Monday, June 9, 2008

Searching For My Sister

This video by Blackgirl on Mars (aka Lesley in Copenhagen) kinda made me tear up.

Well as you might have guessed there are not a lot of black people here in Slovenia. That said, every time I go to Ljubljana I do see at least one. I walk by, smile, and say hello, hoping one of them might stop me for a friendly chat, being too shy to do so myself. So far, no luck. Unlike in America where I feel more confident that I can start gabbing away in English and the person will most likely understand, I always hold back for fear of possibly being presumptuous with someone who might not speak English or might not speak it well, someone who might be actually Slovene, someone who might not really feel connected to me. I wonder if they think the same of me. Somehow the connections are never made.

Anyway, the other day as I was on the bus, we pulled up to a stop and I saw a tall thin and annoyed-looking African girl waiting there. I instantly got excited realizing that, up til now, nearly all the black people I've seen have been men. All of a sudden, this seemed to be a chance for a real black girlfriend here: someone to exchange hair care tips and funny stories with; someone who would understand some of my frustrations; someone who could share shipping on a box full of cosmetics for dark skin; someone for laughter and tears and support. A sister...

I was in the very first seat on the bus, unmissable, and I readied myself to smile and greet. She quickly climbed on and breezed straight past me without even a glance. As we rolled down Slovenska cesta, I kept looking back through the crowd of people hoping to spot her and catch her eye; visions of our forthcoming friendship danced in my head. As the bus neared my stop I stood up and walked towards the exit and stood right next to her, staring at her, waiting for her to turn her head. With a steely steadfastness, she simply continued to stare straight ahead with the same bothered look on her face, and as we descended the steps and headed our different I sort of got a little choked up about the possible missed opportunity....

So I was thrilled this week, on the final day of my Slovenian language course (week long intensive, more on that later) to read the story of a friendly-looking black woman (from England) who also lives here in Slovenia. Someone whose family also comes from Ghana and also does similar work to me. She also came here to be with her Slovenian partner; the coincidences are too great! As soon as I got home, I looked her up. I am now in the process of contacting her, and (without putting too much pressure on the situation) I am hoping she writes back.


Tina. said...

*crosses fingers* Hope you get a reply soon. <3

Anonymous said...

Hey, I really hope the contact works out for you.

I have had very similar experiences with black people (esp. women) in Germany (outside of places with a large military presence). I have had American or black British women run up to me on the street to start a conversation while almost all non-American/UK black women (ok, maybe it's been mostly African women?!?!?) will visibly avoid eye contact at all cost it seems.

I have gotten used to that now, but it used to be really disconcerting in the beginning.

Blackgirl On Mars said...

Your words reveal an uncomfortable truth about the lives we have chosen to live.
Thanks for your honesty & I'm really stoked that you liked my video enough to post it on your blog.
Stay strong,
the lab

Danielle said...

I had the same experience when I visited Europe. Most American/UK Black women would chat us up and we'd have a grand ole time.

Anyone not falling into those groups consciously ignored us. I use the word "conscious" because that's what it was.

They knew we were there and yet chose to dismiss us. It's sad as hell. I hope this works out for you because I can't imagine how hard it is.

m said...

just gonna throw out a few thoughts, do what you will with them.

maybe some people just want to be out in the world doing their thing and don't find it comfortable being approached based on the color of their skin.

maybe that sounds strange, but perhaps it's true. skin color does not necessarily mean any other kind of similarity. you've got all kinds of identities within yourself, i've found that people will look at me and choose to address only certain ones - the obvious ones : race, sex, age.

there was an interesting discussion on the blog "Angry Black Woman" about catcalling, and there were a lot of strong feelings from women about being looked at and being reduced to only one aspect of our being: being a women (of course catcalling can include a derogatory element, but some posters just felt simply disappointed and upset at not being seen as a human being first-however utopian that might be, it does affect how you respond to the situation.)

i feel like in the states and perhaps in the UK as well (im not as familiar) things are put through a very strong racial lens. i've learned that people will often make assumptions about me because of the color of my skin-assume i speak a certain way, share specific interests, have a similar outlook on the world, or even identify myself a particular way. we are used to being angry when people who are not of color do this, but we don't maybe check ourselves when we do this to each other.

as a woman of color that has made me uncomfortable - as a person that can make me uncomfortable. interestingly i have had women friends of color from other nations where they are NOT the minority who felt uncomfortable or could not relate to african americans.

these are bits and pieces of what comes to mind when i read this post and the comments. nothing i said is a 100% true for everyone obviously.

Camille Acey said...

@caratime2 - Thanks. I am OK if it doesn't as you can see I have a growing group of friends from all over the world. In fact, I think my friends are more culturally diverse than they were back in NYC!

@blackgirlonmars - thanks for reading my post. i sometimes get misty-eyed about the little community we black girls in strange worlds have created for ourselves here on the internet. some days y'all are a TOTAL life line for me. big hugs from slovenia!

@danielle - thanks for your support.

@m - in an ideal world we'd all be just out there "doing our thing" but until that day comes most of us want and need a little support. my best friend here is from colombia and i am certain that she came up to me on the street to talk to me because she saw my black face. a different face in this community of so many "sames". if she saw me walking down the streets of bogota she would not bat an eye but the context and the time made all the difference in the world. while i am certain there are many differences between me and the girl that breezed past me in the bus, i think that the entry point of simply being black and female in slovenia would open up a myriad of other similarities, and frankly as anyone who has known me more than ten minutes will note, i am not interested in having friends who are simply carbon copies of me, not at all. one of me is enough, but sad but true we live in a cruel visual world and an entry point is an entry point, whether it be complexion or shared sense of style or shared sense in reading material. in these somewhat "desperate times" i'm looking for those life lines. thanks for reading.

m said...

I hope you didnt take offense Camille, I was a woman of color living abroad as well (and I am sure I will be again)-I lived in the Czech Republic for a year and a half and also had friends from all over the world including African and African American.

I only meant to offer a different point of view. No one else was doing that. It was meant as an offering of an idea about WHY what happened to you happened to you. period. Other posters mentioned the same thing happening to them, and I just wanted to join the dialogue with some ideas.

As I mentioned in my post, some may have utopian ideas about how they want to move in the world - and although those ideas might not be possible - it does affect how they handle situations, and how they perceive things.

I really enjoy reading your blog, (it's one of the few i check in on every day) and I didn't mean to imply you did something unacceptable or that I even disagreed or couldn't understand why you wanted to speak to the woman on the bus-hell I have been in the same situation enough times! But I was wondering "out loud" about what was going on in her head? how was she thinking about the situation? why didn't she feel the need for *your* support or company? why did the other posters encounter similar situations?

What I put out there could be entirely wrong, but i only wanted to come at it from a different angle. I hope this topic continues, because it's something I don't get to talk about to often (as demonstrated by my pieced-together ideas in the posts).

anyway-thanks for sharing your experiences.

Camille Acey said...

@m - no need for apologies! thank you for reading and thank you for sharing, please stick around! :)

BlackGirl said...

Ooof. I've been there. Sharing skin color is no guarantee of a connection. At best, it's a useful starting point. But then I've gone on to discover that I have little in common with the other individual, and will not be renewing the contact, or make it limited. I was uncomfortable at first with it, but I had to get to the point where I felt "okay" not wanting to befriend every black person I meet in Prague. These days I keep it to a smile and a "hello". If there's an interest we take it further. Our world is bigger than the color of our skin. Like you, I have more diverse friends than I ever did in NYC. It would not be possible if I only limited myself to those who look like me. Good luck with the potential new friendship. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't think the issue is becoming lifelong friends based on skin color. And I have no problem if someone who happens to also be black just chooses to go about their business in public without acknowledging me. It's just that little smile or nod that I realized I sometimes missed. And the very marked and conscious effort to look through me as though I weren't really there which I found disconcerting.

I agree with the diversity aspect, though. I'm not in Europe to voluntarily ghettoize myself (in the original sense of the word), just like I didn't strive to do that in the States.

Good people are good people. All over the world.