myself and discipline myself in that type of environment where I didn’t get frustrated. Less frustrated, let’s say it like that.

Everything worked out by me conditioning myself to meet that opposition and I met it  successfully. The hajj itself was a trying experience because it says in the Qur’an, Allah says that he invites you to his house. Now you have to be able to sustain: no wrangling, nothing other than something from a spiritual point should be brought into hajj. Nothing, because you’re going to meet everything there that’s what you don’t conceive as Islamic in the first place. You’re going to meet that, so now if you come in here with a frenetic disposition you’re not going have a successful hajj. So you have to develop that kind of discipline to maintain your posture, know what you’re here for, fulfill it and come home successfully.

When you go on hajj … when you first land in Jeddah, the airport, on the hajj season we had to shower down, take off our clothes and shower and put on the ihram  and we went to what they call umrah that’s a lesser hajj. So we were there prior to hajj for a few days. We had those few days, so what we did we went on umrah and then came back, took off our hajj garments and then I think it was about maybe two days we put them back on and went on the hajj.

Now the hajj, on the way to hajj … we were in Mina, the tent city. The transportation buses going to hajj, the major thing for me was there were over two and a half million people doing what I was doing―at the same time. We were traveling to Mecca from Mina and the buses were full. When you go into Mecca there was a thing called the talbiyah. All of the hajis sing the talbiya and actually it’s over a million traveling from every highway, on buses singing this talbiya and it’s reverberating all over, so strong. And when you look up in the hills way up, the people were coming down the hill and the everybody’s singing, and actually it sounds almost spooky. I could detect and hear the rocks singing. This is a real experience, because the resounding echo of all the people coming through mountain passes and on the highway and everybody singing one thing, you know it seems like the rocks, the flowers, everything had a voice.

It was amazing to me, it really was.

The city of Mecca was founded by the slave girl Hagar and that was a real awakening experience to me, for her, the wife of Abraham and how she found water and developed the whole city of Mecca. When it became known about Hagar and this is the land where we actually came from. When I say the land, the spiritual land that we came from because our ancestors were Muslims in which we didn’t know.

I say that because when we went to the Haram they call it Haram - that’s the Grand Mosque, and I remember walking up with people going to the Grand Mosque, and when they opened the doors and you witnessed the black stone, that was so overwhelming to me because I wasn’t expecting it. The kabba was there. That was a real overwhelming experience when I saw the kabba, really.

Then making tawafs around the kabba, seven tawafs around the kabba. It’s 50,000 people doing the same thing, right around. It’s a real experience and I witnessed something because going around I saw people from other countries, going around with newborn babies, holding the child over their head because everybody was so crowded in. I said I knew that the spirit of God has to be in this environment because if anybody tripped and made a slip or anything, a host of death had to occur, and nothing near this transpired; everything just went smooth. I witnessed so many things that I knew God’s presence was there. I knew it.

Then on another occasion when you go to Arafat, well Arafat is really the height of the hajj. When you go on Arafat that’s where you stay all day and make prayers to God. When you have to climb up, there’s a monument that Muhammad our prophet stood, and gave the last sermon to the Muslims. When you climb up to the top of that there’s a monument standing there. When I got there, the people whom I didn’t know, they made a circle right at that monument and allowed me to pray and they surrounded me but I never knew any of them. It was a real experience. And standing there at the top of that so-called mountain, looking up. It was almost like you became one with the universe. Just looking up, everything in your body just exited and went into the heavens, formed itself, and then came back. I mean it was a real experience.



When you bring those experiences back, it puts you in touch with reality from the universal point because everybody who assisted me that I never knew; women, children, everyone.

And another thing about Mecca―nothing ever closes. The lights are on 24 hours and people are moving, so it was an experience―this continual experience with people making prayer all day, around the clock, every minute. What I liked most was even when I looked at the soldiers, everybody makes prayer. The soldier here, he’ll take his rifle off and put it down beside him easily, so it was a good experience just to see the unity amongst Muslims from every aspect. Nobody was different from anybody. Actually the king had invited us to his palace hear a lecture and when we went into the big hall for this lecture I had one friend with me from Philadelphia in Mecca and when we got into this big hall, I found one of those comfortable chairs and when I did there was one that was beside me so I was saving it for my friend who was with me. An elderly gentleman came up and wanted to sit down, so I said excuse me brother, but I got this seat for a friend. So he bowed and backed up. Later on somebody came to me and said, “Listen, do you know who you just denied a seat to?” I said, “No, I didn’t know the guy.” He said, “He’s the emir, he’s the leader of 50,000 Muslims is Russia.” Here I am, little ole me. So that’s the type of experiences; everybody is one and everybody has on the same type of clothes so nobody knows who you are and you don’t know who they are: only by your spirit and what you say. That was a good thing. I enjoyed just being with worldwide people from universal point.

Arafat to me was like this because every nation, every nationality of the universe is represented on Arafat. One of the purposes for me was to intermingle with people from all over the earth and you can determine by interacting with them, your level of Islam. So hajj was a real experience in learning. You learn so many different things; how to contain your own emotions, how to discipline your own life from a spiritual point, because the feelings you get manifest the goodness that comes from what you’re doing. You can tell, you said well if I’m feeling this from being on a spiritual vibe, it must be the correct. Hamdulilah.

I think that hajj itself is only five days but it takes ten days to do five, because it’s too strenuous for you to just do it on a continuum; you have to go back and rest and do this and do certain things. But all in all it’s an experience that you never forget. It’s a lifelong experience that you never forget. Never. Because I can just reflect, and it’s almost 30 since I was there and I can reflect on certain experiences and feel as if it has happen as if I was there in that moment. I can say Allah invites you there one time, if you’re able, but most people go back and people ask me now when are you going back. It’s like going to a deep well and getting a cool drink of water. You always want to return and get a cool drink of water. It’s a new experience every time you go.

Eventually I intend, if Allah allows me, to go back at least once, one more time. It’s something that you will never forget and you’ll always wish to return to that experience.

Well I say it like this―I was, when we had a little reprieve from the hajj, I was standing, just looking up in the sky reminiscing about things that I’m seeing, and a brother came over, a gentleman, we’re in ihrams so he doesn’t know who I am, I don’t know who he is. He said salamu alaykum brother [I said] walaykum assalam. He said brother, where are you from? I said America. He said the big Satan. He said, “Listen, you are a better Muslim than me.” I didn’t want that on me like that so I said hold it, give me some explanation what are you saying. So he said, “I’m saying this because see I’m a surgeon  at the hospital in Mina. My mother, my father were born Muslims, my grandmother, grandfather all the way back, were Muslims.” He said, “so when we wake up in the morning we’re Muslims. We don’t have think about it,” he said. “But you in order for you to have gotten here, you had to come across that water,” and he said, “the only thing could do that is faith.” He said, “so I’m saying that you’re a better Muslim than me, because your faith has brought you across dangerous territory to come across that water.” I said, “I have to accept what you say.” So he said, “yeah your faith, you didn’t just come over here on no whim; you came over here on faith because this is an excruciating journey and I just wake up, I’m here.”

So he was indicating that they don’t, some, do five prayers a day. They can do some and do some, because they’re Muslims. They feel as though that because they’ve been here, that they’re Muslim.

Faith has to develop for you to have the ability to do and the discipline to do the five principles a day, which is obligatory for them just like it is on me. It’s on everybody, it’s not on one. It’s on everybody, so you can see how people exemplify the Islamic principles in their life. If you can discipline yourself to do what Allah is saying are the main principles, then you know that you’re standing on a solid rock. I appreciated hearing those things.

One thing about it, in Mecca, and I don’t want to want to bring no negativity into it, because there’s so much racism in Arabia―terrible―because that’s where I see the African who comes there for hajj. He’s not treated respectfully by the so-called powerful brother, and you witness it all the time. I know the revelation came to Arabia because the prophet Muhammad lived in Arabia, it had to come somewhere. I don’t give no real credit to them. It’s just that the prophet was born there and that’s where the revelation came.

When the prophet said that he heard his [Bilal ibn Rabah] footsteps running to paradise even before his, so that tells me. And then Hagar, when I bring those things together, Hagar, she was the founder of Mecca. From a spiritual point, I think we have a double connection with them. Bilal was calling the whole world to prayer, not just them but he called the world to prayer. So I always look behind and see the purity of their essence, their hearts, minds and know that it’s a reward for that. 

ND: Now previously you spoke of an experience, and you said that Arafat was like the pinnacle of the hajj, and I know that with prior recollections you told me about what time you were climbing that hill on Arafat and you somehow lost your footing.

SBA: [laughs] Yeah, somebody had me from the buttocks―somebody. I never knew these people. You can actually see blood on the rocks as you’re climbing. The sharp
crevice, the sharp corners of the rocks can easily cut you. I was going up
and somehow lost my footing and somebody behind me said, “I got you!”. 

People around you don’t know who you are, but they do know who you are because you’re Muslim and you’re in that environment, so everybody is a brother and a sister. Everybody’s brothers and sisters there. Particularly in that experience; the one on Arafat. I think everybody submits closely to the principles when they go on Arafat. Some people who are very emotional, it’s difficult for them to discipline themselves when they come into an environment where they see certain things that they don’t feel is Islamic, the emotions come out and make them act other than they should be acting. I’ve seen that too. I knew what I was there for.



ND: How did the Hajj experience affect you of coming back?

SBA: I’ll say it like this―before I came back, I had actually forgot about America. I was there 14 days and somebody mentioned the day before I was coming back America. I said, WHOA! America I forgot I even had roots here. It did happen and then I reconnected and said yeah I’m from America.

ND: When you did get back home how did the community receive you, and was
your posture different?

SBA: My posture was totally different, but I think it was too early for the people here to
recognize the real experience that you receive over there. The real spiritual experience you feel. Coming back―it’s a big difference now. You see when people go to hajj now and they come back and they have hundreds of people waiting at the airport. They had that on that trip that I went on too, but no one greeted [us]. There were only two of us from Philadelphia, my brother and myself. When we came back everybody was greeting everybody else. They didn’t recognize us at all, but it was okay.

But now what happens when people go on hajj from here, they have bus loads that go to Newark airport. I think people are becoming more and more awake about this journey. It’s really a journey that should be recognized, particularly if you perceive it in your mind that someway you’re going to go too.

ND: Do you remember what year it was?

SBA: Yeah, 1980. The experience is so strong that I can relate to, internally, certain things and I feel it just like it was yesterday. 

ND: You said your job had gave you some extra time to be able to go on Hajj. Did they want a report? Was everyone curious about your experience?

SBA: Yeah, well I talked to them.

ND: And they weren’t Muslims?

SBA: No. That was the thing, they weren’t Muslims. Actually on the job, they didn’t want people wearing Muslim garb. When I first started working for them in 1978, I was wearing the kufi and they look at that disdainfully, they didn’t know how to approach me and say anything. Now some of them are Muslims. 

ND: Were people curious about your experience when you got back to work?

SBA: Yeah. Being a counselor, many people were coming in who needed assistance from the program who were Muslims. Many of them had more of an intelligent perspective concerning life, than a lot of the counselors but they were the ones who needed the help. So they could  over talk the counselors. So what they did―they allowed me deal with that aspect of it. So I said to them, since you have so much knowledge it’s incumbent upon you to see where you need the help so what you should do is come in and aid the counselors in giving assistance to people, rather than rejecting what they’re saying and try to lower their standards.

That was good because they were also seeing it my way. I could deal with the book and then I could deal with the street too, so I was most successful dealing with that well.

ND: Also in the beginning you spoke about how certain things―really you said that the preparation for Hajj begins here. Now, that you’ve been back and it’s been 30 years since hajj, how has hajj served you in your daily life since then?

SBA: Oh listen! it put me on a certain level from a spiritual point. I understand that from a material point now, you have to work on that. But from a spiritual point, it gave me the ability to reason mentally with every situation where I could always find a balance and never was totally disturbed by whatever is happening around me.

Before you can get frustrated by not having certain things from a material perspective. You get frustrated, but one thing about it  the spiritually is going to make you reason with everything and show you that whatever confronts you is just an opportunity for you to become spiritually balanced and bring you to a balance. So you never get out of sorts really. You can handle things and no doubt about it, hajj really showed me that.

I’ve seen other people that come back and hajj tested them so thoroughly that clearly they’ve changed. It indicates that when you go there on hajj so you can have your five pillars, five pillars that Islam stands on here. Everybody sees you, you can put on your different face when you see these people and you can act this way because of this. But there―see everything is real. Either you’re going to miss the mark or catapult into the heavens of your own being.

It took me on a skyrocket climb to the heavens upstairs. I think it brought a sense of balance for me so I don’t have too many problems when I’m confronted with any kind of situation. The Prophet himself in the days of jahiliyya, he faced every kind of situation there is and he never faltered, that’s to tell us that we can all do the same thing. So he exemplifies the example for us to follow and he showed us that whatever is in this environment, you can handle from a spiritual point. You have to discipline your spirituality.

It works. There was a time when you couldn’t handle pressure, I couldn’t handle it either until I really reasoned with my ability from a spiritual point to be able to balance it and withstand, because I know that nothing or anyone can hurt you today unless they bring something from your past. If you’re moving forward, then you’re in a spiritual position, nothing can hurt you unless they bring a hurt from your past. So if you can deal with your past, on an Islamic basis then you’ve got a clear sailing for what’s in front of you. It’s only the past that can get you confused and can destroy you, if you just lock in on the past.

ND: Have you got any closing thoughts on hajj overall.

SBA: Well, human life needs that experience to bring a balance. Because it says The first house built for the worship of God for all mankind. So that’ a implicit in the religion that the house, kaaba, was built for the worship of all mankind, not just Muslims.

Muslims understand it but other people think that you’re separate from me. No,
because we are all born in the same state. God didn’t give you something different
from me, it’s just how we deal with it. We’re all equipped with the same principles. 

I know that we all have the same purpose, because in the religion our Prophet Mohammad says we are all born Muslim but it’s your parents and your circumstances that make you otherwise. So you come into that faith, because everything that’s
created is born in submission to God. Everything. I don’t care what you turn out to be you’re born in submission to God, but then your parents, your teachers, your preachers and whoever molds your inner structure; you to become something else. But the original purpose for you has been laid down by God.

Bob Mack: Music on the Move


Allow us to present to you Mr. Bob Mack. Bob is a Philadelphia based musician and vocalist. In addition to Bob’s artistic talents he’s a great interlocutor and a very enjoyable person to be around. Bob can carry a conversation on any subject, but more impressive is his ability to listen and to respond, if needed. Bob’s peaceful demeanor and natural inquisitiveness has allowed him to get the utmost satisfaction from his travels. He can connect with billionaire businessmen and bohemian street artists alike. For many he may be the ideal travel companion: I remember cruising around Philly in Bob’s vintage Jaguar as he asked me very thoughtful questions about my time in Korea. Not only does Bob appreciate the exotic, he also seems so well grounded that he can find solace anywhere, whatever his surroundings.   

Nubian Drifter: So what has been the motivation for some of your travels?

Bob Mack: First off, God given gift of artistry and creative expression is music for me— it has primarily always been the music that has taken me in the circumstance to experience the travel that I did. Going over to where you are now [Korea], was a group of guys that I grew up with. I spent 16 years with them. We wound up being contracted by the Department of Defense to perform for the military in Korea and Okinawa and Hawaii, The Philippines and Germany. It was the greatest thing to do something that you really love to do and be able to go and see the world and express yourself to new cultures of people. So it has always been the music primarily. Obviously, the music has afforded me some financial ability to take other trips and things like that in my spare time. But primarily it has been the music.  


ND: What is an memorable travel experience from earlier in your career?

BM: The first time I went to an island, I was just looking at pictures that one of the guys in the group sent me from…we were in Philadelphia we went out with the Delphonics and it must have been… like about, somewhere below zero. Snow and sleety rain was coming down like you could not believe. To leave all of that…and within an hour or so, be in 85 degree weather. I just could not imagine anything that dramatic happening and changing so quickly.


"It was the greatest thing to do something that you really love to do and be able to go and see the world and express yourself to new cultures of people."

Korea was another place that was amazing. Coming from Hawaii, I mean coming to Korea from Alaska. It was at least 15 degrees below, if my memory serves me correctly, and to see Korean people in shorts and no shirts playing tennis. Or to experience for the first time seeing a Korean person; you know how they stoop. See most Koreans wash their hair and see the steam come off of their heads like here in Philadelphia you see a homeless person on a heater vent. Or the beauty of how the land is sculpted.

ND: You seem to bring good energy wherever you go. How much do you think that plays apart into having a good experience?

BM: My experiences have taught me and the people in my life have shared with me over my life, it is always a great attitude that determines our outlook. In the very best of circumstances and even in the very worst of them. It’s not so much what happens. It’s usually wise to think, “How do we deal with it?”. Are we going to smash out or compound the problem by having no rationality to deal with it productively, or are we going to calmly assess what has happened and try to make an intelligent decision about how we go forward.

ND: Absolutely.


"Americans, we are so jaded to a lot of things. But entertainment and art, in most places in the world is so revered that all they want to do is be a part of you, hang around you, get a chance to be participants in the performance that you do. It’s just great."

BM: My perspective has given me the joy, even in the negative, not only what I have seen outside of my life, but also in those things that happen to be personal.

ND: Do you think that you’ve gotten a different vibe because of your status as an African American musician?

BM: No, what I find is that every place except America, the reception for entertainers has always been, in my experience, so genuine and open that is just been such a great welcoming into these communities.

Americans, we are so jaded to a lot of things. But entertainment and art, in most places in the world is so revered that all they want to do is be a part of you, hang around you, get a chance to be participants in the performance that you do. It’s just great. I’ve never been in the case where to perform outside of the United States here that you have any anxiety or whatever.

ND: Tell us about when you were out in LA. 

BM: Sure.

ND: You helped Omar Bongo [President of Gabon 1967-2009] and his wife at the time move.  Did you even know who Omar Bongo was before that job?

BM: I definitely didn’t have any immense knowledge of him, but I was made aware during the accepting of the circumstance to help to pack up and load up their things, who they were. I was informed that he was the president of an area of Africa and that we - Lester Mornay, was Sammy Davis Jr.’s valet and the lady that I was seeing at the time, her brother, was the publicist for Motown. His name was Bob Jones. Bob Jones and Lester Mornay were friends.

So Bob suggested to Lester to ask me to help with this moving situation. So I suggest, we went to their mansion in Beverly Hills and we had been introduced to some of the household staff. We wound up going to get the largest U-haul that was available at the time. And we proceeded to load up; we packed up everything that they wanted to take back to Africa.

What we did was I think it was about two days, we worked filling up this U-haul. We went to supermarkets, and I think we did somewhere like $2,000 or $3,000 worth of groceries we were sent out to get. The family that was going to various clothing, department stores and buying things they might take back to Africa.


So after we got done getting all of that loading of those couple of days, we went to the airport where they were going to leave from. The Bongos had chartered Elvis Presley’s Lisa Maria Jet to transport them and there was a cargo plane. Inside the cargo plane, they had a Citroën, Maserati and a Stutz Bearcat and they were covered up and obviously before I had gotten there filling the cargo plane up. So for the duration of that stretch of night, we proceeded to pack all of the things that we had moved from the mansion into the cargo plane.

So, it comes to be somewhere right around sun-up and the car brings Mr. and Mrs. Bongo to the airport and we were just getting finished. So she proceeded and I’ll never forget this, there was a new leather suitcase, it may have been about 2 ½, maybe 3 feet long and maybe about 2 feet wide, and she had a servant to lift it up and she unzipped it and from top to bottom was $100 bills.

Mrs. Bongo paid us, well she paid Lester and he paid me, out of that suitcase. Now, one thing that I will never forget, it was not an average person’s jet. This plane was, I mean I’ve been on a lot of planes in my career, but I’ve never been on anything as personalized as this was. The carpet was thick in that plane. It was green, you could hardly stand up it. When you first came in the plane, there was the area, the doorway and you would come into the living room area and at each four corners that they had cordoned off in this sections of the plane, there was a Sony Trinitron television and these wonderful leather chairs and a sofa along the window.

The next compartment was just a pleasant sitting area and then beyond that was a sitting area and bedroom with private bath. Gold fixtures for all of the bathroom fixtures. I was just amazed. I thought it was amazing. And then when I wound up actually going to Africa, it was not actually Gabon, but just seeing the region of the world for the first time, it was just kind of brought it all home to me. About some of the things I had misconceptions of, that the American, you know. All-in-all it was a great experience, I got paid a lot of money.

ND: That’s always good. 

BM: It worked out very well.

ND: Did it shift your perspective at all on Africa?

BM: To imagine that an individual, what I had heard was that he was one that was pillaging the country, stealing the country’s money, on the negative side. But I didn’t really put too much emphasis on that part of it. All I knew was that I had a job and tried to do a job well.


"I saw dead men lying in the road. "

ND: Exactly. Now take me to Nigeria. Was that your first trip to Africa?


BM: Yeah, Nigeria was great. The situation came about… this guy in my neighborhood. Louis Smallwood. Louis Smallwood was a tutor and he worked, he tutored Ricky Schroeder, Gary Coleman, quite a number of the Hollywood child stars and because of our relationship as neighbors growing up, we were both in California.

He was working for NBC or Paramount, or one of those studios and he approached me and said, “Bob,” he says, “Bob, my friend wants to start bringing American entertainers over to Africa, do you know of any groups?”. I said, “yeah, my group”. We were called The LIFE Group. That was a group I had been with for 16 years so I said, “yeah sure I do.” But in addition to my group, I had these other group of guys I was in production with; we would go and rehearse and we would work with a lot of different people. So I went and presented it to my group, who did not want to go. I couldn’t understand why. I made almost $5,000 for 5 days of work, but I was actually privileged to stay over there for a month.

All expenses were paid. We had drivers and servants and every meal was catered and I didn’t know that until after I got over there. But my group didn’t want to go so what I did was take the other group of guys that I was working with.

When we went, it was during their 20th year of independence, so we worked at the University of Lagos, the University of Ibadan, we did the national theater and sports arena while we were over there.

We lived on the estate of the family the Bruces. The Bruces family of dignitaries were making at that particular time over $76M a year. They owned offices, supermarkets, farms and newspapers, television station. and one of the great things that we were privileged to do while over there, Mohamed Ali’s last fight, they closed up the television station and took us so we could watch it via satellite.

They had parties for us with dignitaries from all over and one of the major entertainers, they had a play going around the country now called Fela. He was a very powerful political spokesperson for some causes that were over there. He was a great entertainer as well. I got a chance to meet him; generals and stuff and the like.

The thing that was the most amazing about it was landing there and being in a place – for the first time in my life – where everything was black: radio, television, newspapers, advertisements. The only Caucasians we saw were the ones that were invited to the estate and the ones that we saw at the country club. We realized that you could get nothing done without some sort of bribery. There was someone at the airport who wanted to help us [with our luggage] and some soldiers came up in a military car and almost took his head off. To get to the airport and see armed guards. All-in-all a great experience. I got a chance to experience something that I had never heard of. I mean, we all watched the series Roots, but it didn’t have the impact that it had on my when I finally went to that country.

To be a black man from America, to go to a place where we were supposed to all have come from and to be called master was beyond belief for me. To be told that if you go out shopping, especially amongst the people, not like if you’re going to a department store or something like that, but they have a lot of crafts in there that you are never to pay the first thing that they ask.

We were taken shopping to Victoria House, it’s what it was called, and there was a whole host of…I bought hand carved chess with elephants and palm trees on it and proceeded to buy ivory and animal skin dangles, and a whole bunch of other things. To have another black male on his knees calling me master, begging me to give him another opportunity to barter with me, or to have servants at the estate we lived on, or somebody to be a driver, are very different for me.

ND: What was your experience with the bodies on the road in Nigeria?

BM: I don’t know. It was disturbing.

ND: First, what was it? What did you see?

BM: I saw dead men lying in the road. There were two groups of us that we were both routed differently to arrive at our destination. So some of … two or three of the other guys and the crew had come later, a day or so. So, we went to pick them up and they too saw the same sight, because, the understanding we were given is that if anybody comes and gets caught assisting these people that are in the road, they could be suspected of being the ones who had something to do with it. But yeah, that’s what I saw.

ND: That’s pretty heavy.  

ND: Do you feel that as a musician when you’re touring to different places, do you ever find yourself becoming jaded?

BM: No, I have this child-like sense about me. That everything that is new or feels kind of new, even though, I’ve done this for a long time, I still have a sense of wonderment about it because with people and instruments, there can always be some kind of nuance or subtlety, it doesn’t matter whether you’re working with people who only read the notes off the paper, or you are with people who are much more improvisational. A slight variance in the person’s finger movements can change a feeling. So, I’m just in love with the fact that there are people who do this. My openness about, that is something that I try to hold on to.

ND: Okay. And one final question what is your travel philosophy?

BM: Be prepared. If you are going in and out of countries, make sure that you are aware of where you are going to be going, where you will be staying, any contacts. That you are a visitor, or a guest in these places and that you should, if you are unaware, ask. Because I found that cultures that have established themselves over years and millennia and over time have their particular sensibilities. You can come and be disrespectful and not know.

So just being aware and prepared to documentation wise and just so that you can have the very best experience possible. My leaving Africa was that I stayed one day over my Visa and all of the other guys were across the rail where they were on their way to the plane and I was detained. One day beyond the date of my Visa. Now because the Bruce family was very powerful and very rich, then Ben Murray Bruce who was our host for the most part, was able to do whatever it was necessary in order to get me out of that situation.

ND: Absolutely, I agree. I think the more prepared you are with things like that, it gives you more, it can give you peace of mind. It can take a burden off of you.

BM: So… yeah. So… again, to answer your questions, be prepared: passports and documents and things like that should be always secure to the point that you know where they are. And I honestly think it just makes for a better experience.

Jesse Freeman: Turning Nothing in Particular Into Numerous Somethings.


Jesse Freeman wears many hats. Writer. Photographer. Filmmaker. Teacher. Traveler. Minimalist. Ikebanist. And there is, and will probably always be, plenty more. The cool thing about Jesse, though, is the amount of time he spends wearing each of these hats, alternating between and breaking them in so that each one fits him just right. For instance, he’s watched over 400 [classic and foreign] films a year, and has read a novel a week since 2007— the awareness spawned from which ultimately manifested itself as the blog, i’m nothing in particular. We caught up with Jesse during a rare and brief recess (before he got swept back into the animated, never-ending, larger-than-life bustle of Tokyo), and discussed his initial, tentative exodus from Baltimore, the ennui that led to an exploration of his creative self and the skill sets that ensued, his love of minimalism, feeling more respect abroad than at home in the States, and, essentially, how travel enabled him to go from wearing zero hats to many.

ND: You moved to Tokyo in 2006. What inspired the move? 

Jesse FreemanJust got lucky really. I’d just finished high school and was living in Baltimore at my grandparent’s house not really doing much. My father was in the military and was stationed in Hawaii, so I moved out there to attend college. Once I finished it was either go back to Baltimore or follow him to Tokyo. So I went with him, got a job within six months and have been here since.

ND: How was it transitioning from Baltimore to Hawaii and then Japan? Did you say, “Hey, I’m just gonna go for it.” or was there any nervousness or apprehension? 

JFBaltimore to Hawaii not so much; I just saw it as 3 to 4 years in exile because I didn’t want to leave Baltimore, as I was content living in my grandma’s basement. I was really in a different mindset. My father was a Colonel in the Air Force when we were in Hawaii, so we lived off base in a condo in Honolulu. All of our neighbors were Japanese and the parking lot was like a collection of German automobiles— me and my dad shared a 1990 Honda Accord. I was studying Japanese at my graveyard shift job, so I would always try to strike up conversations on the elevator at the condo, but I would never get acknowledged.

ND: [laughs] In what way would they not acknowledge you? 

JF: Like they would seriously ignore me, though I think half of them just thought I worked there. So coming to Japan I thought it would be the same and was nervous about that aspect, but found it to be quite different. Other than that, I was just excited to be in Japan. 

ND: What are you presently doing there?

JF: Currently… I am doing a lot of things. I teach part-time at a JHS in the suburbs of Tokyo, and assistant coach the school basketball team. I freelance [in] photography and writing. I make short films and screen them at venues in Tokyo. I just released my last short film, which was a color silent film. And more recently started getting into modeling.

ND: Oh wow. Tokyo seems to be a great environment for you! I remember when I lived there— I feel like I couldn’t help but be more expressive than usual. There’s just  something intrinsically creative about that place! Do you think Tokyo has had some influence on the more creative paths you’re traversing or were those plans always in place? 

JFTokyo has definitely been the influence. Really, before here, I hadn’t dabbled in any of the things I’m doing now, except for basketball of course. Without the distractions of the things I had in the US, I started reading to pass the time in 2007. The only English language books available here are usually classics. So I got hooked on all the greats, from Dostoevsky and Balzac to Mishima and Zola.

ND: How’d you transition into film?

JF: I got into film once I saw that a film could have the same layers of meaning and depth that novels could have. So I got heavy into films. Mostly silent, to about the 1970s. In 2010 I was given an old film camera and started to replicate my favorite directors’ styles before I came into my own, shooting mostly in black and white film. I was able to get the resources to start trying to make short films and just set to it. If not for Tokyo, I’d be an entirely different person.



ND: You’ve also gotten heavily into Japanese flower arranging.

JF: Branching off into ikebana was inspired by one of my favorite Japanese film directors— Hiroshi Teshigahara— who gave up making films in the 1960s to take over his father’s ikebana school. I was blown away by his ability to translate his film aesthetic into [flower arranging]. I’m currently under two years away in my studies from being certified as a teacher, and am looking to freelance that as well. I think it will be cool, because as far as I know, I’d be the only African American certified in ikebana.

ND: That’s major! It’s interesting that you’ve chosen to study an art form like Ikebana, which is known for it’s simple lines and having an overall… very minimalist form. When I look at the images you post on your Instagram, a lot of the photos seem to follow those same rules. Did Ikebana influence your perspective, or did your aesthetic kind of lead you down a path toward ikebana? 

JFThat’s a great observation. My aesthetic lead me to ikebana, as I was attracted by the medium’s preoccupation with minimalism and composition based on line and space. So jumping from photography— that is a 2D medium— to ikebana, which is 3D, was a fun way of seeing how my ideas could translate across mediums. Ikebana since has influenced my perspective in that I have a better understanding of the importance of negative space.

ND: Negative space can be very calming… really tranquil. Its very Zen, which is what I find ikebana to be. I came to appreciate negative space more as a resident of Japan. I feel like a lot of the Japanese culturally identify with the concept and importance of negative space. It’s so ingrained in them, and comes out in the most interesting ways. I remember being in Shinjuku station one day and seeing this lady just sort of zoned into her book, while things around her were in a state of franticness. I thought to myself that she was creating her own kind of negative space. In a city that packed, it’s only right to want a slice of solitude. It fascinated me. I said all of that to say, Japan is a great place— photographically speaking— to appreciate, be inspired by and capture [negative space].

JFExactly. And precisely: it is the Zen concept of mu (nothingness) that ikebana exemplifies, and can be seen in other mediums as well: the films of Ozu Yasujiro, photos by Hiroshi Sugimoto, or literature of Kawabata Yasunari. In addition, just being aware of the aesthetic concept and being in Japan, you can see it in the everyday just as you observed in Shinjuku station. 



ND: What other places have you come across in your travels that have inspired you artistically speaking, or have spoken to your love of minimalism?

JF: Minimalism is an aesthetic that I found truly characteristic of Sweden. Everything was just so clean and functional without any unnecessary ornamentation. I’m sure there have been studies on the socialist influences, etcetera, but the Eames concept of “The best for the most for the least” is alive and well. I was only there for a couple of weeks, but I’d imagine [being there in winter], one would be able to read and write a great deal with little distraction. 

ND: I’d never considered Sweden a place I’d go to create. But now that you mention it, it does seem well-suited to people with artistic leanings. Anywhere else?

JF: Artistically, I found France welcoming. Just being an artist in France is admittedly romantic, but with the siestas and overall leisure it is really ideal. Plus, unlike America, I think people there can easily get past my appearance. To think African Americans— from Richard Wright to Miles Davis— enjoyed that equal standing and character based judgment there that I feel still isn’t always afforded to us in the US, to be entirely honest.

ND: It’s interesting to me that you brought up feeling more welcomed elsewhere. I’ve found that I’ve been embraced by other cultures as an expat, and when traveling too. Whether out of respect, sheer curiosity or because they’re genuinely nice human beings, its been nothing but love. This is the message I’ve been trying to relay to other young black men. There’s such a fear of the unknown among us, but there’s no reason for that fear to exist. And its so important [for us especially] to travel because of how we’re represented in American media— its vital for us to shake those stigmas and stereotypes, and by being out there traveling the world and being our best selves, people are able to see the truth.

JF: It is those exact three things: out of respect, sheer curiosity or because they’re genuinely nice human beings that for the most part, results in love. I think the only misunderstandings arise from curiosity, which never really includes any malice. American media is our Achilles heel, so just being out in the world does give people a chance to actually see for themselves. I tell my younger cousins all the time that they got to travel, [but] they self regulate themselves to an extent. To be fair, financial reasons are a factor but they can be overcome by saving a little.  

ND: It’s true! It’s all in what you value. I spoke to a high school class once and I told them that if they can save to buy all of these expensive clothes, they can save to buy a passport and a plane ticket! [laughs] Anyway, since you’ve been abroad and traveling, have you ever had someone come up to you with a certain idea of how you would be, only to be shocked to find that you were the complete opposite of what they’d thought?

JF: All the time!  It happens so much it would be difficult and redundant to elaborate. 

ND: Wakata. I totally understand. Changing lanes a bit, I watched your latest short film last night— “Back Yet Forth.” Really dope man. 

JFThank you for taking the time to check that out!

ND: I loved the whimsicality of it. And going back to what we were talking about earlier, your use of negative space was beautiful throughout. Really stylish and thoughtful use of the landscape. I like that you showed a calmer side of Tokyo that’s rarely portrayed.

JF: Foreign movies shot in Tokyo always seem to be shot with foreign eyes focusing on what is different instead of what is. [Focus is on] the neon lights, the crazy vending machines, Shibuya, schoolgirls, etcetera. Much of the landscape shots and location were based on my photography from the past two years.

ND: I liked that we weren’t beaten over the head with lights, skyscrapers and Harajuku girls. It was really smart of you to incorporate something personal, like your photographic locations, into the film— that kind of personal touch provides a sense of intimacy, made it more special. And if I’m not mistaken, you even made a cameo? Such a cool moment. I love when directors do that. Reminds me of Spike Lee, John Waters and Roman Polanski. Those are the names that came immediately to mind. 

JF[Laughs] I did make a cameo! It was due to the budget and time constraints more than anything though, so not sure if that will be a continuing theme or not. I really can’t act.  [But] I like that personal touch in films. You can always see it— Spike Lee’s characters in preference of sports teams, or Jean-Luc Godard’s preference of impressionist painters. 



ND: What inspired the film?

JFThe film came about kind of quickly. I had been excited to see The Artist when it came out and found it to be an unoriginal throwback to what silent films were and the story just ripped off Singing in the Rain. I always like how modern Dreyer’s Joan of Arc was, and between the two films decided to make a modern silent film. So to begin with I made it a color film. I chose Helvetica for the inter-titles since the font didn’t come out till after the silent era, and shot it handheld and deliberately made it shaky emphasizing this since silent film cameras weren’t possible to shoot handheld. I got the initial story from the western, Vera Cruz, where Gary Cooper’s character gets his wallet stolen. From there, worked until the wallet was no longer the point but a MacGuffin used to drive the plot. In the end, I hoped for it all to paint a metaphor of people’s attitudes toward cinema, wanting what they’ve already had. The same types of films.

For the screening I had a band called The Shamanz— sorry, I wanted to name drop— I had them improvise the film live, since silent films were usually accompanied by a pianist.

ND: That must have been a dope screening. I totally get the metaphor. I’ve had countless conversations with my film enthusiast friends about some of the recycled material Hollywood is trying to shove down our throats, and the people who love them. [Those people] should travel more. [Laughs] Take in some new perspectives, gain some new points of reference. That, for me, is the best thing about travel: building those reference points and obtaining that firsthand knowledge. Having those proverbial scripts flipped on you.

When I look at your work and read your blog, I see someone who has been places— and it’s evident that you really spend time vibing with and getting to know whatever place you’re in, whether it’s brand new to you, or if you’re simply revisiting it.  Can you recall any one of your travel experiences drastically changing you?

JFHmmm… I really think it was a trip to St. Tropez last summer that I got invited to through a friend of a friend that really drastically changed me. For reasons of privacy I can’t detail the artist’s name, but there were about 15 accomplished professionals at this sort of luxury compound taking some time off— all of whom were not only older but much more accomplished in their respective fields than anything I have even attempted! I seriously felt like Christian Laettner on the Dream Team, but unlike him I was given a chance to prove my worth in being prompted to shoot a short film for them, and was able to come up with a script in the course of a single night. Besides the amazing business connections I made and things I learned that will prove vital in my progress, it was— for me— the first real chance to be in a position to show and prove. And I was able to do just that. 



ND: That would be insanely intimidating, but I feel like it’s the kind of experience a lot of creatives dream of having. One of those, “What would you do if you were put in a room with this person and that person” conversations we’ve all had with our friends.

JFIt was quite an experience!

ND: And I’ll say: being of the moment enough to execute on such short notice isn’t easy! It’s awesome, however, when pulled off! I’ve found that travel makes one a more aware and adaptable person. It’s helped me successfully navigate situations—not nearly as cool as the one you just described [laughs]— but situations that would have proved challenging had I not been equipped with my travel savvy. 

JF I would agree. Travel changes you.

ND: It does.

JF: For me, it has enhanced my eye, it gave a real context to the novels I read, and put me in the same settings as the films I have seen throughout my life. It is the appeasement of curiosity. And by nature it forces you to adapt to new environments in ways that stay with you. 

ND:  What would be your travel philosophy?

JFTaking a page from Langston Hughes, to simply wonder as I wander. 


To get a further glimpse into Jesse, and to watch his short films, visit his site: I’m Nothing In Particular

You can also follow Jesse on instagram @NothingInParticular 

The Making of A Serial Expatriate


Sumit is an accomplished traveller. He’s survived and overcome the trauma of being re-located to a foreign country at the behest of his parents on more than one occassion. He’s learned to adapt and find consistency in the collage of places he’s called home. It would be apt to call him a drifter. Wether he’s a resident or a visitor, Sumit always scours his surroundings for new cuisines, which he blogs about. 

 ND: Where have you lived? 

Sumit: I’ve lived in Egypt, India and the US, but that doesn’t include the countries that I’ve visited.

ND: Take us to Egypt. Obviously Egpyt is going thourgh a lot of turmoil now. How was it when you moved there? What was it like?



Sumit: I moved there from ‘95 - 2000. I had been living in Vorhees, NJ, thirty minutes away from Philly. At that time Egypt was actually a very safe place. The people were very funny and everything kind of seemed backwards at first. By the time I would go to sleep, between 10 and 11 o’clock at night, that’s when people would be going out to different restaurants, to stores, to parties, to smoke hookah. I got exposed to the Middle Eastern culture at a young age: Arabic, which I learned growing up there. I tried to meet as many people as possible. I would talk to them and try to learn something interesting and new.

 ND: When you moved to Egypt you’re a young kid, what were some of the difficulties, if any, that you had adjusting?

Sumit: When we first moved to Egypt, I would say the language. I was used to English and I was bi-lingual growing up. Bengali is my mother tongue. And then learning Arabic was challenging because I did not know the alphabet, the pronunciation and I couldn’t understand. 

The second part was becoming familar with certain places and locations, so which places are safe to go to, who can you trust, who can you hang out with, and that was a big concern for my parents. However I have the liberty of having pretty open-minded parents, so as a young kid I was able to travel to different places. I got in trouble staying out pretty late, considering I was only in middle school. 



ND: How late?

Sumit: Pretty late. I stayed out until midnight, you know. And I got into big trouble. I got scolded and beaten up. But at that time it was an adventure. And I got accoustemed to a different tatste. Not only am I living in Egypt, but my friends at the American school are  from different countries: Greece, Norway, Sweeden. I would go to to their houses and their parents treated me differently. I got some insight into their culture and I got to try their food, which was awesome!

ND: That’s cool that your parents and the families you were around were pretty open to certain things. 

 Sumit: I would say even though my parents were liberal they still felt comfortable in their own culture and meeting with other people in their own culture. That’s how they grew up. 

I grew up differenlty. Growing up in three different countries with so many different people from all over the world, I have a different point of view. Normally when you go to any new place, wether in the US or abroad, you normally see cliques of people. Cliques of people normally determined by which area or country they come from, thier culture, your region, the language and these people will form their own groups. For me, even while growing up, I felt more … I wanted something new. I wanted to experience something new. There were cliques and groups, but I broke away from that. And the same thing happened when I went to middle school, and then high school, even in New Delhi. I surrounded myself with other people in LA and Philadelphia. I broke off from the cliques. I just … to me it seemed mundane. 

ND: What kind of people do you tend to attract or engage?



Well, usually the people that I interact with are passionate. I don’t necessarily like to talk to people who are miserable. I understand that there may be job that you don’t like, or certain situations you don’t care for.  People experience difficulities in their lives, that happens in life. But, if you don’t feel alive, what’s the purpose?

So I try to surround myself with people who are passionate. Passionate about anything. And if there’s a difference of opinion, that’s great, because I’d like to learn from him or her. 

Second is energy. Energy makes a big difference. If you don’t have the energy, you don’t have the drive. If you don’t have the drive, you’re missing out on so many different opportunities. 

And the third is, I would say, a unique quality about that person. Maybe they’re humorous in their own way. I might not see that at first, but later on I do. Maybe they’re sacarstic, or awkard or random. 

ND: After spending 5 years in Alexandria, you come back. What was it like going from Egypt back to the east coast?



It felt really weird, because all I kept thinking about was going back to Egpyt. I keep thinking I’m going back to Egypt. Before going to Egypt I was kind of scared being a kid in second grade. I was used to my classmates, my teachers, the whole neighborhood. I had a certain type of friends. We would ride bikes and hang out. But my emoitions shifted with time. And that’s one thing I missed about Egypt. I thought about Egypt for awhile. 

And later we moved from India to LA.  Even though I enjoyed parts of India, there some parts of Delhi I didn’t like: the traffic, the pollution and it was just too congested, too much noise. LA seemed less chaotic. 

ND: You’re a brown person. You’re of Indian descent, Bengali to be specific. When you finally go to India for high-school do you feel more at home, because you’re amongst Indians?

Sumit: NO! Actually, it’s funny. It was kind of like racism. My parents were the ones who grew up in India, so they knew the Indian culture. I essentially grew up in the US and Egypt, but this is my first time living in India. And it’s different than just visiting. 



What type of discrimination? When people saw the clothes that I wore and heard the way I spoke people would try to take advantage of me. I’d go to a barber shop and people would charge me 2 to 3 times more money. I’d go to different places and taxis would jack up the price. And I was offended. At first, I was aggressive. I’m like WHAT IS THIS‽ I thought it was bullshit! Later, I thought how do I get rid of this? Luckily, I was able to communicate with different types of people and go back and forth as far as sharing qualities. So I can help someone with one my good attributes and he or she can help me. So, in that sense, I went around with people who grew up in the area. Some family members would help me. They would speak for me, haggle for me. It helped me save a lot of money and eliminate some of the frustration.

ND: So, when you were in Delhi, were you speaking Hindi, English, or Bengali?

Sumit: Actually, when I was in Delhi I spoke English, because I went to an American school. I spoke Bengali a lot with my family. I was trying to learn Hindi at one point, but I was not forced to learn it. Even now I know more Arabic than Hindi, because I was forced to learn Arabic in Egypt. When I moved to India in the community I was living in, it was pretty much Bengali. 

ND: Let’s bring back to the US. You spent some time growing up in Jersey and later went out to LA. How would contrast the Jersey vibe to your LA vibe?



Sumit: Very different! I actually broke out of my shell when I moved to LA. At first, talking about personality, I was a lot more introverted. Then when I hit 12th grade I got to know myself better. I got into sports. I did a lot of social acitivities. And when I got to LA, LA was so creative. People were a lot more open. I tried different things with different types of people: dancing, public speaking, traveling. Different types of entertainment all over the place. Even things like kayaking. So, I had all these different experiences and those experiences allowed me to conncet with a lot more different types of people. What I loved most about LA at that point was that I was surrounded with so many diverse types of people and types of thinking. It was okay that you have a different idea. People would actually support you as opposed to saying, You know what? That’s a stupid idea! Throw it in the trash!

ND: Now, as a young adult you’ve spent a lot of time in Philadelphia. How has Philly been for you?

Sumit: When I first move to Philly I kind of hated it!

ND: Why?

Sumit: People here are very direct. I was not used to that. 

ND: How so?

Sumit: In India, no matter where I go people would stare at each other, right. No matter if you’re Indian or not. People would just stare, at least in Delhi. I did that in Philly and people got angry! And they would say, “Why the hell are you looking at me‽ What the fuck‽” Blunt. Direct.

Even homeless people. And I’m like what is this? I had never experienced that. 

ND: What is it about Philly that you enjoy now? It seems to me that you’ve kind of found your current.

Sumit: Well, Philly has a strong art scene that people overlook. Things like First Fridays. There are a lot of free galleries that you can go to. And there are a lot of quality museums. It ranges from fine art to the natural sciences.

Also, Philly is very walkable. You don’t always need public transporation. You can walk to a lot of places. 

Plus, the food scene is changing a lot. There is a lot of affordable, quality food. Espicially in Chinatown. 

ND: What’s your travel philosophy?

Sumit: If you’re unsure and hesistant you’re going to create regret. When you travel make a decision to travel and do it. And don’t be a miser. You won’t fully enjoy your experience. But in the same token don’t watse your money on crap. Start with the free stuff.  Where is the free stuff? Ask yourself the right questions. And be curious!

Running is the Sport of Travel

Hana Dul, Hana Dul, Set. Hana Dul, Hana Dul, Set. Mile 25.5. Four hours after my street tour started, I’m a little over a kilometer from the finish line. The ajeosshi leading the pace group to my left gives me the inspiration to keep churning. 8,000 miles from home I’ve found myself engulfed in a new subculture. Have I added another layer to my identity? Am I now a runner? March 17, 2013: I complete my first full marathon, a course I traversed with 30,000 others. It was a personal accomplishment, but also represented something else. A new reason for me to travel.



I’d never called myself a runner, but when I was based in Philadelphia I would partake in the occasional jog. I even worked at a running inspired non-profit organization. Yet it was never something that I did consistently. My foray into running was inspired by my enviornment. During my first few months in Korea, I lived a block away from Olympic Park. It wasn’t uncommon for me to run laps around and through the park. Mind you, at that time it was more like one lap, but I gradually increased the distance. Later, when I moved further south, to Daegu, I picked up the habit due to a lack of options. Up until that point I preferred elliptical machines to treadmills, but the latter were more plentiful at my new gym. I didn’t fight the flow. I would run 10 to 15 minutes to warm up for the rest of my workout. The real conversion, however, occurred when I was invited to do a 10K. Sure, sign me up. Wait, how many miles is that? Merde. Now I have to get serious, i.e. consistent. My 10K came and went and I felt encouraged that I was able to finish in a modest time. I felt pretty good afterwards and in my post-race wandering I observed the participants who were completing the full course (26.1 miles). Damn. That man must be twice my age. Wow, that woman has a good ten years on me. Mm, that girl is kind of cute. And these people were making it look easy. I was inspired. I vowed that by the next year I would join that club of people whom I admired. 26.1 miles. One step at a time. 

Now that I am a convert, let me explain why I enjoy the marriage of running and travel.

For one, it allows you to discover new places. Locally and more far off. I was fortunate to have access to some great bike trails while I lived in Daegu. The trails ran adjacent to the rivers and there were miles of trails that splintered off into all directions. One day I would go north, another south. On Monday I would turn right. Tuesday, left. So, it let me get more connected with my own immediate environment. I saw wildlife that natives thought extinct in the locality. The landscape became more nuanced. There were times when I would run in the morning and the fog was too dense to see more than a yard ahead. Running has given me an excuse to explore nooks and crannies of Korea that I would otherwise not toss a glance at. It’s been a lesson in geography in that respect. I now know that there are two Goseongs: one in the South of the county, and another along the border with the North. Ms DeMasi (10th grade Social Studies) would be proud. 

Through my running, I’ve found opportunities to connect with people who may have complementary interests: I’ve been able to join local running clubs and connect with the fully human specimens of the expat community. We’ve enjoyed our travels together to other cities, while engaging in something that we really enjoy to do. I prefer that life to one where people exclusively frolick at a bar with the intent of seeing who can absorb the most alcohol. I need those good carbs.

Alas, I’m contented with my evolution as a runner. Like travel, it has been something that has led me to novel experiences and new vistas. In can totally see myself in the near future doing more international races. Japan. Germany. Mongolia. Why not? 

Audrey Ebibie Nze “Travel is Part of My Education”


We recently had the good fortune of catching up with Audrey Ebibie Nze in Libreville, Gabon. Audrey is a French citizen and aside from the Republic, she has lived in Vietnam, the United States, Spain, Mexico, and most recently Gabon. Audrey shares with us her early formative years, which hardwired her for travel, and gives some insight into what it’s been like adjusting in some of her more recent travels. Audrey has not just traveled abroad. She has worked, studied, and even met her life partner while abroad. She is a seasoned traveler in addition to being an amazing person, and we are happy to be able to share a part of her story here with you.

ND: You’ve said travel is part of your education. What do you mean by that?

Audrey: My dad is an aircraft engineer with Air France, he’s been working for them for more than 40 years. And we’ve been raised going with him into different countries where Air France sent him for work.  I’m the 5th of seven children, so it became a game. I’ve been raised always travelling and it’s part of my education actually. My dad was born in Vietnam and my mom was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They were both raised in Vietnam and they moved back to France during the war.

ND: Oh, wow. I’m sure they have lots of stories to tell.

Audrey: They always told us that it’s always good to be open minded, and that’s why you need to travel in order to see how people are actually living and what the other country can offer you. So that’s why I decided to do it on my own. I grew up by always thinking, when I grow up, I need to travel. I need to find my way. And one of my goals was actually to be a flight attendant, because being a flight attendant means you need to travel! 



ND: How old were you when you moved to Vietnam? I know you spent part of your childhood there.

Audrey: I did my middle school in Vietnam, so I was 11. We spent 4 years in Ho Chi Minh. During those 4 years my parents showed us their roots they really wanted us to know where my grandparents and my great-grandparents came from. So we spent 4 wonderful years over there. We went to an international school. And most of my friends, they were from Korea, they were from Austrailia, and they were from the United States. So, it was a peaceful moment. It feels like when you live abroad— it’s like you are in a bubble. You’re not in front of what your country is asking you to do. 


When you’re a grown-up, you need to pay your taxes, you need to do this and you need to do that. When you travel, the only thing that you can do is actually discover and see what you can bring to you as a positive note. 



ND: When you moved to Vietnam at 11 years old, were you excited, or were you nervous? How was it adjusting?

Audrey: The first few months I actually was crying. I was begging my parents to let me live with my big sister who was staying in France. I felt like it was so different. The weather was really really really hot. The first few days I was always taking six showers a day. And I did not speak Vietnamese, so I felt like I was lost. If I wasn’t with my mom or with my dad we couldn’t do anything. Then my sisters, brothers, and I decided that we needed to learn what to do, so we started going out in the street and talking to the neighbors. Though not in full Vietnamese, but when you’re a kid you find a way to communicate.

So, we decided to do that. It was hard, but at the same time we had learned the basics of Vietnamese. How to say hi, and how much does it cost? I’m thirsty. And thank you. So it was really really helpful. And we met also, some of my mom’s family who were still living in Vietnam, so they taught us a lot. They were living in the poor quarter, but my parents always said you need to know the worst of a country before knowing the best. So that was really, really nice. Even though the first few months were hard, you can’t forget about that experience. 

ND: Let’s skip over a little bit: You’re a little bit older. You know you’re coming to the States to study. How did you feel coming from France to Philly a little bit later in your education? 

Audrey: I was excited actually. Before going to Philly I had been living in Spain and Mexico for two different internships and after I improved my Spanish I said it was time for me to improve my English. During the time that I was completing my Associates degree and I was working on moving abroad again. I knew my next trip was going to be either England or the United States. So I had been looking at different opportunities and how I can— you know— do it by myself, and this is how I decided to become a nanny. And after I’ve been accepted and I found a host family. Two weeks before I was leaving I told my parents, I’m moving to Philadelphia where I’m going to live for a year. They were kind of surprised, but at the same time, they were expecting that one of their seven kids would do something like that. So, I went to the States. I was so excited! Really, really, really, excited! I’m not going to say that being a nanny was my dream job, but it was my way that I could discover a country at low costs. They were giving me a place to live. They were giving me everything. The only thing I had to do is take care of their child and study English. So, I went to UPenn to study English. And during my spare time I met Yannick. I met Yannick less than two weeks after my arrival in Philadelphia. 



ND: I think that’s proved to be a fateful meeting. Tell us about your first time coming to Gabon. I know that trip is important to you for a couple of reasons. 

Audrey: My first time coming to Gabon was a big move actually, because before I landed, Yannick proposed on the airplane. It meant that one day I will be living in this country. I was…I am into Yannick. Yannick is my everything. We arrived at about 5 o’clock in the morning and the whole family was waiting for me at the airport because they all knew that he would propose to me.

Yannick was kind of worried that I would feel disconnected, but the way people in Gabon are living, it’s close to Vietnam, with less people of course. And instead of being with Asian people I’m actually with Gabonese people. You know, it’s very similar. The Gabonese are really warm. Family is everything for them, so even though you do not look like them, since I’m Yannick’s wife, I’m now part of the family. So they were really really welcoming. I’ve been treated like a princess by everyone. 

ND: Now on the plane. When he propeses or before, the moments leading up to the proposal. Was he acting funny, was he shaking, was he nervous?

Audrey: It was more like a sketch. I was stressed out. I was stressed out. Oh Yannick do you really think your parents are going to like me. That was my thinking, but I did not realize that he was stressed out too. He was thinking how can I get the ring into the plane and make sure that she will not know that I have the ring in my pocket. So that was all the sketch.



He talked to my dad. My dad talked to the lady at check-in and she started using codes “passenger 33 is traveling with passenger xyz" and when we went through security Yannick told me, Audrey, you need to go in front of me. I was like, no you need to go in front of me. I’m used to travel so I know what to do. He was like, no just go! But I didn’t realize he made an arrangement with the security guard to get the ring through without me noticing. So, it was like, a whole kind of— how do you say…like…how would you say? Not a movie, but like a scene.

We flew business class, thanks to my dad, and I saw Yannick talking to the flight attendants in front of me. And, I’m like, “Yannick, what did you ask to the ladies?”— they were all smiling and grinning.  He said that he had just asked them where the bathroom was. I was like, “PLEASE! We’re in the airplane, you don’t even know where the restrooms are?!”

But actually …

… .he was planning to do the proposal. The flight attendants, told each passenger at some point we’re going to turn off all the lights except for one seat, because one of the passengers is going to propose to his girlfriend.

I didn’t know about that. I feel asleep right after dinner. And he woke me up. I was kind of cranky, it was almost midnight. We were in the middle of both countries, which was the greatest place for him. In the plane because I wanted to be a flight attendant. In between our countries. It was the best place to propose, so he woke me up and did his speech about how he wanted to get old with me. And how he’s thinking about not spending any other second without me. So, he proposed and as soon as I said YES! all the passengers started applauding. It was great. When we landed the staff actually congratulated us and gave us a bottle of champagne, so it was cute. It was really really cute!

ND: Now, that was 7 years ago. 

Audrey: It’s been 7 years we’ve been married. 


ND: You guys have lived in numerous places in Philly. I remember when you were living in North Philly somewhere, you lived in Northern Liberties (a gentrified Philadelphian neighborhood), and then West Philly, where we became closer, then France, and now Gabon. Any advice that you can give any other couples who are making a transition like that?

Audrey: I would say communication is the key thing. When you move on your own it’s different than when you move with someone else, especially with Yannick. He knew I would need to adjust; to make sure that I do not miss anything. Even though the lifestyle is different he needed to make sure that I would be okay. As a person I would say that you really need to be open minded. If you like travelling it doesn’t matter where you are, you will always find something that you can get into and be happy about it. So, for me that’s my thing. If you like travelling, you will love where you are.



(Yannick, who is sitting by listening to the interview, suddenly chimes in) 

Yannick: And what’s interesting about moving. We’ve been in 3 different situations. When we moved to Philly, separately, we were single people looking for a new perspective, a new adventure, so that’s a different type of mentality. And then when we met each other. We were like two people out of our natural system. So we had to learn how to navigate the system together with both of our backgrounds, which was really— that can be really challenging. You need to know yourself very well. You need to understand where the other person is coming from. Because, can you imagine you guys going to a new environment and you guys are dealing separately with the new environment and maybe one of you may like the new environment and the other one may not like it. So how do you make sure that it works? Communication: that’s why she says communication is very important. 

When we moved to France, the situation was different. There, Audrey was in her natural environment. She had to give me the cues on how to adapt to the new place.

We try not to be regretful of what we’ve left. We’re always thinking about what we’re finding. How we can adapt to it. How we can make it a good experience. I think that’s the key to success of our traveling. Each time we’re going somewhere, we’re thinking about how to adapt and how to create a good situation wherever we’re living. Not thinking about how it was in the past.

And when we moved to Gabon. Now I’m in my natural environment and even though Gabon is my homeland I’m still in a new situation. I’m coming back as an adult, I’m not a a kid anymore. So there are things that I never experienced that I will have to experience with Audrey. But still making sure that she adapts that she understands how things go. Again, what makes it a success? Communication. We communicate a lot. 

ND: Très bon. 


Audrey Ebibie Nze “Travel is Part of My Education”


We recently had the good fortune of catching up with Audrey Ebibie Nze in Libreville, Gabon. Audrey is a French citizen and aside from the Republic, she has lived in Vietnam, the United States, Spain, Mexico, and most recently Gabon. Audrey shares with us her early formative years, which hardwired her for travel, and gives some insight into what it’s been like adjusting in some of her more recent travels. Audrey has not just traveled abroad. She has worked, studied, and even met her life partner while abroad. She is a seasoned traveler in addition to being an amazing person, and we are happy to be able to share a part of her story here with you.

ND: You’ve said travel is part of your education. What do you mean by that?

Audrey: My dad is an aircraft engineer with Air France, he’s been working for them for more than 40 years. And we’ve been raised going with him into different countries where Air France sent him for work.  I’m the 5th of seven children, so it became a game. I’ve been raised always travelling and it’s part of my education actually. My dad was born in Vietnam and my mom was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They were both raised in Vietnam and they moved back to France during the war.

ND: Oh, wow. I’m sure they have lots of stories to tell.

Audrey: They always told us that it’s always good to be open minded, and that’s why you need to travel in order to see how people are actually living and what the other country can offer you. So that’s why I decided to do it on my own. I grew up by always thinking, when I grow up, I need to travel. I need to find my way. And one of my goals was actually to be a flight attendant, because being a flight attendant means you need to travel! 



ND: How old were you when you moved to Vietnam? I know you spent part of your childhood there.

Audrey: I did my middle school in Vietnam, so I was 11. We spent 4 years in Ho Chi Minh. During those 4 years my parents showed us their roots they really wanted us to know where my grandparents and my great-grandparents came from. So we spent 4 wonderful years over there. We went to an international school. And most of my friends, they were from Korea, they were from Austrailia, and they were from the United States. So, it was a peaceful moment. It feels like when you live abroad— it’s like you are in a bubble. You’re not in front of what your country is asking you to do. 


When you’re a grown-up, you need to pay your taxes, you need to do this and you need to do that. When you travel, the only thing that you can do is actually discover and see what you can bring to you as a positive note. 



ND: When you moved to Vietnam at 11 years old, were you excited, or were you nervous? How was it adjusting?

Audrey: The first few months I actually was crying. I was begging my parents to let me live with my big sister who was staying in France. I felt like it was so different. The weather was really really really hot. The first few days I was always taking six showers a day. And I did not speak Vietnamese, so I felt like I was lost. If I wasn’t with my mom or with my dad we couldn’t do anything. Then my sisters, brothers, and I decided that we needed to learn what to do, so we started going out in the street and talking to the neighbors. Though not in full Vietnamese, but when you’re a kid you find a way to communicate.

So, we decided to do that. It was hard, but at the same time we had learned the basics of Vietnamese. How to say hi, and how much does it cost? I’m thirsty. And thank you. So it was really really helpful. And we met also, some of my mom’s family who were still living in Vietnam, so they taught us a lot. They were living in the poor quarter, but my parents always said you need to know the worst of a country before knowing the best. So that was really, really nice. Even though the first few months were hard, you can’t forget about that experience. 

ND: Let’s skip over a little bit: You’re a little bit older. You know you’re coming to the States to study. How did you feel coming from France to Philly a little bit later in your education? 

Audrey: I was excited actually. Before going to Philly I had been living in Spain and Mexico for two different internships and after I improved my Spanish I said it was time for me to improve my English. During the time that I was completing my Associates degree and I was working on moving abroad again. I knew my next trip was going to be either England or the United States. So I had been looking at different opportunities and how I can— you know— do it by myself, and this is how I decided to become a nanny. And after I’ve been accepted and I found a host family. Two weeks before I was leaving I told my parents, I’m moving to Philadelphia where I’m going to live for a year. They were kind of surprised, but at the same time, they were expecting that one of their seven kids would do something like that. So, I went to the States. I was so excited! Really, really, really, excited! I’m not going to say that being a nanny was my dream job, but it was my way that I could discover a country at low costs. They were giving me a place to live. They were giving me everything. The only thing I had to do is take care of their child and study English. So, I went to UPenn to study English. And during my spare time I met Yannick. I met Yannick less than two weeks after my arrival in Philadelphia. 



ND: I think that’s proved to be a fateful meeting. Tell us about your first time coming to Gabon. I know that trip is important to you for a couple of reasons. 

Audrey: My first time coming to Gabon was a big move actually, because before I landed, Yannick proposed on the airplane. It meant that one day I will be living in this country. I was…I am into Yannick. Yannick is my everything. We arrived at about 5 o’clock in the morning and the whole family was waiting for me at the airport because they all knew that he would propose to me.

Yannick was kind of worried that I would feel disconnected, but the way people in Gabon are living, it’s close to Vietnam, with less people of course. And instead of being with Asian people I’m actually with Gabonese people. You know, it’s very similar. The Gabonese are really warm. Family is everything for them, so even though you do not look like them, since I’m Yannick’s wife, I’m now part of the family. So they were really really welcoming. I’ve been treated like a princess by everyone. 

ND: Now on the plane. When he propeses or before, the moments leading up to the proposal. Was he acting funny, was he shaking, was he nervous?

Audrey: It was more like a sketch. I was stressed out. I was stressed out. Oh Yannick do you really think your parents are going to like me. That was my thinking, but I did not realize that he was stressed out too. He was thinking how can I get the ring into the plane and make sure that she will not know that I have the ring in my pocket. So that was all the sketch.



He talked to my dad. My dad talked to the lady at check-in and she started using codes “passenger 33 is traveling with passenger xyz" and when we went through security Yannick told me, Audrey, you need to go in front of me. I was like, no you need to go in front of me. I’m used to travel so I know what to do. He was like, no just go! But I didn’t realize he made an arrangement with the security guard to get the ring through without me noticing. So, it was like, a whole kind of— how do you say…like…how would you say? Not a movie, but like a scene.

We flew business class, thanks to my dad, and I saw Yannick talking to the flight attendants in front of me. And, I’m like, “Yannick, what did you ask to the ladies?”— they were all smiling and grinning.  He said that he had just asked them where the bathroom was. I was like, “PLEASE! We’re in the airplane, you don’t even know where the restrooms are?!”

But actually …

… .he was planning to do the proposal. The flight attendants, told each passenger at some point we’re going to turn off all the lights except for one seat, because one of the passengers is going to propose to his girlfriend.

I didn’t know about that. I feel asleep right after dinner. And he woke me up. I was kind of cranky, it was almost midnight. We were in the middle of both countries, which was the greatest place for him. In the plane because I wanted to be a flight attendant. In between our countries. It was the best place to propose, so he woke me up and did his speech about how he wanted to get old with me. And how he’s thinking about not spending any other second without me. So, he proposed and as soon as I said YES! all the passengers started applauding. It was great. When we landed the staff actually congratulated us and gave us a bottle of champagne, so it was cute. It was really really cute!

ND: Now, that was 7 years ago. 

Audrey: It’s been 7 years we’ve been married. 


ND: You guys have lived in numerous places in Philly. I remember when you were living in North Philly somewhere, you lived in Northern Liberties (a gentrified Philadelphian neighborhood), and then West Philly, where we became closer, then France, and now Gabon. Any advice that you can give any other couples who are making a transition like that?

Audrey: I would say communication is the key thing. When you move on your own it’s different than when you move with someone else, especially with Yannick. He knew I would need to adjust; to make sure that I do not miss anything. Even though the lifestyle is different he needed to make sure that I would be okay. As a person I would say that you really need to be open minded. If you like travelling it doesn’t matter where you are, you will always find something that you can get into and be happy about it. So, for me that’s my thing. If you like travelling, you will love where you are.



(Yannick, who is sitting by listening to the interview, suddenly chimes in) 

Yannick: And what’s interesting about moving. We’ve been in 3 different situations. When we moved to Philly, separately, we were single people looking for a new perspective, a new adventure, so that’s a different type of mentality. And then when we met each other. We were like two people out of our natural system. So we had to learn how to navigate the system together with both of our backgrounds, which was really— that can be really challenging. You need to know yourself very well. You need to understand where the other person is coming from. Because, can you imagine you guys going to a new environment and you guys are dealing separately with the new environment and maybe one of you may like the new environment and the other one may not like it. So how do you make sure that it works? Communication: that’s why she says communication is very important. 

When we moved to France, the situation was different. There, Audrey was in her natural environment. She had to give me the cues on how to adapt to the new place.

We try not to be regretful of what we’ve left. We’re always thinking about what we’re finding. How we can adapt to it. How we can make it a good experience. I think that’s the key to success of our traveling. Each time we’re going somewhere, we’re thinking about how to adapt and how to create a good situation wherever we’re living. Not thinking about how it was in the past.

And when we moved to Gabon. Now I’m in my natural environment and even though Gabon is my homeland I’m still in a new situation. I’m coming back as an adult, I’m not a a kid anymore. So there are things that I never experienced that I will have to experience with Audrey. But still making sure that she adapts that she understands how things go. Again, what makes it a success? Communication. We communicate a lot. 

ND: Très bon. 


Audrey Ebibie Nze “Travel is Part of My Education”


We recently had the good fortune of catching up with Audrey Ebibie Nze in Libreville, Gabon. Audrey is a French citizen and aside from the Republic, she has lived in Vietnam, the United States, Spain, Mexico, and most recently Gabon. Audrey shares with us her early formative years, which hardwired her for travel, and gives some insight into what it’s been like adjusting in some of her more recent travels. Audrey has not just traveled abroad. She has worked, studied, and even met her life partner while abroad. She is a seasoned traveler in addition to being an amazing person, and we are happy to be able to share a part of her story here with you.

ND: You’ve said travel is part of your education. What do you mean by that?

Audrey: My dad is an aircraft engineer with Air France, he’s been working for them for more than 40 years. And we’ve been raised going with him into different countries where Air France sent him for work.  I’m the 5th of seven children, so it became a game. I’ve been raised always travelling and it’s part of my education actually. My dad was born in Vietnam and my mom was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They were both raised in Vietnam and they moved back to France during the war.

ND: Oh, wow. I’m sure they have lots of stories to tell.

Audrey: They always told us that it’s always good to be open minded, and that’s why you need to travel in order to see how people are actually living and what the other country can offer you. So that’s why I decided to do it on my own. I grew up by always thinking, when I grow up, I need to travel. I need to find my way. And one of my goals was actually to be a flight attendant, because being a flight attendant means you need to travel! 



ND: How old were you when you moved to Vietnam? I know you spent part of your childhood there.

Audrey: I did my middle school in Vietnam, so I was 11. We spent 4 years in Ho Chi Minh. During those 4 years my parents showed us their roots they really wanted us to know where my grandparents and my great-grandparents came from. So we spent 4 wonderful years over there. We went to an international school. And most of my friends, they were from Korea, they were from Austrailia, and they were from the United States. So, it was a peaceful moment. It feels like when you live abroad— it’s like you are in a bubble. You’re not in front of what your country is asking you to do. 


When you’re a grown-up, you need to pay your taxes, you need to do this and you need to do that. When you travel, the only thing that you can do is actually discover and see what you can bring to you as a positive note. 



ND: When you moved to Vietnam at 11 years old, were you excited, or were you nervous? How was it adjusting?

Audrey: The first few months I actually was crying. I was begging my parents to let me live with my big sister who was staying in France. I felt like it was so different. The weather was really really really hot. The first few days I was always taking six showers a day. And I did not speak Vietnamese, so I felt like I was lost. If I wasn’t with my mom or with my dad we couldn’t do anything. Then my sisters, brothers, and I decided that we needed to learn what to do, so we started going out in the street and talking to the neighbors. Though not in full Vietnamese, but when you’re a kid you find a way to communicate.

So, we decided to do that. It was hard, but at the same time we had learned the basics of Vietnamese. How to say hi, and how much does it cost? I’m thirsty. And thank you. So it was really really helpful. And we met also, some of my mom’s family who were still living in Vietnam, so they taught us a lot. They were living in the poor quarter, but my parents always said you need to know the worst of a country before knowing the best. So that was really, really nice. Even though the first few months were hard, you can’t forget about that experience. 

ND: Let’s skip over a little bit: You’re a little bit older. You know you’re coming to the States to study. How did you feel coming from France to Philly a little bit later in your education? 

Audrey: I was excited actually. Before going to Philly I had been living in Spain and Mexico for two different internships and after I improved my Spanish I said it was time for me to improve my English. During the time that I was completing my Associates degree and I was working on moving abroad again. I knew my next trip was going to be either England or the United States. So I had been looking at different opportunities and how I can— you know— do it by myself, and this is how I decided to become a nanny. And after I’ve been accepted and I found a host family. Two weeks before I was leaving I told my parents, I’m moving to Philadelphia where I’m going to live for a year. They were kind of surprised, but at the same time, they were expecting that one of their seven kids would do something like that. So, I went to the States. I was so excited! Really, really, really, excited! I’m not going to say that being a nanny was my dream job, but it was my way that I could discover a country at low costs. They were giving me a place to live. They were giving me everything. The only thing I had to do is take care of their child and study English. So, I went to UPenn to study English. And during my spare time I met Yannick. I met Yannick less than two weeks after my arrival in Philadelphia. 



ND: I think that’s proved to be a fateful meeting. Tell us about your first time coming to Gabon. I know that trip is important to you for a couple of reasons. 

Audrey: My first time coming to Gabon was a big move actually, because before I landed, Yannick proposed on the airplane. It meant that one day I will be living in this country. I was…I am into Yannick. Yannick is my everything. We arrived at about 5 o’clock in the morning and the whole family was waiting for me at the airport because they all knew that he would propose to me.

Yannick was kind of worried that I would feel disconnected, but the way people in Gabon are living, it’s close to Vietnam, with less people of course. And instead of being with Asian people I’m actually with Gabonese people. You know, it’s very similar. The Gabonese are really warm. Family is everything for them, so even though you do not look like them, since I’m Yannick’s wife, I’m now part of the family. So they were really really welcoming. I’ve been treated like a princess by everyone. 

ND: Now on the plane. When he propeses or before, the moments leading up to the proposal. Was he acting funny, was he shaking, was he nervous?

Audrey: It was more like a sketch. I was stressed out. I was stressed out. Oh Yannick do you really think your parents are going to like me. That was my thinking, but I did not realize that he was stressed out too. He was thinking how can I get the ring into the plane and make sure that she will not know that I have the ring in my pocket. So that was all the sketch.



He talked to my dad. My dad talked to the lady at check-in and she started using codes “passenger 33 is traveling with passenger xyz" and when we went through security Yannick told me, Audrey, you need to go in front of me. I was like, no you need to go in front of me. I’m used to travel so I know what to do. He was like, no just go! But I didn’t realize he made an arrangement with the security guard to get the ring through without me noticing. So, it was like, a whole kind of— how do you say…like…how would you say? Not a movie, but like a scene.

We flew business class, thanks to my dad, and I saw Yannick talking to the flight attendants in front of me. And, I’m like, “Yannick, what did you ask to the ladies?”— they were all smiling and grinning.  He said that he had just asked them where the bathroom was. I was like, “PLEASE! We’re in the airplane, you don’t even know where the restrooms are?!”

But actually …

… .he was planning to do the proposal. The flight attendants, told each passenger at some point we’re going to turn off all the lights except for one seat, because one of the passengers is going to propose to his girlfriend.

I didn’t know about that. I feel asleep right after dinner. And he woke me up. I was kind of cranky, it was almost midnight. We were in the middle of both countries, which was the greatest place for him. In the plane because I wanted to be a flight attendant. In between our countries. It was the best place to propose, so he woke me up and did his speech about how he wanted to get old with me. And how he’s thinking about not spending any other second without me. So, he proposed and as soon as I said YES! all the passengers started applauding. It was great. When we landed the staff actually congratulated us and gave us a bottle of champagne, so it was cute. It was really really cute!

ND: Now, that was 7 years ago. 

Audrey: It’s been 7 years we’ve been married. 


ND: You guys have lived in numerous places in Philly. I remember when you were living in North Philly somewhere, you lived in Northern Liberties (a gentrified Philadelphian neighborhood), and then West Philly, where we became closer, then France, and now Gabon. Any advice that you can give any other couples who are making a transition like that?

Audrey: I would say communication is the key thing. When you move on your own it’s different than when you move with someone else, especially with Yannick. He knew I would need to adjust; to make sure that I do not miss anything. Even though the lifestyle is different he needed to make sure that I would be okay. As a person I would say that you really need to be open minded. If you like travelling it doesn’t matter where you are, you will always find something that you can get into and be happy about it. So, for me that’s my thing. If you like travelling, you will love where you are.



(Yannick, who is sitting by listening to the interview, suddenly chimes in) 

Yannick: And what’s interesting about moving. We’ve been in 3 different situations. When we moved to Philly, separately, we were single people looking for a new perspective, a new adventure, so that’s a different type of mentality. And then when we met each other. We were like two people out of our natural system. So we had to learn how to navigate the system together with both of our backgrounds, which was really— that can be really challenging. You need to know yourself very well. You need to understand where the other person is coming from. Because, can you imagine you guys going to a new environment and you guys are dealing separately with the new environment and maybe one of you may like the new environment and the other one may not like it. So how do you make sure that it works? Communication: that’s why she says communication is very important. 

When we moved to France, the situation was different. There, Audrey was in her natural environment. She had to give me the cues on how to adapt to the new place.

We try not to be regretful of what we’ve left. We’re always thinking about what we’re finding. How we can adapt to it. How we can make it a good experience. I think that’s the key to success of our traveling. Each time we’re going somewhere, we’re thinking about how to adapt and how to create a good situation wherever we’re living. Not thinking about how it was in the past.

And when we moved to Gabon. Now I’m in my natural environment and even though Gabon is my homeland I’m still in a new situation. I’m coming back as an adult, I’m not a a kid anymore. So there are things that I never experienced that I will have to experience with Audrey. But still making sure that she adapts that she understands how things go. Again, what makes it a success? Communication. We communicate a lot. 

ND: Très bon. 


Audrey Ebibie Nze “Travel is Part of My Education”


We recently had the good fortune of catching up with Audrey Ebibie Nze in Libreville, Gabon. Audrey is a French citizen and aside from the Republic, she has lived in Vietnam, the United States, Spain, Mexico, and most recently Gabon. Audrey shares with us her early formative years, which hardwired her for travel, and gives some insight into what it’s been like adjusting in some of her more recent travels. Audrey has not just traveled abroad. She has worked, studied, and even met her life partner while abroad. She is a seasoned traveler in addition to being an amazing person, and we are happy to be able to share a part of her story here with you.

ND: You’ve said travel is part of your education. What do you mean by that?

Audrey: My dad is an aircraft engineer with Air France, he’s been working for them for more than 40 years. And we’ve been raised going with him into different countries where Air France sent him for work.  I’m the 5th of seven children, so it became a game. I’ve been raised always travelling and it’s part of my education actually. My dad was born in Vietnam and my mom was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They were both raised in Vietnam and they moved back to France during the war.

ND: Oh, wow. I’m sure they have lots of stories to tell.

Audrey: They always told us that it’s always good to be open minded, and that’s why you need to travel in order to see how people are actually living and what the other country can offer you. So that’s why I decided to do it on my own. I grew up by always thinking, when I grow up, I need to travel. I need to find my way. And one of my goals was actually to be a flight attendant, because being a flight attendant means you need to travel! 



ND: How old were you when you moved to Vietnam? I know you spent part of your childhood there.

Audrey: I did my middle school in Vietnam, so I was 11. We spent 4 years in Ho Chi Minh. During those 4 years my parents showed us their roots they really wanted us to know where my grandparents and my great-grandparents came from. So we spent 4 wonderful years over there. We went to an international school. And most of my friends, they were from Korea, they were from Austrailia, and they were from the United States. So, it was a peaceful moment. It feels like when you live abroad— it’s like you are in a bubble. You’re not in front of what your country is asking you to do. 


When you’re a grown-up, you need to pay your taxes, you need to do this and you need to do that. When you travel, the only thing that you can do is actually discover and see what you can bring to you as a positive note. 



ND: When you moved to Vietnam at 11 years old, were you excited, or were you nervous? How was it adjusting?

Audrey: The first few months I actually was crying. I was begging my parents to let me live with my big sister who was staying in France. I felt like it was so different. The weather was really really really hot. The first few days I was always taking six showers a day. And I did not speak Vietnamese, so I felt like I was lost. If I wasn’t with my mom or with my dad we couldn’t do anything. Then my sisters, brothers, and I decided that we needed to learn what to do, so we started going out in the street and talking to the neighbors. Though not in full Vietnamese, but when you’re a kid you find a way to communicate.

So, we decided to do that. It was hard, but at the same time we had learned the basics of Vietnamese. How to say hi, and how much does it cost? I’m thirsty. And thank you. So it was really really helpful. And we met also, some of my mom’s family who were still living in Vietnam, so they taught us a lot. They were living in the poor quarter, but my parents always said you need to know the worst of a country before knowing the best. So that was really, really nice. Even though the first few months were hard, you can’t forget about that experience. 

ND: Let’s skip over a little bit: You’re a little bit older. You know you’re coming to the States to study. How did you feel coming from France to Philly a little bit later in your education? 

Audrey: I was excited actually. Before going to Philly I had been living in Spain and Mexico for two different internships and after I improved my Spanish I said it was time for me to improve my English. During the time that I was completing my Associates degree and I was working on moving abroad again. I knew my next trip was going to be either England or the United States. So I had been looking at different opportunities and how I can— you know— do it by myself, and this is how I decided to become a nanny. And after I’ve been accepted and I found a host family. Two weeks before I was leaving I told my parents, I’m moving to Philadelphia where I’m going to live for a year. They were kind of surprised, but at the same time, they were expecting that one of their seven kids would do something like that. So, I went to the States. I was so excited! Really, really, really, excited! I’m not going to say that being a nanny was my dream job, but it was my way that I could discover a country at low costs. They were giving me a place to live. They were giving me everything. The only thing I had to do is take care of their child and study English. So, I went to UPenn to study English. And during my spare time I met Yannick. I met Yannick less than two weeks after my arrival in Philadelphia. 



ND: I think that’s proved to be a fateful meeting. Tell us about your first time coming to Gabon. I know that trip is important to you for a couple of reasons. 

Audrey: My first time coming to Gabon was a big move actually, because before I landed, Yannick proposed on the airplane. It meant that one day I will be living in this country. I was…I am into Yannick. Yannick is my everything. We arrived at about 5 o’clock in the morning and the whole family was waiting for me at the airport because they all knew that he would propose to me.

Yannick was kind of worried that I would feel disconnected, but the way people in Gabon are living, it’s close to Vietnam, with less people of course. And instead of being with Asian people I’m actually with Gabonese people. You know, it’s very similar. The Gabonese are really warm. Family is everything for them, so even though you do not look like them, since I’m Yannick’s wife, I’m now part of the family. So they were really really welcoming. I’ve been treated like a princess by everyone. 

ND: Now on the plane. When he propeses or before, the moments leading up to the proposal. Was he acting funny, was he shaking, was he nervous?

Audrey: It was more like a sketch. I was stressed out. I was stressed out. Oh Yannick do you really think your parents are going to like me. That was my thinking, but I did not realize that he was stressed out too. He was thinking how can I get the ring into the plane and make sure that she will not know that I have the ring in my pocket. So that was all the sketch.



He talked to my dad. My dad talked to the lady at check-in and she started using codes “passenger 33 is traveling with passenger xyz" and when we went through security Yannick told me, Audrey, you need to go in front of me. I was like, no you need to go in front of me. I’m used to travel so I know what to do. He was like, no just go! But I didn’t realize he made an arrangement with the security guard to get the ring through without me noticing. So, it was like, a whole kind of— how do you say…like…how would you say? Not a movie, but like a scene.

We flew business class, thanks to my dad, and I saw Yannick talking to the flight attendants in front of me. And, I’m like, “Yannick, what did you ask to the ladies?”— they were all smiling and grinning.  He said that he had just asked them where the bathroom was. I was like, “PLEASE! We’re in the airplane, you don’t even know where the restrooms are?!”

But actually …

… .he was planning to do the proposal. The flight attendants, told each passenger at some point we’re going to turn off all the lights except for one seat, because one of the passengers is going to propose to his girlfriend.

I didn’t know about that. I feel asleep right after dinner. And he woke me up. I was kind of cranky, it was almost midnight. We were in the middle of both countries, which was the greatest place for him. In the plane because I wanted to be a flight attendant. In between our countries. It was the best place to propose, so he woke me up and did his speech about how he wanted to get old with me. And how he’s thinking about not spending any other second without me. So, he proposed and as soon as I said YES! all the passengers started applauding. It was great. When we landed the staff actually congratulated us and gave us a bottle of champagne, so it was cute. It was really really cute!

ND: Now, that was 7 years ago. 

Audrey: It’s been 7 years we’ve been married. 


ND: You guys have lived in numerous places in Philly. I remember when you were living in North Philly somewhere, you lived in Northern Liberties (a gentrified Philadelphian neighborhood), and then West Philly, where we became closer, then France, and now Gabon. Any advice that you can give any other couples who are making a transition like that?

Audrey: I would say communication is the key thing. When you move on your own it’s different than when you move with someone else, especially with Yannick. He knew I would need to adjust; to make sure that I do not miss anything. Even though the lifestyle is different he needed to make sure that I would be okay. As a person I would say that you really need to be open minded. If you like travelling it doesn’t matter where you are, you will always find something that you can get into and be happy about it. So, for me that’s my thing. If you like travelling, you will love where you are.



(Yannick, who is sitting by listening to the interview, suddenly chimes in) 

Yannick: And what’s interesting about moving. We’ve been in 3 different situations. When we moved to Philly, separately, we were single people looking for a new perspective, a new adventure, so that’s a different type of mentality. And then when we met each other. We were like two people out of our natural system. So we had to learn how to navigate the system together with both of our backgrounds, which was really— that can be really challenging. You need to know yourself very well. You need to understand where the other person is coming from. Because, can you imagine you guys going to a new environment and you guys are dealing separately with the new environment and maybe one of you may like the new environment and the other one may not like it. So how do you make sure that it works? Communication: that’s why she says communication is very important. 

When we moved to France, the situation was different. There, Audrey was in her natural environment. She had to give me the cues on how to adapt to the new place.

We try not to be regretful of what we’ve left. We’re always thinking about what we’re finding. How we can adapt to it. How we can make it a good experience. I think that’s the key to success of our traveling. Each time we’re going somewhere, we’re thinking about how to adapt and how to create a good situation wherever we’re living. Not thinking about how it was in the past.

And when we moved to Gabon. Now I’m in my natural environment and even though Gabon is my homeland I’m still in a new situation. I’m coming back as an adult, I’m not a a kid anymore. So there are things that I never experienced that I will have to experience with Audrey. But still making sure that she adapts that she understands how things go. Again, what makes it a success? Communication. We communicate a lot. 

ND: Très bon. 


The Wanderlust Project - Sheryll’s Insights on Travel, Beauty & Culture


We recently had the pleasure of catching up with the charming, intelligent, and beautiful Sheryll Donerson, founder of The Wanderlust Project. In addition to taking her to new locales around the world, her travels have led to a tremendous amount of self-exploration and discovery.  We hope that you enjoy her insights as much as we did. 

On your blog you talk about favorably about your time London, which was your first time abroad. Were you expecting the trip to be such a powerful experience? 

I definitely wasn’t expecting the trip to be such a life changing experience for me. I was 20 at the time, and even though I was a good 8.5 hour drive away from my family, living and working alone, I experienced a different kind of freedom in London. It was my first time booking trips on my own, my first time going to a bar where I was able to drink, my first time going to a club until 6am, my first time sneaking into a dorm at an international university, etc., the list goes on.



What apprehensions did you have (if any) prior to that trip?

Weirdly, one of my main apprehensions about the trip was drinking beer. Prior to the trip, I wasn’t much of a drinker, and I HATED beer. Of course, London is a beer capital, and I was just really afraid of being forced to drink beer all the time. Thankfully, I acquired a taste for it and it’s one of my favorite drinks now.

Talk a little about the “sexual awakening” you had in London. What do you think contributed to that?

Traveling to London was the first time in my life that I really experienced freedom. I was studying, but even our professors said school work came second. They wanted us to really experience a different culture, to travel, to talk to people and experience things we’d never seen before. I really took advantage of that. I frequently traveled the city alone, went to the areas other people didn’t want to go to. I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I think living in London made me more comfortable with myself. I think it was the time that I really grew up and became an adult. 



Now you’re in Korea, a society that some may call prudish. What do you think about sexual expression here? Does it make Salt Lake City look like the Amsterdam?

To me, S. Korea is a bit prudish. Then again, I feel like if I read/spoke/understood Korean, I may have a different opinion. Porn is illegal here, and most websites are blocked, yet S. Korea is one of largest consumers of pornography in the world (more than the US!), so that’s definitely saying something. Sex is seen as something that is reserved for marriage, and most adults can’t move out of their parents houses until they marry. So of course, couples go to DVD bangs (private rooms where you can watch a DVD…and do other things), or they rent a love motel for the night. Love motels and DVD bangs are everywhere, and everyone knows what they are for, but no one talks about it. It’s all seems very hush hush.



I feel like S. Korea is a country that is incredibly technologically advanced, but I feel like a lot of the opinions of the citizens are stuck in the 50s. It’s a very old-fashioned, traditional way of life here. And of course, the introduction of Christianity here definitely doesn’t make matters any better. 


You’re big on cosmetics. When I buy lotion in Korea I’m afraid I’m going to accidentally bleach my skin or something. 

I’m a huge beauty junkie. Some may even call it borderline obsessed. I’m always browsing the latest magazines and blogs for the newest trends, watching YouTube videos, making notes in my journal. Korea is one of the cosmetics capitals of the world, so I did a bunch of research before I moved here to make sure I’d be able to use the products.



Of course, when one thinks of skincare in S. Korea, they think of white, crystal clear skin. Like pretty much every expat that moves here, I had my reservations about using any of the products here in fear that I’d end up looking like Sammy Sosa. I’ve learned that pretty much all products used for whitening are clearly labeled as such, and most of the heavy duty stuff is available by prescription. Pretty much all of your basic cleansers and moisturizers will be free of bleaching agents. 

As Korean cosmetics are starting to become a global phenomenon (thanks to the ever ubiquitous BB cream), many of the products have labels in both English and Korean. If I’m ever unclear on the nature of the product, I do a quick google search on my phone for other reviews. Lots of women in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have Korean cosmetic blogs that are wonderful resources. Don’t be afraid!

I think it’s cool that you grew to embrace yourself (i.e. your curves, hips, etc) during your transformational time in London. I feel like a lot of Korean women are trying to fit into a very narrow range of what beautiful is, rather than embracing what they have. What’s your take?

I taught middle school last year, and I did a lesson with my female students on beauty. At the end of the lesson, they stood up and clapped. They thanked me for telling them that they were beautiful the way they are, that all of the stuff we see in magazines and TV and movies aren’t real, that celebrities don’t even look like themselves by the time the photoshop is finished. I really don’t think people realize that all the people we idolize and look up to don’t even look like themselves in “real” life. 



Sadly, women all over the world are held up to ridiculous beauty standards. There are plenty of times I look at myself in the mirror and wonder why I don’t look like Rosa Acosta. Women in the US and S. America are so desperate for bigger butts that they are letting people inject who knows what into them. Women in India and Nigeria are bleaching themselves to have lighter skin. Women in Korea are going under the knife to get ‘double eyelids’. It makes me sad. Of course, to each her own, and I’m all for women doing what they want to do to their bodies. I just really hope that one day, women all around the world can love themselves as they are. 

 How have you and Johnny’s (your best friend and boyfriend of 7 years) relationship evolved through your travels? You can definitely learn more about someone by traveling with them. You learn a lot about yourself too.


Johnny and I have definitely grown into a much stronger couple through our travels. He’s literally the only person in the world I can imagine traveling with. He’s not only my partner, but he’s my best friend. I’m the planner, the researcher, the reader. I’m more of the type to stay by the book and to be honest, I’m not the most adventurous person on the planet. My idea of exciting is going shopping. But Johnny has an adventurers spirit. He pushes me out of my comfort zone. He makes me try food that I would never try on my own, makes me see movies, museums, art shows that I would never see. I’m very careful, and he’s definitely more spontaneous. We balance each other out very well.



As a foodie, what is your favorite (international) dish to date?


To date, my favorite international dish has to be my meal at the Tekksen restaurant in Penang, Georgetown. I had the mapo tofu, chicken in plum sauce and spinach sauteed with eggs. It was so simple, but SO delicious. I’ve never had Chinese food that good in my life. I still think about it.  A close second would be the cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita in Rome. 



You said that you were  trying “to fit into the mold of a travel writer” and that kind of created some inertia. How did you cure that problem?

I’ve definitely been struggling with trying to “label” myself as a blogger. One of the things that they always tell you that you must have in order to be a ‘successful’ blogger is a niche. At first, I did consider myself a travel writer and my blog was a travel blog. But I feel like I want to blog about so much more than travel. I have many passions: travel, fashion, design, food, wine, the list goes on.


After the success of my hugely popular Korean cosmetics posts, I decided that I don’t need a thought that I wanted to switch and be a beauty blogger..but I realized I didn’t want to be confined to that mold either. So, after some heavy journal writing, I decided that I wasn’t going to push myself to fit into a specific mold. It really was as simple as telling myself that I can do and write about whatever I want. Plenty of bloggers are popular and they post about whatever is inspiring them at the moment, so why can’t I?

What destinations are on your travel list?

After we leave Korea, Johnny and I are planning to go to Vietnam to teach for about 6 months. After that, we’re going to travel through S.E. Asia, and then it’s on to Central and South America. I am dying to go to Brazil, and I’d love to be able to go before the Olympics and World Cup madness. 

What’s your travel philosophy?



Go big or go home. 

Visa Issues - Ready or Not?

I’ve never had any real visa issues while travelling. My two visas for India were each processed in less than a day; in Panama a visa was issued upon arrival, and in Korea I’ve extended my visa in less time than it takes to order a ShanghaiSpiceChickenBurgerSet at McDonald’s. My most recent jaunt to Gabon— Central  Africa— has been the most hectic experience I’ve had in my visa collecting career.

Once I knew that I would be travelling to Gabon to visit some close friends, my first task was to figure out what items were needed. I made a quick checklist:

  • Passport Photos
  • Copy of photo page from passport
  • Copy of IDs
  • Current address
  • Yellow Fever vaccination
  • Travel itinerary
  • Authorisation d’Entrée (issued by the immigration authorities in Libreville)

That last item would prove to be the most taxing to procure. Since I’ve been living in Korea, I visited the Gabonese embassy in Seoul and I was delighted that I would be saving about $100 compared to what the embassy in DC charges.

I submit my documents to the kind people in Seoul, and they inform me that they can not/will not issue a visa until I secure that final document. Fair enough. I have plenty of time. I submit the necessary documents to Libreville via my host, and we wait. And wait.

And wait.

Finally I get confirmation that the document is ready. My friend in Gabon goes to pick the Authorisation d’Entrée. It’s ready, but it requires an additional signature before they will release it to him. Damn semantics!

Meanwhile, in my pre-travel exuberance and mission to fill up my passport (I’m soo close!), I book a flight that would have me stop over in Bangkok (They said the visa was ready, right?!). So I’m all set to leave: Thursday’s the day.

My friend is told to come back [for the Authorisation d’Entréeon Friday. 

Flatline… 

I’m slightly panicked.

Breathe. Time to put on the thinking cap. Perhaps the embassy will make an exception. Maybe I can get the visa from the consulate in Bangkok. Maybe I can just get the visa upon arrival at LBV. No, monsieur. Perhaps I can speak with the ambassador. Nicca, please!

I had no choice but to postpone my travel. I was able to meet up with some old Korean pals, and explore parts of Seoul that I’d previously left uncovered. Hey, make lemonade, right? In the meantime, my host in Libreville, realizing that we could no longer take the words to mean what they mean, worked out another solution. He was able to secure a laissez-passer from one of the cabinet ministers, which would allow me to travel to the country sans visa and secure one upon arrival. That Monday morning, I returned to the embassy and they returned my passport (along with my $50) and wished me a safe journey. Bon voyage. I felt extra adventurous travelling without a visa, and perhaps a little pompous as I explained the situation to the airline clerks who inspected my travel credentials. Even though the situation was a little chaotic and frustrating, it worked out and I entered the country with mild fanfare. The immigration officials ushered me off to a side queue, where my passport and laissez-passer were reviewed. In exchange for $95 USD (still $55 cheaper than DC) I was issued my visa.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. I wonder if Omar Bashir can relate?



Have you ever had any issues obtaining a visa, or had to reschedule your travels due to unforeseen setbacks? We want to hear your stories. Leave us a comment below!

Al-Sabah in Seoul: Art from the Islamic Civilization at the National Museum of Korea


"I am a lifelong learner and art has been a great teacher." 

-Sheikha Hussah Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, Co-owner of the Al-Sabah Collection



The Taj Mahal, the Grand Mosque of Djenné, Andalusian calligraphy. All are contributions to the (art) world afforded to us by Islam. They are aesthetic expressions that aim to reach into divine dimensions. We hear of jihadists (often with Arabic names) and listen to pundits who exacerbate people’s ignorance of a faith with one billion plus adherents and feel intimated, sometimes reviled,  by a part of the world that a lot of people may not come into contact with, let alone understand at the most basic of levels. Surely the more we are aware of a culture’s contribution to humanity, the more we can appreciate it. Admire it perhaps.

For this reason I am delighted about the Art from the Islamic Civilization exhibit currently running in Seoul at the National Museum of Korea thru October 20th. The exhibit is a slice of 300 artifacts from Kuwait’s Al-Sabah collection. Some of the pieces are truly mesmerizing. I found myself being drawn into the various Qur’ans on display as well as the marble and wooden pieces with in-laid Arabic calligraphy. At $10 USD I found the exhibit pricey by Korean standards (a lot of museums in Korea are free or cost less than $5), but considering what is on display, I considered the price of admission a true bargain. 


I think the organizers did a phenomenal job with the presentation and staging of the exhibit. The rooms are adorned with Arabic arches that give the venue a North African vibe. I’ve had a very fond experience with Islam due to personal and travel experiences, but I was interested in how the exhibit would be received by its Korean patrons. Would they think suicide vests would be on display? Would their eyes roll over in boredom? While in line waiting to purchase my ticket there was a Korean woman waiting to gain entrance to the general museum (the part that displays Korean history). When she realized she was in the wrong line, she huffed, “ISLAM?!?” and quickly dropped out of the queue. Would the display do Islamic art any justice? Would it provide any elucidation? China is by no means a muslim country, but you can’t stroll around Beijing with coming across a fair share of Chinese operated halal restaurants. Yet Seoul is a city of 10 million plus, and you can probably count the number of Korean muslims in Seoul on a few pairs of hands.



To my observation the exhibit was very well received. Interestingly enough, there were a lot of children present— presumably in summer camps— at the exhibition. They really seemed engaged and impressed, as were the adults. I think what helped were the smart phone-like audio guides that gave detailed information about the pieces on display. Moreover, some of the items of the exhibit were inspiring in their own right. Many a camera were snapping and the artifacts stimulated a lot of discussions. Having spent a fair share of time around Korean youth, my presumption would be that the words #islam #museum #art wouldn’t generate much interest. However, I think Sheikha Husah’s exhibit has helped to pique the curiosity of those who get the opportunity to attend … and maybe some will leave awe-inspired. 

 

Felipe Kidali Ajeosshi Foster: NC to Seoul Teukbyeolsi

Open-minded   -   Curious  -   Flexible  -   Sincere  -   Dedicated   

All are words that can be used to describe Felipe Kidali Ajeosshi Foster. The North Carolinian turned Seoul resident shares the impetus for his 12,000 mile journey to N.E. Asia and how the aforementioned traits, no doubt embedded in him through his upbringing, have served him in his life as an expatriate, educator, and drifter.



ND: Where are you from?

I’m from a small U.S town called Elm City in the state of North Carolina.

ND: What brought you to Korea?

The year was 2009 and the U.S recession was beginning to rear its ugly head over all of the country. My retail job went bankrupt, public school teachers were “suggested” to take less time off which left my substitute teaching gig high and dry, and my tutoring job had ended for the school year. I had decided to attend a graduate school that offered on-line classes, so I wouldn’t have to be pinned down to one area. Little did I know that taking a class on campus for the quarter was going to hurt more than help. I started looking for other jobs, but nobody would hire me or I wasn’t qualified. I was looking on Craigslist and saw an ad about teaching ESL in Korea. I heard of ESL before and I had been watching Korean movies for awhile. I’ve always been interested in other people cultures and my parents raised me to be open-minded and respectful. The dream of traveling and seeing the world came back to my memory. I was like hey, if America doesn’t appreciate my degrees, well there are other countries that do. I want to travel, I like helping people, and I have experience with teaching. I made it to Korea about two years later because of paperwork, timing, and money.

ND: 2009 was a tough year for a lot of people financially and professionally. At that time I had been considering teaching, but it wasn’t until I was a little unfulfilled in a desk job did a take my jump to come to Korea and test the water.  Do you feel that Korea has been appreciative of your training and talents? Also, has your experience abroad given you any deeper appreciation of your own background?

Overall yes they [the Koreans] have. As long as you’re flexible, a hard worker, social, and don’t try to embarrass or hurt them everything is okay. You have to give and take and know when to fight your battles, but that’s how I handle things in the states too. Because of the language barrier I cant express my anger and disapproval as much as I want but that just helps me learn to calm down more and have more patience.

My experience abroad so far has taught me to hold on to my home training and values. Being abroad you come across people trying to change you into them and trying to tell you that their culture or way of thinking is better. I’ve always walked to the beat of my own drum. Traveling abroad is almost like going to college. When you parents tell you not to join any cults, don’t get into trouble with the police, people careful who you surround yourself with, have fun but not too much fun [laughs].

ND: That’s really cool.  How was it adjusting to the chaos of Seoul having been raised in NC? Seoul has about a dozen lines on the metro, and more people than the entire state of North Carolina. What was your adjustment like?



Adjusting to Seoul was quite easy for me because it’s a larger city. Instead of having to drive everywhere and wait in traffic, I’m now able to ride the subway and travel from one point to another in a shorter time. Being around more people didn’t bother me either. I guess I’m a quick adapter. The food to me isn’t much different, and my family’s culture is similar to Korea’s [family culture]. I told myself that I was going to become more extroverted when I come to Korea and have kept to my word. Becoming more outgoing has probably been the most helpful in my adjustment.

ND: Nice. 

ND: How old are your students? You mentioned that your parents raised you to be fairly open minded. How do you find your students? Open, closed, somewhat malleable?

I have had the opportunity to teach ages 5-60+. Overall most of my students have been open-minded and eager to learn about different cultures and people. At my first school I had one student who went to Chicago and came back more ignorant before she left, but I think her bubble was popped. She experienced a taste of international life and didn’t have the comfort of home to fall back onto. She told me she never wanted to leave Korea again.

ND: That’s wild she came back more ignorant than before she left. Any guesses as to why that may have been? Do you know if she insulated herself in the Korean community there or maybe she was just hanging out with the wrong crowd. In any case, Chicago can be intimidating in it’s own way.

I feel she came back more ignorant because of fear. I have no idea what she was doing there, but she did let me know she saw a lot of poor black people and thought that was funny. 

ND: That sucks

ND: What about respect? The American South is known for its hospitality. Likewise, certain Asian nations, Japan comes to mind, are really noted for being respectful. What has been your experience of respect in Korea, and some of your other travels through Asia (Hong Kong and Macau)?

Being hospitable when you are invited over here is the most similar. Their house has to be presentable and they offer you a drink and a bite to eat. I’ve seen some disrespectful things but not enough to think the majority of the country feels the same. It’s more of, that’s how that individual handles problems or failure to communicate effectively. In Hong Kong they stopped and tried to help me when I had questions. They didn’t stare as if the world isn’t diverse. In Macau I only got to experience the business/touristy side of things and not the community so, I can’t say much.

Most of the issues I have had had been because of lack of knowledge and interaction. Not only am I representative for Americans, but for Black Americans.

They want to know where you live. If the food is different. Do I think Korean women are prettier than American women. I do hate the question, Do you like spicy food? I love spicy food and it seems like only people who dislike spicy food travel to Korea [laughs].

ND: What’s your favorite Korean food?

My favorite Korean snack is 군만두 (fried dumplings) . My favorite Korean meal is 닭도리탕 (chicken with potatoes soup).

ND: It’s cool that you were into Korean movies for awhile before you came over. I think I only really saw one Korean movie, before I actually considered coming over to Korea. To this day I consider it one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen (I can’t think of the name of it, but it was about this woman who gets plastic surgery to become unattractive). What about Korean cinema appealed to you? Do you feel that it helped you pick up anything from the culture? If so, what?

I saw like 50 korean movies before I started coming across the crappy ones. When they suck they suck all the way. The cinema appeared up to date and modern. The quality was similar to a Hollywood or Bollywood production. When they started talking about first loves, the way they teased, expressed themselves through body language. I don’t know, I had no problem relating to the movies. It felt like I’ve been watching them all my life. My whole family could move to Korea and we would have little difficulty adjusting. I also like how dedicated they seemed to their friends. I liked that a lot. I knew once I had a good friend that we would be friends for life. However, they were movies and if they were anything like American movies I knew my world would be turned upside down. I’ve experienced almost everything I saw in a Korean movie. One of the reasons why I wanted to visit Hong Kong was because of films and pictures.



ND: How is your family’s culture similar to Korea’s?

Education is like number one in my family. We don’t have to receive A’s, but that’s always the objective. Even if the grade is lower my parents are realistic in our abilities, but an A is always better. My family loves to grill, eat soups, fermented food, and it has to have flavor. Family time is important; Sunday is family day. I remember not even being able to leave the house because we were to spend that time together. Showing respect to someone older is important. You are suppose to speak when you enter. I’m rebelling against the always having to look sharp at the moment but my family is like if you can you should always look decent and keep yourself up in a presentable manner. It’s just so much the more I think about it. I’m sure a lot of other homes are similar too, and I think my family values or mostly universal. One thing that is different though is the alcohol. My mom and dad don’t play that and it’s not kept in the house. I’m sure they take a sip here and there based on the situation (e.g. a wedding).

ND: What is an ‘Ajeosshi’? Why have you adopted that designation? I’d like to call myself Sheikh (Arabic for wise man), but I don’t think I’m ready for it.



An ajeosshi is an older man in Korea. [Laughs] Even in the states I would be teased of having an old spirit or old man tendencies. At my second job these kids in first grade would say, Wow! Tall old man, because basically I’m taller than the average American and Korean, and I’m old enough to be their parent. Second, I had a group of fourth graders and I spoiled them by accident, but they called me Kidali Ajeosshi which is based off a story of an older man who helped this young girl whenever she was in need. My female fourth graders gave me that nickname and it’s one of my favorite movies. In English it’s Daddy Long Legs [laughs]. The fact that they knew I had long legs, but also that I was there to help them as a teacher and they could depend on me was very touching to me. So that nickname, to me, is an honor and I saw it as a sign of acknowledgement of how much effort I put in being a good example.

ND: Any places in particular you really want to visit? I feel like you would really enjoy Taiwan or Japan.

Growing up things on TV, movies, video games, pictures, books, and even manufacturing tags were motivators in what I wanted to see. I love watches and one of my favorite watches was made in Taiwan and I said I would like to go there one day. Wherever Eddie Murphy went in Golden Child the movie I said I wanted to go there. In Russia when I see those traditional buildings I get very excited and I say I want to go there. Thailand, India, Greece, Ireland/Scotland. The more I learn the more I want to see and do. Yeah, I think might be heading to Japan or Thailand soon to work. My company is global and instead of trying to find a new company I think I’ll stick with this one to get around. I’ve been watching Anime and Kung Fu movies so long that I might become emotionally overwhelmed going to Japan. It happened to me Hong Kong.

ND: What is your travel philosophy?

My travel philosophy … hmmmmm … what comes to my mind is Experiment by Experiencing. To me that means just go for it but be safe. When you experiment you have to be cautious but also push the boundaries to come out with something new and amazing. So let me change that to Experience by Experimenting!!

Check out Felipe’s video journal of his time in Korea