When I was younger, oh so much younger, a book by John Howard Griffin entitled “Black Like Me” was published in 1961. I read the book around the age of 13 and became dramatically impacted by the issues Mr. Griffin brought to light. I grew up in Texas and had no idea that racism existed, as I always went to school with many Hispanic children. I knew no difference until I started high school and became a part of the first racially integrated class at Arlington High School, as ASID desegregated in 1965. I bring this up as it was discussed yesterday in my interview with Minority Nomad also known as Erick Prince-Heaggans.
Erick and I met online, as we are both residents of Austin when we are not traveling and came across each other on Twitter. We decided to meet at Madam Mam’s on Anderson Lane and I soon discovered why. For reasons I will not go into (old age) I was approximately 45 minutes late and Erick thought it was funny. I was totally embarrassed. We ordered our lunch and I got down to the interview as agreed upon earlier.
Question #1 What made you start traveling?
“I have a project that is near to my heart and I needed to find a way to fund it. I want to inspire young Afro American Blacks, Latinos, LGBT community and other Diverse groups to travel and to let them know the world is a diverse and wonderful place. We as a country have about a 36% passport ratio, which lags substantially behind the rest of the world. I want to move this needle to at least 50% by the time I pass. I want us to shed the “Cul de Sac” mentality. I loved that quote and completely understand it”.
Question #2 Which country that you have visited did you like the most overall?
“Without a doubt its Thailand. It has such an acceptable approach to diversity and tourism. I was treated like a “Rock Star”!”
Question #3 What type of food, in a country you have visited, did you favor the most.
“Thai food is my favorite (okay now I know why we are at Madam Mam’s).”
Question #4 What country’s people that you have met, did you like the most?
“Swedish, Finnish and other Scandinavian populations if you want an educated discussion. If you are talking friendliest, that has to be the Balinese. They smile all the time and are genuinely happy to see you, do things for you and ensure you stay is a wonderful thing. If you are talking fun to be around (Code for Party Animals), the Brazilians are a blast and I could hang with them for a long time! If you are talking people you meet on the road it has to be the Canadians and Germans. They are frequent travelers and I constantly run into them on the road. Plus they are fun to be with. Rounding out the discussion he stated the Eastern European people of Poland, Budapest and Hungary are the most genuine and you always know where they stand even if you don’t agree with them.”
Question #5 What culture have you liked the most in a country you have visited?
“Thai for sure. They appreciate family, faith, diversity and most agendas I believe in.”
Question #6 If you were to do long term volunteer work which country would you go to?
“If it was for educational purposes, it would have to be central Africa. They do not have the “Oil” or “Tourism” industries to support their needs and are struggling more than other African countries. If it was more to help the people, I would have to say Liberia, as we have made this country a mess. Even though it is probably the most dangerous and yes I would be scared to go. It needs our help more than any other country at this time.”
Question #7 What is the funniest thing that has happened to you on the road?
“Well (stutter, as he wasn’t sure if he should share it) two of the gentlemen that went with us were crazy Aussi’s. VERY over the top and already three sheets to the wind. A quarter ways through the show three beautiful Thai women brought put a massage mat and asked for volunteers. The Aussi’s started goading me into volunteering and making fun of Americans. Being the person I am, I agreed. How bad could a massage be. Well once I got on stage the three women stripped me naked, stripe naked themselves, and proceeded to give me a naked massage in front of 150 people.”
Question #8 What is the worst thing that has happened to you on the road?
“Well it has to be getting arrested in Buenos Aires. I went to a bar with people I met where I was staying (2 Italians, 3 Brazilians and me). I only had one beer and paid for it when I arrived. The Italians drank heavily and walked their tab. The server brought me the tab and I said it was their bill not mine and he should have collected from them before he kicked them out for fighting with local Argentineans. The server then called the police. The police officer asked for my passport and I said I left it at the place I was staying, in a secure place. The officer told me I could be arrested and deported since I wasn’t carrying the passport as required. I told him that was not really a law. The officer said I was in deep trouble for trying to skip the bill and not having my passport. I had to spend the night in jail. The next morning the Captain, who spoke excellent English, listened to my story about the Italians and my passport. He laughed and told me I was lucky and he gave me a small fine and sent me on my way. Left a very bad taste in my mouth for Buenos Aires.”
Question #9 What is your least favorite country?
“No question it is Russia. I was denied entrance twice (my military history) and resorted to a dock entry at a port and got in serious trouble. They questioned me hard for about an hour and a half. Funny, I will tell you later, why I now have Russia on a good list also. By the way since my incident in Buenos Aires, Argentina is near the bottom also.”
Question #10 What is your least favorite food?
“Italian food in Buenos Aires. The cheeses have the consistency of gum!”
Question #11 How long will you travel?
“That’s easy. I will never stop!”
Question #12 What is the one item you cannot do without on the road?
“Have you read Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? As he states, a “Towel” is the most important item you can have. It has a myriad of uses. If you are talking electronics, its my camera. I love photography and try to shoot about half raw and half with minor editing. I am not a fan of “over-editing”.”
Question #13 Where has prejudice been the largest issue and how did you handle it?
“St. Petersburg Russia and Buenos Aires Argentina (endured for 30 days) are the two worst countries over and above any other.”
Question #14 What advice would you give minority or diverse travelers, if they are traveling?
“I would tell them to do their research and make sure it is the latest information available. Do you know that 76 countries have laws against gay couple associations and it is very illegal in them? In five countries (Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran) you can receive the death penalty.”
Question #15 What has been your favorite “Tour”?
“A walking tour in Warsaw, narrated by a fellow that worked at the hostel I was at. He was the event and social planner and knew the city literally backwards and forwards. Best of all it was free! I also took a tour on the Baltic Sea on a ferry from the St. Petersline over five days, that left a lifelong impression. It circled the Baltic sea, hitting all the Scandinavian countries, Russia and Poland. The ferries they use are frequented by dock workers and you find many workers in cabins on the boat. I had a couple of Russians, one on each side of my cabin and a Hungarian guy across from me. Over the next five days my impressions of the Russians grew worse each day.
One night the guy on the right of me starts pounding on my door at about 2:00 AM. He was very drunk and looking for his friend. He then kept apologizing, when he discovered his mistake. The next night his friend Igor starts knocking on my door late at night and had been drinking also. He gets apologetic also when I open the door, but he carries it a little farther. He starts touching my and his hearts and saying “America/Russia”! “America/Russia”! “Governments don’t like each other not us”! He gave me a huge hug that must have lasted two minutes or so. I almost was brought to tears by this and really then knew that all the people around the world are the same down deep!”
Question #16 What is your next “30-Day” adventure (He polls his subscribers with about 10 choices of what adventure to fulfill next)?
“I am learning to Ski in Chile (August), Muay Thai fighting in Thailand (October), Brazilian Jui Jistsu in Brazil (December), Crab Fishing in Alaska (January). That’s what my subscribers voted for. (Me-Are you crazy that’s absolutely the worst month to go?)”
Question #17 What is the country you would settle down in if you decide to stop traveling?
“Thailand (what a surprise!), as I love its culture, its people and its food. Now if I was on an unlimited budget, it would definitely be Japan. I can’t tell you how much I love Japan. (Really, I can tell you, as its probably my favorite also, just can’t afford it these days!).”
I learned that Erick is a very compassionate and intelligent man. He has his life’s agenda set. His desire to help the underprivileged and center city kids struck me very deeply, especially after my recent visit to Mexico and how I was impacted by the Homes of Hope project. I was so energized by Erick and his agendas and told him of my travel desires and my wish to help young children in Ecuador or wherever I may be. I must say this young man has his head on straight and I think he will serve the world very well, in his capacity as a mentor, for the impoverished of the world. I can’t begin to realize or understand the issues he has faced, as a Black American growing up in the projects of Cleveland Ohio. Safe Travels mi amigo and I hope you get to that 50% ratio soon!