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‘In Russia, we were mistaken for African Royal family’

Memorable destinations

One of my best trips is Gibraltar. We got there by boat cruise. Gibraltar is so serene, the seaport so amazing. It was beautiful. I have never seen such, clear, quiet, beautiful water. I saw the famous Rock of Gibraltar. If I have to go and visit a country again, Gibraltar it has to be. If you have money and you are old, it is one of the best places on earth to retire––clean air, quiet lifestyle, beautiful houses. It seemed like a place out of Enid Blyton’s storybook.

Russia was another place that intrigued me. At St Petersburg, we found the people pretty friendly, contrary to popular stories. My family was clad in Afrocentric outfits. When they saw the children, my husband and I, they were excited. Oh, he must be a prince. Look at his children, so lovely! Not satisfied with their speculations, a few asked my husband if he was an African prince.

In Germany, my husband, the kids and I walked into a bar dressed in our African regalia and we became the cynosure of attention. I looked around and discovered we were the only blacks, the Germans stared so intensely I became uncomfortable. A man walked up to us and said, “You people have so much colour. You are very beautiful.”

Another place I found hard to forget is Finland––beautiful country, down-to-earth people. I have been to 25 countries in Europe, and I have soft spots for Scandinavian countries. 

Culture shock

I lived in Venezuela for eight months and attended a Spanish language school. Venezuelans are of two types, aborigines and those of Spanish descents. The aborigines, mostly taxi drivers and nannies, were very humble and nice. They had no bias against other people. Not so Venezuelans of European descent. I walked into a store and someone said something like Timar. I asked my Spanish-speaking sibling what that meant and she said Sis, she said we are female thieves! Though I had a grasp of what she said, I was a bit confusing. I went into a store with my money, why would the shop attendant call me a thief? I went to the counter and they covered their noses. We entered the bus and they did the same thing, even when I tried to buy ice cream. They made me feel uncomfortable. Venezuelans of Spanish descent thought every black person smells. I have heard people talked about being victims of racial slur. In Venezuela, I knew how it felt to be the victim. The aborigines were nice, so nice one of them was instrumental to my learning how to dance salsa and meringue.

Lowest moment

At Detroit airport, I was called aside, and questioned about my children––how come they are American while you are not, blah, blah, blah. They kept pressing me until I became a bit aggressive. In the midst of questioning, a lady said:

“Be careful the way you talk back to us! You think you have the right? We may decide to take these children from you. They are American citizens. They can stay here, but you would be sent back.” I had never felt so threatened in my life. At that point, I became humble.

Monuments

The one that intrigued me most is the Blood Church, also known as The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, one of the main Russian Orthodox cathedrals of St. Petersburg. The structure was very intriguing. The second is Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also called the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey. It was beautiful.

Dream destination

Egypt, to see the pyramids. I have never been there.

Travel advice

One: get your documentation right. Two: plan your destination to include historic places you would love to see. Three: instead of doing transit, plan your trip in such a way that within the transit you can spend two or three days, call upon a friend you know in the city, sleepover, visit a historical place and then take off again. 

Four: dress well. Appearance matters. Five: travel light. Nigerians love to carry a lot of luggage––I am guilty too! Over time, I studied the Europeans and learnt from them the art of travelling light. Have a credit or debit card. Have adequate amount of cash, in case you are stranded. Travel with only the appropriate things. Travel like you know when you are returning, you would have bought things that ordinarily you would have gone out to shop for. I could travel with three pair of jeans and six Afrocentric tops and two lovely Nigerian dresses in case of occasions where I’d love to come out regal. 

The art of holiday travel

If really you are on a holiday trip, go to places with historical sites, music and art. Most of my travels were by boat cruise.  When you compare the cost of travelling through countries by flight to a boat cruise, the latter is more affordable. In the boat, your accommodation is the cabin you paid for. In the course of the cruise, you pay for tours. At places where the boat berths, you will get offshore. Once on land, there are tour buses that pick tourists to places. So when the ship berths to get supplies of food and fuel and to clean up, you have your opportunity to do the tourist stuff. You would have been given a slip indicating the route of the cruise, through the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, and the countries along its path. I had used such opportunities to visit countries like Italy, Greece and Gibraltar.

Essential travelling tools

My phone, iPad and toiletry bag.

Foreign language advantage

I speak a bit of Spanish. It has helped me a lot. In the US, I had spoken Spanish to Mexican nurse assistants and they were so flabbergasted, they wanted to know where I am from. When they learnt I was from Nigeria, their next question was: ¿donde aprendiste español––Where did you learn Spanish?

Once I was touring with a group of English-speaking tourists. Unfortunately, our guide could speak only Spanish, and everybody on tour did not understand her. There were grumblings until I said, Por favor, Habla un poquito de español––“Please, I speak a little bit of Spanish” and, Pronto. Our guide turned me to an interpreter.

Favourite airlines

KLM, because of the way they handle children. I also like the Emirate.

Obinna-Onunkwo’s Little Weavers, a heritage-driven Afrocentric brand for toddlers and teen is headquartered at the Maryland Mall, Lagos.

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