i was on my first plane before i was a year old and landed in spain, the canary islands, and egypt by the age of 16. i’ve always loved traveling, but had a hard time finding others who spent their days wondering, “where to next?”.
enter nomadness travel tribe.
it was through this online group that i met omar, a corporate thug by day, but photog at heart who had just quit his job to take a ’round the world’ trip. we attempted to meet up in thailand in december, but that was a fail. we wound up bumping into each other on the beach in zanzibar three months later and kicked it our entire stay.
now back in the states, omar will be hosting a photo exhibition documenting his travels at the bishop gallery on july 9th. before he blows up and forgets us little people, i had to snag him for a quick chat about the black millenial travel movement, how to plan a longterm trip, and must see stops around the world.
steph: what prompted you to take this round the world tour?
omar: i took a look at my life and my normal routine, which of the millennials in brooklyn is brunches and day parties, the rooftops. you go to museums and movies and all these kinds of things and i just felt like my life was getting very mundane and routine. i just wanted to do something different. to explore the world and see something different. especially when most of my peers are either, like me, hanging out, partying, drinking after work, and working just to work some more. or, they’re out populating the world and married and talking about they’re living vicariously through me and i’m like “bruh you need to live through yourself”. we’re all victims of our choices in life and i just didn’t want to make it further in life having regrets. i wanted to be able to say i left everything on the table. i looked at the pros and cons of traveling and i looked at what’s the worst that can happen? “the worst that can happen” meaning i spend a lot of money, i don’t have a job and i have to come home and start over. the best that can happen is completely open-ended. anything can happen. now i have a gallery show happening and i’m getting a lot of attention from that. the sky is the limit. so if all else fails, i can circulate resumes. i have 10 years experience in corporate america, so i can just go back to that like i never left. it’s not like i’ve lost these skills in the last 8,9 months. i can always go back to that. so thats my bottom plan. but my best plan is completely open ended. i can have a new career. somebody can decide that they want me to travel for them or do some sort of marketing, sponsorship, photography, anything. it’s obvious that i have no problem floating around to different countries and finagle my way around locals and don’t have to rely on my american accent or passport to get me out of problems.
steph: have you traveled extensively before or was this your first major time out of the country?
omar: the last time i traveled extensively was three weeks in peru. being that by trade, i’m a project manager, i was able to push past the normal two weeks that most americans get (which is bullshit) and get three weeks of travel. being that i’m abroad, i met alot of people from a lot of different countries. they were traveling for 2…3…4 months whereas i’m from the big bad usa and i only get two weeks. they laughed at me! they were like “dog! you’re from the united states. ya’ll swing the big stick and you only get two weeks?” so i made a decision at that point that i have to take my life, future, and livelihood in my own hands because no corporation is ever going to give it to me.
steph: i come from a project management background as well, so i’m obviously interested in the technical questions of how you picked the countries to visit and how did you decide your route?
omar: the primary way i picked my countries was places that i saw of interst as far as historical significance, as well as religious reasons. being that i live here in brooklyn, i come across a lot of jews and i was just really curious about their background. so i specifically wanted to go to israel. i’m of african descent, so i had to spend a significant amount of time in africa. i want to see all of africa, even though i couldn’t do it in this time. i wanted to go to africa and take pictures of the animals and go on safari. i just really wanted to get a grasp of the diaspora and see where we came from. asia, i wanted to start of there because i knew it was cheap and the food was good. can’t forget the full moon party! mainly, i picked cities that were neighboring. so instead of having to get a lot of flights, which are very expensive, i picked neighboring countries, so i could just take buses. instead of $a 150, $300 flight, i could take a $12 bus. it may take 5 hours, it may take 15 hours, but it’s $10 as opposed to $300.
steph: okay, let’s talk a little more about the cost of travel because you brought up a great point.
omar: there’s typically two types of travelers, those rich on resources and those rich on time. so if you’re gainfully employed, you’re rich on resources, but not time. you drop a whole bunch of money for two weeks, but that’s all you’ve got. you’re limited to two weeks. but, if you’re rich on time, you have to make your money stretch and last as long as possible. so instead of being in these glamorous, rooftop rooms poppin’ bottles, you’re at dive bars with people you met at your hostel sleeping in the same room that sleeps 4-15 people. it’s the difference between a $100/night or something that’s $8. however, you lose some of the amenities like people making your bed and concierge…room service. mainly when traveling what you need is four walls and somewhere to wash your ass because you are there to see the country. you’re not there to see the room. half the time you’re there, you’re sleeping. of course you want a place to be comfortable. you want it to be safe. but just like hotels have ratings, so do hostels. the other difference between hostels and hotels is that hostels are geared towards you meeting other people. so theres a lot of communal spaces. there’s time when you have no wifi in the room and you have to intermingle in the lobby. in a hotel, you’re in your room or out the door. hostels are geared towards this kind of travel, so it’s great in that aspect. plus, you’re saving money. so for what it would cost me to spend the night for two weeks in asia, is typically one night in a regular hotel.
steph: i want to really drive that home, because people see my posts online and think i have all of this money and i don’t even have a job-job. yet, i still managed to go to thailand in december and east africa in march. so i want to demystify the idea that traveling is expensive and you don’t have to sleep in a rat infested hostel to do so. people think in extremes, so it’s like the only options are a luxury hotel or a cot with bedbugs.
omar: the number one thing you gotta know is fear is the best way to control people. so when you look at how this fear is pushed, you have to look at who is benefitting financially from it. if you look at a lot of the media we have and movies, they talk about hostels being places where people get kidnapped or raped with bed bugs. who is going to benefit more? is it the people who are running hotels? because if you aren’t going to stay at a hostel, that means you’re going to be at the hilton spending all of your money. but if you look at people from other countries in europe or asia, australia especially, these people are staying in hostels. they know whats up. their money will go a lot farther. these are reasons why these people are way more well traveled than americans. we’re watching movies that depict hostels as places where you get kidnapped and they’re gonna take your kidneys. they say women can’t travel by themselves. they’ll get trafficked and all of that bullshit. it’s stupid. so you look at the reviews, you do your research like anything else in life.
you can stay at a room that’s $150 a night at a bullshit resort where everything is super westernized, so you might as well had stayed your ass in the states anyway. because everything is tailored to make you feel super comfortable and just like home. or you can stay in more local digs that are a lot closer to the culture of the people and you’ll learn more. you’ll leave knowing a lot more of the customs. you’ll leave knowing a lot more of the language, so you’ll be able to greet people. you’ll be able to ask for things. if people in these countries see you trying to learn, they’ll cut you breaks.
steph: we had a missed connection in thailand and wound up linking in zanzibar. even though black people have always been traveling, i wanted to talk a little about the black travel movement we’re in right now. can you share a bit about crossing paths with other black travelers while on your trip?
omar: black people have always been traveling, but it hasn’t been publicized as much. i also love the movement now that’s showing people of african descent seeing a lot more of the world. the world is pretty grand and before we weren’t really given the opportunity to even see our own country that we’ve been brought to and raised up in. we also gotta look at a lot of what we’re fed through the media, as far as what other countries look like. i remember as a child growing up in the 80s, our views of africa was starving children with flies all in their face, war, and poverty. when i was in africa, i didn’t see any starving kids. everybody looked happy. i saw black people in business suits. i saw black people sweeping streets. i saw people selling food. i saw people operating tours. everything! everybody had a job. everybody had a function. people are working hard to support their families.
i think the black travel movement is a beautiful thing. i think it’s something that isn’t as expensive as people believe. theres a lot of glitch fairs out there. a lot of travel clubs. theres a lot of different organizations that make it lot more accessible for people to travel if you want to.
steph: so let’s talk to the exhibition “explore.dream.discover.” at the bishop gallery. how did this opportunity come about and what are you seeking to do through the photos?
omar: as a person that decided to quit their job and travel, one of the one things i really wanted to do was chronicle everything i saw. when i got home, i could actually show people how different the world is as opposed to what we’ve always been shown in media and word of mouth. usually, that word of mouth is through people that ain’t never been nowhere. i also wanted to show that this could be done in an inexpensive manner. you have some people that would like to do what i did and i want them to know that there’s nothing stopping them from doing it. you just have to make different choices in your life. people think “oh, well i’m 35. its too late for me”, but most of the people i met were in their mid to late 30s. so it’s really no such thing as ‘too late’. if you’re physically able and can pull some coins together, then you can do it. just do your homework, figure out where you want to go, what’s important to you and decide from there.
steph: out of the thousands of pictures taken, how did you choose the ones for your exhibition and what were you trying to capture?
omar: as a photographer, my number one thing is to capture people. i love capturing people. i love candid moments. i love recording images of folks living their normal,everyday life and i knew that would be an awesome thing to do traveling abroad. the challenging thing with that is taking pictures of people in certain countries where photography isn’t welcomed. typically, i found it in very religious areas like ethiopia or northern africa. it was helpful that i have professional grade equipment and i can do things at a distance. also too, there were a lot of moments when i had to just get sneaky with it. one thing you will always find is that its a lot easier to capture images of children as opposed to adults, who are a lot wiser. in a lot of countries they think that we’re taking their pictures and running to national geographic, putting them in magazines and getting rich. but that’s not really the case for everybody. i just wanted to get pictures of everyday life. how many pictures of the pyramids exist? millions. how many pictures of angkor wat? it’s millions. but how many of the actual people of the country living their lives, driving taxis, teaching their kids how to cook? these were the things i primarily wanted to record.
steph: what were your top three favorite stops and what countries should everyone add to their travel bucket list?
omar: kenya was definitely my number one favorite place. if you are of african descent and you can picture what a homecoming would be like. almost like nas in “belly” when he went to africa towards the end and he was talking about how wonderful and grand it was. that’s how i felt in kenya. i literally wanted to jump and kiss the ground right after i passed my ebola test. the people were warm and friendly. everybody i saw from the people begging on the street to sweeping the streets, to selling food to coming out of office buildings, looked exactly like me. so much so that they were walking up to me speaking swahili. it was at least every other day when i was in kenya, i would just shed tears because i was so happy to be there. i couldn’t believe what i was looking at. i’m in a place where everybody looked like me. there’s no police shooting anybody. there’s no discrimination. the food is good and pure. the women look how my women look at home. girls are going to get their braids. by the way, you can get braids out there for $25 with the hair. then you go on safari and you see the animals where they live, chillin’. if you come to the gallery, the pictures i have are within 10 to 15 feet of the animals, hanging out. theres no cages. no tranquilizers. no crazy, human tricks like balancing balls. these animals are going a their daily lives and nobody is bothering them. it’s a beautiful thing.
my number two place is vietnam. vietnam was just amazing because if you are a person of color, vietnamese people typically have a soft spot for you. during the vietnam war, when all those black troops were there, they specifically were not trying to shoot and kill the vietnamese because during the 60s they said “the vietnamese never called me nigger. but you people at home call me that shit on a daily basis.” so when i was in vietnam, i was shown nothing but love. i was invited by many people who barely spoke english, or at all, to come over their house for tea. the food is great. anything you want to do, be it hiking mountains or you want to go to the beach and chill, vietnam has it all. their museums are awesome. they have a museum dedicated to their women. which is like totally awesome. it really chronicles how their women were influential in them making it to the point in life where they are now, as far as being prosperous and going through the wars. it was really dope. the vietnam war remnants museum in ho chi min city, which really chronicles the vietnamese side of the war that we had with them was definitely something that every american should see. they have a lot of nightlife. it’s very developed areas and a lot of farmland with rice patties.
the number three place i really enjoyed was israel, but not so much why people would think. israel is a very tough country to get in and out of if you are of african descent, if you have an islamic name like myself, and if you’re not jewish. but once you’re in the country, i think it’s an amazing thing to see the birthplace of the three big religions. i went to where they said jesus was crucified. you can touch the cross. i went to where they buried jesus before he rose on easter sunday and you can touch that. i got pictures of the burning bush that god spoke to moses through. i was up on mt. sinai. i was down in bethlehem where jesus was born. i’ve seen all of that. it’s an amazing thing to be there, to see it, to touch it. in israel, all of this stuff is free. the people are very nice, warm, and welcoming, but i believe it was primarily like that for me as someone of african descent because of my accent. if i didn’t have an american accent, i probably would’ve gotten treated differently. i wandered into a #blacklivesmatter protest by ethiopians while i was there and they’ve been consistently discriminated against because of their position in israeli society. the food is great with a lot of middle eastern influence. the currency is a little stronger than people would think, but you can still get a lot for your money. it’s definitely somewhere i think everyone should visit.
outside of those three, people should definitely go to south africa, so they could get a grasp of what a heavily developed and prosperous country would look like. just so a lot of us in developed countries can stop believing that they’re swinging from trees and wearing grass skirts. starving each other out and things like that. also, thailand is amazing place and it’s a great place as an introduction to asia.
explore. dream. discover
thursday, july 9th. 6-10pm
the bishop gallery
916 bedford avenue
*editor’s note: purchase portraits here.