Connecting With My Authentic Self Through Travel
I’ve been thinking so much about travel lately. Not just because of the pandemic and the gnawing urgency to get back out into the world, but more so because of how my relationship with travel has shed light on my authentic self.
I’m biracial–half Greek and half Black–and my first big international trip was to Greece in 2015. The catalyst for that trip was a dream I had one night where my Greek grandfather and I were sharing a meal and he told me I needed to go to Greece on October 26. So I woke up the next day and started planning.
I arrived with my parents and boyfriend (now fiance!) in Athens on October 24 and I’ll never forget how spectacular that view was. The sun had just risen and the entire coast was golden–the warmest welcome.
We spent a couple of days seeing the sights in Athens before taking a high-speed ferry to Santorini where my mom and I rode donkeys through the neighborhood led by an older gentleman who spoke no English, so we didn’t speak much, but I can still hear the jingle of his mule’s harness. We rented ATVs and zipped around cliffside corners at dizzying speeds, the smell of saltwater forcing its way into our helmets. We sunk our toes into the black sands of Perissa and we sunk our teeth in fresh-out-of-the-sea octopus at restaurants in Oia. The entire trip was ethereal and sensuous, one of the most memorable experiences of my life thus far.
Growing up, my grandparents spoke a bit of Greek around the house, but it certainly wasn’t common to hear where I grew up in Central Florida. Being enveloped by the language in Greece, hearing it spoken by all walks of life, seeing the alphabet come alive on street signs and posters–that made it real. It made the culture tangible, something I could be immersed in.
We took that trip long after my grandparents had passed, so my memories of that vacation are oftentimes more vivid than the memories of my yiayia and papou. That trip, those memories–they keep me connected to that part of my culture in a way that I hadn’t previously understood.
The year 2020 was heartbreaking for so many reasons, most of all because the social unrest made me realize that I had been disconnected from my other half for far too long. I became grief stricken because I realized that I’d never experience the connection I felt in Greece with my Black side. I remember crying one night after spending hours on Ancestry.com only to hit a wall that took me as far back as North Carolina in 1870–census records from a farm where I believe my great great grandfather may have been a slave. Even 23andMe is only 30.8% sure of what part of Africa my family may be from.
I think I chose to travel to Greece because, in that moment, that was the culture that resonated with me most. I grew up never meeting my Black grandparents (they both passed long before I was born) and even as I continue to dig into my African roots, I still feel left with loose ends. But I’ll get to the motherland one of these days, and even though I don’t know where to start, I plan to keep exploring until I find a connection that feels like home.