As the tiny houses and vast greenery below me drew closer, my heart pounded rapidly. “What am I about to get myself into?” I thought.
There was no turning back now. My seven hour flight to London was ending and my plane was landing. It would be my first time ever on that side of the earth.
Last year, I made the decision to travel more. It bothered me that I had not done study abroad in college and I knew I couldn’t make up for missed opportunity. I did know I could prepare to make my travel goals real in the coming months.
At first I had my eyes set on Amsterdam and Rotterdam after I read a travel article about the cities in Ebony. Paris was on my mind; also Johannesburg. But that was even more expensive.
Then it dawned upon me that I had some cousins out in London on my mom’s side of the family. My mother is Jamaican-born and many Caribbeans relocated to the U.S., Canada and the UK when she was growing up. She put me in immediate contact with her first cousin who lived in London and I reached out to her via email.
After we exchanged a few messages she told me that I was welcomed to stay with her! She actually would be away as her job calls for her to travel often. So I had the “flat,” as they call it, to myself. What a blessing!!
Bow. So housing was free. All I had to pay for was my plane ticket. Thank God for my new jobs and my frugal spending habits these past few weeks, which put me in a position to pay for my trip. Plus knowing my passport would expire in four years motivated me to get some more stamps. I needed to make moves.
In March, I booked my flight. One of my best friends agreed to come with me, which made the nervousness of going somewhere new a little less poignant.
I decided to go on my 24th birthday to make the trip more memorable. So there I was in London on May 4, 2013, feeling anxious, tired, but warm and tingly about the week ahead. I told a friend of mine when I landed, I felt “like a little kid!”
While I was on “holiday” in the UK, many things intrigued me and I wanted to share them:
1. New York is Very Much Like London.
The first thing I noticed in London that made me feel at home was the diversity. I saw Black, White, Asian, everybody when I got off that plane. The biggest difference was of course the accents and everything yields left instead of right on the roads lol. Also London is a big city with an underground subway a.k.a “the tube,” and an overground train that goes to the outer parts of London. It was similar to the way the subway in New York connects everyone through the five boroughs. But NYC trains never stop running. London trains stop at 12 a.m. Your only options at that point are cabs and the night bus. I even saw the occasional druggie and crazy. Let’s not forget to mention all the chicken spots and Black beauty hair supply stores. As a born and raised New Yorker, I felt an immediate connection because of this.
2. U.S. Accents Are Intriguing
Many Americans find the British accent exotic. It’s the same the other way around. London people were automatically drawn to my friend and I because of it. Especially the people who had never been to the U.S. and only heard our accents on television.
3. Guys Wear American Sports Memorabilia “For Style”
While I was in the club Sunday night in Brixton, I noticed a guy standing next to me wearing an Oakland Raiders cap. I almost tapped him to ask about it but he was dancing and going into some song and I didn’t want to kill his vibe.
Later on my friend and I left the party and were waiting for her cousin to meet us outside. A guy walks pass donning a Brooklyn Nets cap. I stopped him.
“Excuse me, you from Brooklyn?” pointing at his cap.
“No,” he says. He wears it “for style.”
My friend and I told him that we’re from Brooklyn and wondering why we’re seeing so many guys out wearing American sports gear. The fly guy, who had on a hot black leather jacket I wanted to steal, admitted he doesn’t watch the NBA. After he took all of our inquiries, he finally hits us with one:
“Wait, What are YOU two doing out here?” That’s when we get to no.4.
4. Black People Travel But We Don’t Roll Deep
I’ll be honest, I’m pretty much accustomed to looking around and seeing very few minorities around the area I work and traveling is the same thing. My friend and I were pretty much the only Black people around the tourist attractions. When we were waiting on line for the London Eye there were no other Black people around, except for a few Black kids sprinkled in on school trips that day. When we were in the National Gallery, there weren’t other Black people in there either. In fact I caught a few older whites staring at us like we were the exhibits.
I say that to say Black Americans “touring” seems to be a rarity.
I can go into many reasons why I think this is but that’s a whole nother story, as they say.
5. Brixton’s History
I had dinner at this spot called Satay and partied at a club called Plan B while I was in Brixton. Brixton road = 125th st! No lie. The neighborhood has a heavy Black population historically. I also learned more about the Brixton riots of 1981, when youth battled police who were targeting them for stop and searches. We never stop hearing about tensions between law enforcement and young people in American cities. I found these parallels disturbing.
6. House Music Bangs Out There
The party at Plan B, was an experience. Part of me was just amazed to be in London turning up, but I had to snap out of it and embrace the moment. My friend went to to the DJ booth and had them shout out my name for my birthday so I was hype as if I never been to a club before. For the first few hours they played so much R&B from the 2000s. Dancehall and also a long mix of house music was also played. I wish I was sober enough to remember some of the songs I heard so I could bookmark them but alas I can’t recall. I honestly heard like 3 hip hop songs. And they came from Drake and Jay Z. Lol London is a huge follower of mainstream hip hop so perhaps that night the ratchet tunes weren’t played or maybe they don’t do that at parties. All in all it was fun.
7. Pounds Are A Set Up
American money is worth less than British money so when you exchange it you get back less pounds. ( I know, duh) But this is a set up though. Quite often if I saw something cost one pound or three pounds, I would not be hesitant to make my purchase but once you get to to 10 or 20 pounds you think it’s cheap but in actuality it’s not. I know this is common sense. But since I know most people don’t have it, I warn you to remind yourself that your American dollar is only .77 to the British. You do the math.
I’ve always associated red telephone booths with London. I pay alot of attention to aesthetics and architecture when I’m in a new place and this is one that I love.
I also got to walk over Tower Bridge and I love that it is accented with turquoise. These little things made my trip worth it.
9. My Love For London Talent Has Only Grown
I went to a Breakin’ Convention while I was out there. Breaking is a combination of break dancing and other modern dances that evolved in the UK. I never heard of it until I got there. But the performances at the convention were outstanding.
I also attended a spoken word event with mostly Black poets who were going in on consciousness, politics and love. I always knew that the Blacks in the diaspora faced similar issues and hearing it first hand was more impacting.
My love affair with UK and it’s talent has only made me more curious. I’ve been a huge fan of Sade and newer greats like Adele, Lianne La Havas and James Blake who all hail from there. But it was cool to see it up close in real life.
10. I Need to Bring Myself Right Back
I saw Buckington Palace, hung out in Angel, shopped on Oxford street and at Greenwich Market. But I was I only there a week. And it went so fast. In the near future I need to camp out for at least two months or so to be satisfied.
I’m grateful that God allowed me the opportunity to go across the pond for a little bit. I made some new friends and took over 300 pictures to help me remember my first trip.
This is only the beginning of so much more.
– Natelege Whaley
Watch Hearts Converse’s “TheQuestions” Episode 4:
Dating People Based On Where They’re From?