It was DC on election night and I moved my flight back a day out of fear of being on a plane, an environment I’m unable to control, with a gaggle of racists when CNN, BBC, or whoever British Airways had on their entertainment channels, announced America’s new President-Elect. It’s autumn, and going from South Africa in their Spring to Los Angeles in their fall warmness, then to DC in the briskness was a shock to my system. Food and drinks and laughs and a friend and familiar face was an immediate necessity.
With all my travels, it’s been a while since I’d seen Victoria, so I called her and offered her an escape from the “Race to the White House.” She suggested we meet a small bar on 8th St. SE and grab a drink and maybe some hummus and chips. Aside from the rat we watched run through the restaurant, unsure of what exactly to say when leaving a Yelp review, we had a great time catching up.
“How’s your traveling going,” she asked. “It’s cool. I have a flight tomorrow night back to South Africa,” I responded, and an idea was born from one of our mouths. Maybe mine. then this interview was born:
V: Why did you decide to leave the country? Did it have anything to do with the current state of America?
D: It was a complete shock to me, really. It was never on my “go there soon” list of place because of all the negative feedback I’ve received over the years, but after being invited to screen my film, Seeking Asylum, in the Rapid Lion Film Festival, and seeing the people and the city, I fell in love. I’ve never felt so welcomed, so accepted, not even in my own home. It was beautiful. Being in South Africa after fighting in Ferguson and Baltimore and Los Angeles and New York and Charlottesville, and screening a film about leaving America because of police brutality against Black folks, I was determined to stay or return after grabbing a few clothes back in Los Angeles.
What we ate: Spicy Hummus, Pita Chips.
V: How are race relations in Johannesburg as you see them? With Apartheid “ending” just 22 years ago, what is the atmosphere like?
D: Wow. There are times when I feel heavy. Maybe because I’ve gone into the one of the townships to visit friends and I see the residue of that evil system of oppression. Maybe because I feel some kind of survivor’s remorse. Then there are times when I find myself engaged in heavy, unexpected conversations about how to take the country back, or Donald Trump and America, and these conversations last hours. There’s racism here for sure, after all, South Africa has plenty of leftover oppressors and their children, but there is still a spirit of real change and revolution.
In the speakers: Perfume Genius, John Legend, James Vincent McMorrow, Fort Frances.
V: What made you decide to buy a house as opposed to other accommodations?
D: My admiration of all the amazing artists who left America’s tyranny behind and took up space in other countries. I want to produce more and more of those people. Those James Baldwins and those Nina Simones. If I own the place, I can invite them in and help them create in a safe space. I bought it because I truly wanted a safe space for me and my folks. All my folks. I’m working on creating an artist residency before the new year, and gonna be looking for artists soon to come into my space.
V: How do your family and friends, especially your son, handle your constant traveling? Has he traveled abroad with you yet?
D: My mom used to call me every day and ask what country I was in. They love the stories and the bragging rights and the thought of one day coming along. Because I travel so much, my son has seen more of the US than most of his family. We talk often about the countries I visit, and I told him to pick a place he wants to go, but he hasn’t yet. He’s too focused on becoming a computer coder. One day though.
V: How’s your love life on the road? Does it ever get lonely?
D: Can I decline to answer this question?
V: (laughs) No.
D: It does get lonely every super moon. There’s someone I miss a lot and wish I talked to more, but distractions are the best way to keep the loneliness away. My love life on the road is non existent, but my social life is flourishing, meeting amazing people all over the place, making each place I visit more and more like home.
The Bartender in the neighboring dining room turns on the news at the request of a patron and people crowd the room to get updates of the race. Victoria and I kept talking.
V: Right now, where is your favorite place?
D: South Africa by far. I’m a vibe person. If the vibe of the city matches my vibe, I’m with it. There’s a revolutionary vibe here that i have yet to find in any other country. There’s a vibe here that suggests everything is possible. Every opportunity you can imagine can open for me if I want it. It’s here. I also love Montreal, Marrakech, and Amsterdam.
V: I know you were doing a lot of traveling before it became a trend. What do you think caused the tremendous growth in Black travels abroad?
D: Another question I’d rather not answer. But to be honest, after reading folks blogs, and listening to their stories about their trips, I think a lot of folks are doing it because it’s trendy. It gets them a lot of likes on social media. But a small group of folks I know, like Kent Johnson and Eric Martin over at Black & Abroad, my dope ass friends, Tiffany Malone, Che Johnson, Sanura Williams, and Apuje Kalu, and a few others do it because they want to explore what’s beyond the walls, beyond the stop sign, and bring those stories home to the people.
V: How has Passport Required helped other aspiring travelers reach their destination?
D: It’s funny. What I’m discovering about Passport Required is that it’s less about the destination and more about learning who we are as people in the world, and who we are to ourselves. In the last year, we’ve seen over 13 countries on our secret trips, and each trip has been absolutely fucking amazing. But each time, folks come to me and say things like “I didn’t know I’d be able to give up that much control over my life. I’m glad I did.” That feels good.
For my birthday last year, Victoria was part of a 8 person traveling team in Dubai. That was the beginning of Passport Required.
V: You’ve had some recent medical issues. Has that slowed you down?
D: I’m hardheaded. I’m prone to getting blood clots which can come from traveling too much because of all the sitting and altitude and foolishness. This past year has been the worst in dealing with them, and I’ve been hospitalized five times, each time having just come from a trip or about to go on one. The doctors asked me to chill, and my mother too, but it’s hard. Exploration is me. It’s hard. I once told the doctor I’d rather die on a trip that sit still, and I think I meant it. I did miss one trip to Hong Kong because of it.
V: What’s your advice to those who want to travel, but money is the biggest issue?
D: All the time I tell people I’m the brokest person I know. I don’t say it to be funny. I say it because it’s true. There are a million destinations that will fit almost any small budget. The problem is people want to be Tourists, not Travelers. Tourists go for luxury, Travelers go for the experience. Experience hostels, couch surfing, street meat, and anything else that will cut down on costs! I’m no stranger to hard floors, bus depots, airport terminals when it’s time to lay my head down.
V: Do you ever feel the strong sensation to go “home,” or is home wherever you make it?
D: Home is wherever a plate if fixed for me. Wherever my wifi connects. Wherever I find myself in moments of pure joy.
V: How do you live so carefree? Most people want to, but can’t for whatever reason. Most of us, though, call it “adulting.” Do you get a lot of criticism for it?
D: Listen, I don’t know who told the children they had to give up happiness to become adults, but they never told me. Everything I’ve done has been because it brings happiness. I read something once written by a hospice nurse about the regrets she hears often from her patients. “I wish I lived the life i wanted to live,” many of them said. No one can convince me that adulting is tolerating a life I don’t truly want. No. I just want to be happy. It’s not carefree, but it was free. I just want to always be free and me. I get criticized all the time, but it’s always by those who want me to join their misery. I can’t joint them, I’m busy.
V: Are you happy right now?
Trump was in the lead, and Victoria had a long workday ahead and it was after midnight. We laughed, walked a few blocks through the brisk, and said our see-you-later’s. Trump won a few hours later, and she texts, “I understand why you left.”
Interview Conducted by Victoria Gaines.
Darnell Lamont Walker, a self-professed traveling foodie, has been found sitting at tables eating baby goat sweetbreads, drinking tequila, and laughing loudly with strangers. The writer, filmmaker, artist, and sometimes photographer puts happiness above all.