A tale of two cities: Bruges and Ghent

In the 11th article in our “Inside View” series Madalena Pedro Miala recounts growing up in Belgium.

Not so very long ago a video of actor Jesse Williams surfaced on the net, in it he explains quite eloquently – as we’ve grown to be accustomed by now coming from him – why he, like many others, was not interested in (American) history growing up. The essence behind his explanation reminded me of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk about ‘The Danger of A Single Story’. At the risk of being accused of namedropping, I would in closing like to cite director Tim Reid, who in an interview given some time ago last year so rightly pointed to the fact that we are no longer living in a time in which only one narrative is relevant. We are now in fact dealing with a very mobile diaspora in which all voices and stories are very much deserving of a listener.

This long preface just to bring me to a a point we often discuss when talking about Black women living in Europe: racism. We often wonder whether one has experienced discrimination as a Black person living in Europe? Yes, I have. It ranges from petty behavior like always having to show my bus ticket when I step into the bus to more institutionalized forms of discrimination that I believe are part of the culprit that have kept me and many others stagnant in our career paths despite being fluent in numerous languages and possesing an array of much needed and employable skills. I am not going to focus on either one of those two stories, we have enough dichotomies going on in our worldview today. I’d rather share a more nuanced, humorous story that coincidently also consists of two parts, hence the title ‘A tale of two cities’.

Bruges

Madalen in 2nd grade in Bruges 300x214 A tale of two cities: Bruges and Ghent

Madalena in 2nd grade in Bruges.

Caspar* threw a puzzling look my way as we were going up the stairs after the break. He repeated this about two or three times. I braced myself mentally for what I was sure was about to ensue: the generic N-word was going to verbally be tossed my way. Imagine my surprise when instead Caspar asked me whether I was a fan of Cercle Brugge. I must’ve given a negative response because the next question he threw my way was why then, if I wasn’t a die hard fan of Cercle Brugge, did I decide to wear their scarf. That’s when my attention shifted to that thing around my neck. We had just moved to Bruges and despite having lived most of my life on the Northern hemisphere, even till this day I am not accustomed to the weather conditions and always prefer spring and summer over the colder months. So in all my haste to protect myself from the winter, I just threw something on without thinking too much about it. No, it had not occured to me that Caspar and most people living in Bruges preferred Club Brugge (the blue soccer team) as opposed to Cercle Brugge (the green soccer team).

Ghent

Madalena in my 3rd year in high school in Ghent 300x220 A tale of two cities: Bruges and Ghent

Madalena in 3rd year of high school in Ghent.

After a decade of living in Bruges, my mother decided it would be best for us to move eastward for a better chance at receiving permanent residence papers and pursuing our higher education. Seeing that me and my siblings are close in age and were all soon about to embark upon another journey in our lives, my mother saw this as most fit. Being an introvert – at the time I didn’t have a word for the way I was, I just knew I had a hard time opening up and making friends – made it hard for me to be happy about moving to another town and changing schools. In hindsight it was one of the best decisions my mother made for our lives, some of the friends I made in my new school are still in my life today. But at the time I didn’t see it that way. One particular accident that stands out to me till this day is about my first days at the new school. I had moved from a Catholic school in Bruges to a public school in Ghent, the system was more relaxed for lack of a better word. In my former school we had to stand in line prior to entering our respective classrooms, in my new school we were allowed to get up about five minutes before the bell rang. We would then all huddle to the door and stand there for another five minutes, just chatting away. I dreaded this time, especially since I was new…and had a foreign accent. I had a West-Flemish accent, which differs significantly from an East-Flemish accent, even after living for a decade in Ghent (that is in East Flanders) my West-Flemish accent persists (as I was told during a recent job interview with a fellow West-Flemish man). The difference can be compared to that between Americans from the south and those further up north. Each time I tried uttering a word, laughter would ensue. I understood that they weren’t making fun of me, but rather laughing at my accent but try telling that to an awkward, shy, introverted, sole teenage black girl in the entire class. Nowadays I can laugh about it, and it gives nuance to our perspective of discrimination. A comedic one at that, which we can all use this day in age.

Madalena 300x225 A tale of two cities: Bruges and Ghent

Madalena Pedro Miala is a 29 year old who has been living in Belgium for over a quarter century. Her parents first came to Belgium to work at the Embassy of Angola, the country from which she hails. Five years later they decided to return to Angola following the cease-fire. Three years later the war resumed and the family were forced to leave Angola for Belgium, this time as refugees seeking permanent residence. My father stayed in Angola and shortly after we got news from our family that he was deceased. She grew up with my a brother and three sisters to whom she remains close. Next summer she is set to graduate with a Master of Arts in African Studies from Ghent University. Her long term dream is to be fluent in several languages, write for a living and be a walking billboard that harbors the potential of the African continent.

 

On Becoming an Expat

In the 7th article in our new series exploring  views on Europe from women living elsewhere, academic and free thinker Cherise Charleswell explain why she is destined to become an expat.

I always had a great deal of curiosity about other cultures and people. One of my favorite and most prized Christmas gift was a globe that my mother gave me. I was so excited as I would spin the globe, close my eyes, and place my finger against it. Whenever the globe stopped, I would make a note of where my finger was located, and would rush off to do a little research about this place that I was “destined” to travel to.

Fast forward a number of years later, and I am realizing that my inquisitive nature, education and degree in cultural anthropology, love of geography, architecture, and nature, penchant for memorizing world history facts, fascination with current events world politics, and highly liberal, socialist, progressive socio-political views; is making it impossible for me to continue living in the United States. America has a sordid racial history, and it is far from being Post Racial. The election of President Barack Obama actually amplified and made this country’s deep seated racism more visible. Despite having a white mother, President Obama has been viewed and treated as “The Other”; and thus subjected to racial stereotypes, prejudice, threats, and unfair treatment.

In this supposedly Post Racial America, the world has bear witness to the unjust race-based murders of African Americans:

  • Oscar Grant
  • Trayvon Martin
  • Renisha Mc Bride
  • Rekia Boyd
  • Mike Brown
  • John Crawford

And this list unfortunately goes on-and-on……

And while we are on the topic of murder, let me state that I am truly disgusted and annoyed by the American gun culture, and reports of yet another school shooting. The basic problem with Gun Rights in this country is the constant and erroneous interpretation of the Second Amendment. The Concealed Carry laws are especially ridiculous. Apparently we need to make it easy and legal for men who have a need to prove their manhood (and possibly compensate for their diminutive penis) to carry weapons into bars, stores, and wherever they please.

Then there are the following (In no particular order):

  • Healthcare costs, premiums, and lack of a national universal healthcare system
  • Those Gun Nuts and Gun lobby (NRA)
  • Race-based industrial prison complex (Black girls have the highest rates of incarceration)
  • Skyrocketing tuition and student loans
  • Citizens United and the monied influence in American politics
  • The ineffective two-party system of government
  • The laughable bias, and horrible news media

Let me just stop here, as I really have too many points to mention.
Essentially, I know that I want to leave, but the problem is deciding — where to?

There seems to be so many factors involved in making this decision:

  • The possible language barrier and having to learn a new one fast!
  • Race relations
  • Cost of living
  • Job opportunities
  • And of course frivolous things — like how easy will it be for me to find hair products for my natural afro-textured kinky-curly hair, or will I be able to find restaurants and markets that have vegetarian food options?

I have told myself that I have to write a formal Exit Strategy and begin the initial steps towards emigration. When I travel abroad, I try to engage the locals as much as possible to learn more about their country or city. It is as if I am taking mental notes, and sometimes I actually take physical notes. I do the same when I frequent social media groups, blogs, and websites for expats or those who share my love of travel.

This commitment to research certainly pays off. By the time that I travel to a foreign city, I already know what to expect, how I may be received, what I should see and experience, what I should avoid, what are the tourist traps, and of course what foods I should sample; as well as that the men in that city may be like (apparently some things are not a myth or a stereotype).

After stepping off of the plane for a long layover in Rome, I was immediately approached by a gentleman as soon as I entered the terminal. Despite his very limited English, he began to try to make conversation, started trailing me, and began exclaiming bellissima! Before visiting Athens, my Greek friends felt the need to warn me about the great deal of attention that I would get from Greek men, and they were correct! I was approached on numerous occasions or just was stared at. Men would turn completely around while dining at cafes, as I walked by, and some would slow their vehicles to gaze. However, not once did I experience what is known as street harassment. The men were not vulgar, and those who approached me, did so in a respectful manner, inquiring about my name, where I was from, would I accept a drink, would I like to join them at their table, how long would I be staying, and so on. One overzealous and quite handsome restaurant owner on the Greek island of Santorini, provided me with a complimentary meal and a number of drinks. It was unfortunately my last night on the island, and I had plans to meet up with a friend at a nightclub.

While awaiting an outgoing flight on Liat airlines at St Maarten’s Princess Juliana International airport, I struck up a conversation with a pair of Dutch men who were on an extended holiday, and were visiting numerous Caribbean islands. They were witty, funny, and flirtatious, and shared information with me about The Netherlands having large expat communities. Thus, they peaked my current interest in visiting The Netherlands, a nation where many of the residents enjoy a favorable or high standard of living and this includes the fact that crime is so low that the country has been closing prisons .

There have been other trips, experiences, and conversations that have renewed my desire to emigrate. I will continue to travel as I work out my strategic Exit Plan, and of course, I welcome any tips along the way!

Cherise Charelswell 200x300 On Becoming an Expat

Cherise Charleswell is a self-proclaimed Wombanist and reluctant “academic”, who is also a self -and- internationally published author and writer, activist scholar, radio show host and producer, as well as a model; who openly and actively pursues these various interests and endeavors due to her refusal to be placed “in a box” or limited by societal labels. She is a Biocultural anthropologist and public health practitioner. Cherise is of West Indian descent, with heritage from numerous Caribbean islands, such as St Thomas, St John, Puerto Rico, Tortola, St Kitts, and Anguilla. She is the host of Wombanist Views, a radio program that focuses on women of color, and is currently working on the book projects: The Link Between Food, Culture, & Health Inequities in the African Diaspora” and “Walking in the Feminine: A Stepping into Our Shoes Anthology”.

 

8th Annual summer school on Black Europe

Now accepting applications for Black Europe Summer School Program 2015

June 22 – July 3, 2015, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

black europe copy 8th Annual summer school on Black Europe

Now in its 8th year, the overall goal of this intensive two-week course is to examine the contemporary circumstances of the African Diaspora in Europe. We will focus on the historical and colonial legacies of European countries to discuss the origins of Black Europe and investigate the impact of these legacies on policies and legislation today.

This course addresses the dimensions of race and ethnic relations that are unique to Europe; examining the ways in which conceptions of the “other” are institutionalized and reproduced; the rise of xenophobia in various EU countries; issues such as global racisms, everyday racism, and epistemic racism; the legal definitions and discourse surrounding the conceptualized “other”; and examining the ways in which each country has dealt with issues of race and national identity. Issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality are central analytics, and scholars from the social sciences and humanities and NGOs working against racism and xenophobia in Europe are encouraged to apply.

Applications due February 1, 2015.

Visit our website for more information.

Visit us on Facebook.

Email anytime with further inquiries:

blackeurope@dialogoglobal.com

In her own words: Tina Turner on life in Switerland and selling Swisscom services

Hat tip on Swisscomm commercial: Lorraine Spencer via For Harriet

Discover why Tina Turner turned down her US citizenship and became Swiss. What’s discretion, privacy and the iO communication app got to do with it? Please find out, share and comment.
Exclusive: the yodel version of “Simply The Best” ringtone on iO.

Follow Mrs. Tina Turner-Bach’s blog.

Catch the last of UK Black History Month

Source: Official Black History Month 2014 website.

LONDON  HIGHTLIGHTS

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30th September – 25th October 2014

Rachel – Finborough Theatre

Rediscovered by Finborough Theatre Artistic Director Neil McPherson, Rachel is a genuinely lost landmark of American theatre – the first play by an African American woman ever produced professionally. Directed by exciting young director Ola Ince, as part of Black History Month, the European premiere of Rachel opens at the multi award-winning Finborough Theatre for a four week limited season.

 

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HOLY AND HORNY Written and Performed by Tonya Joy Bolton

London and Nationwide throughout October

 

 

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