Notes on Travel and The Problem with Extremes

Whether a writer is going clubbing in a heaving mega-city or traversing some faraway mountain paradise, they’ll write best by respecting the place and the people in it…  Elliot Ross, “Africa is a Country”

I recently had a wonderful phone call with a stock photo agency based out of Lagos, Nigeria, where we talked about collaborating to show a different side of Africa through more vibrant, true-to-life images. In essence, we were talking about reclaiming and taking back the skewed visual narrative that Western media has propagated for years.

During our call, my contact on the other end shared their frustration about the tiring images we continually see. You know, the ones of starvation, pestilence, war, and instability which also happens everywhere else in the world, yet is always the first framing story run from our continent even in 2017.

Their goal is to continue creating a vast library of stock images that showcases trendier lifestyles, modern settings, panoramic landscapes, and daily situations so drastically different from the negative extreme. To focus more on the positives to help balance and tip the scale.

Even if your knowledge is limited to CNN’s African Voices which spotlights trendsetters and subcultures within travel, fashion, art, music, technology and architecture, you already know that the entire continent is rich beyond measure and I’m not here to convince you. Do your homework.

So their cause is one I’m 100% here for.

Buying ankara at the market in Lagos Nigeria

While I completely agreed with them and do share their sentiments, I also brought up the dangers of extremes. My contact took a step back, listened and agreed.

Because the need to overcompensate by showing and subconsciously focusing on affluence and privilege leaves an equally important part widely open and vulnerable:

The everyday middle.

While ignoring the middle has always been the bane of politics, this got me thinking deeply about the space in which I exist both for pleasure and for pay: Travel

The problem with extremes is that they miss the everyday folk and real space where most people subsist. And more serendipitous moments tend to occur when we move through this dimension.

It’s no secret that the “best” travel literature has been missing strong black and other voices of colour for centuries. That’s why I loved this piece published in The Guardian called ‘Let’s get more travel stories on Africa by Africans‘ introducing writers and photographers who are making their voices heard through work beyond self. That’s also why I love the idea behind @EverydayAfrica.

The Ankara fabric seller in the market is equally as important as the hottest fashion designer who sources her material. Traditional palm wine now fancified on rocks we sip in upscale lounges in Lagos should also inspire a farm-to-table curiosity about the palm wine tapper. Both the fabric seller in the market and palm wine tapper could be living lives filled with absolute contentment and happiness. Their stories deserve to be shared too as part of changing the narrative.

As we’re all actively working to shift perceptions on all levels and from all angles, trying to create work that stands the test of time for future generations beyond our own, we need to realize that some of the best travel narratives usually come to life by exploring that space between both extremes. That spending more time defending the way we choose to travel to others takes time away from telling deeper stories we can pass on from generation to generation as legacies.

That we could be the ones chipping away at that deficit of travel literature by voices of colour that we still desperately lack and that the next generation can look upon with pride.

And equally important is the respect we also need to give each other as we’re traveling along different paths via various modes of transportation towards the same goal:

Changing the overarching narrative.