Once, I ran into a friend from highschool in South Thailand, and as we contemplated how far we'd come, we took a moment to think about how we've looked along the way.
Originally written March 8, 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand.
I'm a black nomad, and I follow a lot of black nomads on social media because I like to see y'all out there! I was told explicitly as a child that travel was just not something “people” did, that it was out of reach, impossible.
And fuck, half the time people don't even want black people traveling.
Even as a teenager at my “diverse” (read: bullshit, racist, classist, unacademic, take your pick) private high school, at which many international school trips were offered throughout the year, I wasn't even given the trip prospectus for a single one even though I asked for every one. Not once. In three years. The administration didn't even think my wish to travel was worth the paper the explanation was printed on.
But back then, every time I put my name on a list for info on some trip I thought, “maybe I can figure it out, get another job, save up and go next year.” I was so desperate I may have done it had they ever bothered to let me try.
Well, I'm in Bangkok right now, so everyone can miss me with that shit these days. Fuck, I've been in Asia for weeks. And I've been all over the goddamned place.
But even as adults it can seem that way for some: unquestioningly impossible. Even Ta-Nehisi Coates mused in his book Between the World and Me that travel wasn't even something he had considered as an option until he was already in his thirties, and I know a lot of black people that have had the exact same experience.
So yeah. I love seeing y'all out there. I love your blogs, your Facebooks, your Instagrams; I fill my feeds with black nomads—particularly women—because it inspires me to remember that I am allowed to do what I love to do. But. I've noticed a surprising...trend, if you will, particularly of black female nomads on Instagram.
They seem to only populate the world's beaches, adorned in envy-inducing bikinis with flawless hair, and bodies so perfect you think they might be photoshopped. Now, to be clear, I have a somewhat Instagram-worthy bikini myself; it's a gold lamé retro-looking strapless number with a sweetheart cut top with a black high-waisted bottom, and just recently I've perched myself on beaches in Myanmar and Thailand in that bikini. I love the beach! But my pushing-forty-body bears no resemblance to the women I see on the internet, and, quite frankly, I like other stuff too that isn't a spa in Bali or seemingly every infinity pool in the entire world (why are black nomads on Instagram obsessed with infinity pools?)
The other day I went to a waterfall in south Thailand with my friend Taiko. We met up in Khao Lak on the Andaman Sea after she had spent a few days on a diving trip, and on our last day, she offered to rent a motorbike, which I am terrified to drive. In Thailand, she told me, they even have a nickname for the scrapes people get when they lay down their rented bikes: it's called “tourist rash”, and it's the last thing I want.
“There are temples around,” she told me, “and a national park,” and so, swaying to her two years experience of motorbiking on the left side of the road from her time spent living in Chiang Mai, I relented, and soon we were climbing into the forested mountains above Phang Nga.
We arrived at a trailhead, and pay the small fee for the hiking trail, and once down it found ourselves at a narrow clearing, and a rushing, white waterfall tumbling over a slanted rock face. It was beautiful! And when I had calmed from being awestruck enough to follow Taiko over to the foot of the waterfall, I saw she had already removed her clothes and was perched in the cascade in her green and white floral halter bikini. And she looked so beautiful sitting there! So, as I oft do, I took out my iPhone and snapped her photo, making sure to get a few so I'd end up with one that was just right.
She knew me back in high school, though she went to a public school across town. Back then we didn't know how we were going to get out, but we were determined, and I spent a lot of time in Khao Lak thinking about us as teenagers, our rain-soaked bellbottoms, our Trager backpacks, and our non-white faces and bodies and minds that refused to believe that we'd be relegated to our hometown forever.
When we had left that morning, my suit was still damp from beaching it the day before, so beneath my shorts and t-shirt I wore my standard fare of black cotton panties and a black bra, but I took off my clothes anyway, and sat beneath the waterfall, too.
Taiko rushed over to the bank yelling back that she was going to get my picture on my phone, and asking what the password was. I told her, she snapped a few photos, and soon I too returned to the bank to dry off.
Later that night, with my phone back on WiFi, I scrolled through all the photos we took that day, but when I got to the ones she took of me at Tonprai Waterfall I...took pause.
My idea was to post both of our waterfall pictures on Instagram, cobbled into one frame, but when I looked at the photos of me I couldn't imagine them being on the internet. Why? Because my hair is wet and limp, and you can see the rolls in my stomach when my knees are pulled up, and my hands look too big, and I don't have some perfect bikini on, in fact, I'm not wearing a bikini at all. “Who wants to see all of this?” I thought, and then, I realized exactly who wants to see that.
I want to see all of you black nomads. I want to see all of your rolls when you're standing in a waterfall. I want to see you with your hair all frizzy from wearing a helmet for hours riding on a motorbike through a forest in Thailand. I want to see you in jeans and t-shirts. I want to see you when your skin is all broken out because you ran out of the face wash you brought from home and the only ones you can find all have whitening agents in them (and I want to see you refuse to lighten your skin for anyone.)
I want to see all your weird tan lines and mosquito bites and your heels all crusty from climbing mountains. I want to see the crazy faces you make when you see something amazing, maybe something you never thought you'd see. I want to see you with food on your face and dirt on your clothes, I want to see you sweaty and tired from carrying your travelpack miles from the train station, I want to see you jet-lagged and hungry and travel-weary and I want to see that look of disappointment we all get on our faces when our flight is canceled on yours. And you know what? I want to see you in your Instagramable bikini's too—because y'all look like y'all are living your best lives, and don't we all want that?
If you would have told me when I was 17 that I would go to Thailand one day I would have cried, yet here I am, very much in Thailand, and I was hanging out with Taiko no less, and there I was spending that time, even if it was only a minute, worrying about how I look on the internet?
So. I posted that picture on Instagram.
And, not that anyone is listening, but I encourage all of you to post “that” picture on Instagram because we are fucking out here, and I for one am not going away. I plan to walk this goddamned earth until the day I die, swollen ankles and all, regardless of what they told me, and I want to see you do it, too.
No matter what it looks like.