Orphans and Tourists are a Bad Trip

Who benefits when tourists spend a day volunteering at an orphanage? A classmate is going on a Caribbean cruise which includes a one-day stop in Haiti. Rather than do the usual tourist shopping and sightseeing she wants to spend the day helping out the local people.

My classmate is Black. On the surface her orphanage trip is a good thing, as it is still rare to see Black people helping other Black people in media images of disaster zones.

When the earthquake smashed up Haiti in 2010, television and newspapers were filled with images of brave white people going through the carnage to rescue poor Black people. The stories were framed around the selflessness of the white angels and the helplessness of the Black victims.

The media reports all pointed out that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The earthquake was just the latest tragedy in a long list of misfortunes that had struck the nation since its independence. Missing from the reports were any discussions on the fundamental reasons why Haiti is so poor.

There are many orphanages in Haiti and in other poor countries. Visiting them or orphan tourism has become a big business fed by donations from tourists, churches and foundations formed by companies, especially those in the travel industry. The money collected is supposed to help feed, clothe and educate the abandoned orphans. Local partners encourage orphan tourism as it brings in the money.

But is it good for the children?

A report in The Guardian reveals that in many poor countries the children are paper orphans. That is they have parents but are living in the orphanage as they have no choice. Many of the children land in the orphanage through child trafficking. That is they are sold or stolen by brokers to feed the demand from orphan tourism.

Last year, my daughter’s school trip to Belize included volunteering as the social justice component of the visit. The class would spend a day helping out either at an orphanage or an animal sanctuary. My daughter vetoed the orphanage.

“I don’t want to be part of the white savior industry,” she had said.

I accused her of being cynical. Initially. I saw the orphan visit as an opportunity for her to show that Black Canadians exists and that we too want to help poor people. The kid rolled her eyes and told me to think about how a group of highly privileged, mostly white teenagers, with no childcare skills would be of any use to the Belize children.

Would a Canadian daycare allow a bunch of foreign strangers to spend a day hugging their kids?

I think visiting an orphanage is emotional entertainment for tourists. They spend a day ‘doing good’, by taking and posting on social media, all those lovely photographs of themselves feeding and cuddling cute children. At the end of the day tourists return to their cruise ship, hotel or lodge and continue with their pampered lives. Smug and satisfied that their donations and time have helped a child.

When race is added to the picture, orphan tourism becomes dirtier. Most tourists are white, visiting orphanages filled with Black and brown children. The visuals are reminiscent of the days of empire and colonialism.

Surely everyone has a memory of donating to churches collecting money to feed the hungry children in the orphanages in Africa and Asia. I know I did. I questioned why the children were in the orphanages. The usual response was that it was due to war, famine or natural disaster. What I never questioned was who benefitted from keeping the children in the orphanages.

The Haitian Revolution was the only successful slave rebellion in history. The new country declared its independence from France on January 1, 1804. The price of freedom was steep. The Haitians had to pay about 90 million gold francs, today’s equivalent of $21 billion, to France to cover the loss of its slaves and the sugar they produced. It was pay or be re-enslaved. The Haitian payments started in 1825 and ended in 1947. That is over a century of the poorest country paying all its wealth to one of the richest, to cover the costs of its own exploitation.

Like the rest of the Caribbean the Haitians are demanding reparations. The islands’ wealth built the colonial empires of Europe and later the neo-colonial empire of the USA. The poverty of the islands is a direct result of their wealth sailing across the Atlantic.

If my classmate spends the day in the Haitian orphanage it will make her feel and look good. It will do nothing for the children beyond continuing their exploitation.

Image: Black Child 1815-1825, by Phillip Thomas Coke Tilyard– Oil on Canvas. Fenimore Art Museum.


Scotland by Train with Frederick Douglass

Let’s follow the journey of Frederick Douglass as he lectured on the anti-slavery circuit in Scotland in 1843. On this adventure we will visit the places where he spoke from big cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow to his sightseeing trips to Scottish castles and country houses.

This adventure tour is part of my Daydream Black History Tours around the around the world. They combine the best of adventure, travel and history – all from our unique Black perspective. The trips are a daydream right now. Let’s see if we can turn them into reality.

Frederick Douglass became a superstar in Scotland. His lectures and his books were sold out in each city. Douglass even considered permanently living in the country, as for the first time in his life, he was treated as a man and not as a slave.

The tour will be fun and historic. There will be plenty of stops for lunches at pubs, walking tours, shopping and boat tours.

Tour Highlights

  • Get to know Scotland’s Black History by following the footsteps of Frederick Douglass.
  • Visit the major cities in Scotland such as Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.
  • Boat and walking tours in the cities.
  • Hadrian’s Wall and the African troops who guarded it.
  • Visit castles, country houses, museums, pubs and art galleries – all with a connection to Black History.

Daily Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Arrive in Edinburgh
  • Day 2 – Edinburgh, the castles and the Black musicians at the Royal Courts from the 1400s.
  • Day 3 – Glasgow, tour the 1800s homes and estates of the tobacco barons.
  • Day 4 – Dundee, visits to the art gallery, museums and pubs.
  • Day 5 – Aberdeen, tour the castle, maritime museum and local pubs.
  • Day 6 – Inverness, see the castle, canal and Scottish highlands.
  • Day 7 – Return to Edinburgh
  • Day 8 – Hadrian’s Wall, walk in the footsteps of the African legion that guarded this edge of the Roman Empire.
  • Day 9 – Edinburgh, visits to a country house, distillery and shopping.
  • Day 10 – Depart from Edinburgh.

Facts File

  • 10 day land tour.
  • Minimum 4 and maximum 16 participants.
  • All meals and accommodation included.
  • Start and end in Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • Comfort level – road trip on modern roads.
  • Accommodation – comfortable hotels.
  • Departure – spring.

Who wants to come with me on this Daydream Black History Tours? Let’s see if we can make it real.

50 Places: A Black History Travel Guide of London

Hiking in Jamaica

The other side of Jamaica includes forests, mountains and limestone valleys. There is more to Jamaica than just miles of white sandy beaches. On this adventure tour we will hike the only UNESCO World Heritage Site on the island – the Blue and John Crow Mountains. We will watch the sunrise from the peak (2,300 m or 7,500 ft.).

This adventure tour is part of my Daydream Black History Tours around the around the world. They combine the best of adventure, travel and history – all from our unique Black perspective. The trips are a daydream right now. Let’s see if we can turn them into reality.

On the Jamaica tour we will also hike in the footsteps of the Maroons. The escaped slaves hid in their stronghold in the Cockpit Country. We will follow them into the challenging karst limestone hills and valleys.

In between hikes, there will time to relax on the beach, go on a river safari in the mangrove swamps, and to explore the museums and art galleries in Kingston, the island’s capital.

Tour Highlights

  • Hiking the forests of the Blue Mountains.
  • Hiking the limestone hills and valley of the Cockpit Country.
  • Boat safari on the Black River to see the crocodiles in the mangrove swamps. Beach.
  • Explore the culture and history of Kingston.

Daily Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive in Montego Bay

Day 2 – Troy Trail hike

Day 3 – Quick Step Trail hike

Day 4 – Quick Step Trail hike

Day 5 – Black River safari and beach

Day 6 – Kingston culture tour (museum, plantation Great House, art gallery, Emancipation Park)

Day 7 – Blue Mountains hike

Day 8 – Blue Mountains Peak sun rise hike

Day 9 – Kingston culture tour and return to Montego Bay

Day 10 – Depart from Montego Bay

Facts File

  • 10 day land tour.
  • Minimum 4 and maximum 16 participants.
  • All meals and accommodation included.
  • All hikes lead by experienced and certified local guides.
  • Start and end in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
  • Comfort level – must be able to hike for about six hours each day.
  • Accommodation – comfortable hotels, guest house and lodge.
  • Departure – August 2018.

Who wants to come with me on this daydream trip? Let’s see if we can make it real.

Black History Walks Toronto


Toronto Black History Tour

Come and celebrate Black History and Caribbean life with us in Toronto next summer. The Caribana Caribbean Carnival is the biggest street party in North America. On the tour we will visit the stops on the Underground Railroad, hear some great music, eat spicy Caribbean food and dance along the bands.

Let’s make this trip real. There is a lot of Black History and Caribbean sunshine in Toronto. The tour also includes a trip to see Niagara Falls – one of the great wonders of the world. There we will learn about its Black History as well as enjoy a wine tour.

This tour is part of my Daydream Black History Tours around the around the world. They combine the best of adventure, travel and history – all from our unique Black perspective. The trips are a daydream right now. Let’s see if we can turn them into reality.

toronto black history tour

Tour Highlights

  • Caribbean carnival in Toronto
  • Visit Niagara Falls and explore its Black History
  • Walk in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman
  • Underground Railroads stops in Oakville and Hamilton

Daily Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive in Toronto

Day 2 – Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake Black History tour

Day 3 – Toronto Black History walking tour, part 1

Day 4 – Caribbean carnival in Toronto

Day 5 – Meet Harriet Tubman

Day 6 – Oakville and Hamilton Underground Railroad tour

Day 7 – Toronto Black History walking tour, part 2.

Day 8 – Depart Toronto

toronto black history tour

Facts File

  • 8 day land tour.
  • Minimum 30 and maximum 50 participants.
  • All meals and accommodation included.
  • All tours lead by Black History experts.
  • Start and end in Toronto.
  • Comfort level – enjoy bus rides and able to walk for about two hours each day.
  • Accommodation – comfortable hotel.
  • Departure – August 1-8, 2018.

Who wants to come with on this Daydream Black History Tour? Let’s see if we can make it real.

50 Places: A Black History Travel Guide of London


10 Daydream Trips for Active Black Folks

As the summer sinks to the horizon my thoughts naturally turn inwards. Many happy hours will drift by as I daydream – of adventure in faraway places.

My bucket list of adventures all have some connection to Black History. Here is the initial list. I will put together a detailed itinerary of each adventure in subsequent blog posts.

I want to check off some of the things on the list – and I don’t want to do so alone. Are there any Black adventurers out there who want to join me? I promise you these trips are a once-in-a-life time experience.

  1. Hiking in Jamaica. There is more to Jamaica than sandy beaches and warm seas. Let’s hike the Blue Mountain and the Cockpit Country Trails. They were the only access into Maroon country. Controlling the mountain trails ensured that the Maroons escaped from slavery.

2. Across the Alps with Hannibal and the Elephants. Tunisian general Hannibal was annoyed with the Romans. To settle who would rule the Mediterranean Hannibal attacked Rome. On this trip we will travel his route from Tunisia, across to Spain, Portugal and end at the gates of Rome. Hannibal feat was so audacious that he is still a legend 2,000 years later.

3. From China to Mozambique. In 1405 the great Chinese explorer Zheng He sailed from Shanghai to Dar es Salaam. He brought back two giraffes for the Ming Emperor. We will tour the stops on his route including Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania.

4. Scotland by Train. Recreate the journey of Frederick Douglass as he lectured on the anti-slavery circuit in Scotland in 1843. On this adventure we will visit the places where he spoke from big cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow to his sightseeing trips to Scottish castles and country houses.

5. South American Trek. Simon Bolivar liberated the slaves when he freed South America from Spanish rule in 1830. Let’s hike and ride in his footsteps as he took his army across the Andes to freedom. Stops include Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.

6. From Angola to Italy. In 1643 Miguel de Castro, an Angolan ambassador, made an epic voyage from Luanda to the Vatican. He was sent by Queen Nzinga to renegotiate the terms of the trade deal between Angola and Portugal. On this journey we will stop along his route including Brazil and Portugal.

7. Cycling the Caribbean. How long will it take to cycle around each island in the Caribbean? On this trip let’s enjoy the cultural and language diversity of the Caribbean as we cycle around the islands that speak English, French, Spanish and Dutch. What’s your pick for the islands?

8. Hiking the Underground Railroad. Let’s follow in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman as she trekked from slavery in the USA to freedom in Canada in the 1850s. We will start at her birth place in Maryland, make stops in Washington, Boston and New York. We will end near Niagara Falls where she lived for twenty years.

9. From Egypt to Switzerland. Let’s follow the route of Saint Maurice, an African saint. We will start in Luxor, Egypt where he was born in 250 C.E. Then we will tour the places where he served as a general in the Roman army in France, Sardinia and Switzerland. Saint Maurice is the patron saint of soldiers and there are many churches and places named after him in Europe.

10. To Timbuktu. The great Arab traveller Ibn Battuta spent 30 years travelling the world in 1325. Let’s follow his African tours. The first leg will be from Morocco to Timbuktu, a fabled city of wealth, trade and learning. The second leg will be from Cairo down the East African coast to Zanzibar.

Let me know if you want to join me on making these daydream trips real. And let’s check the first one off the bucket list within a year. By September 2018. Which do you want to do first?

Black History Walks in Toronto


Adventure Stories and Race

I was that kid curled up in a corner with my head buried in a book. Adventure stories were my favourite. By the time elementary school was done, I had read through the classics of British children’s literature. The books were birthday and Christmas presents from friends and family. The best came in in gift pack of three or more books.

I devoured Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss Family Robinson. And anything by Jules Vernes. I loved the stories, except the bits where they talked about the natives.

It was uneasy believing in the heroes of the story when they encountered the natives. Even as a skinny sapling I knew that the natives were connected to me. It was unfortunate. I wanted to be like the heroes of the stories.

Adventure stories were popular from roughly the 1700s to the 1900s. Those two centuries were the height of colonialism. In his book Imperialism and Culture, Edward Said argues that artists not only followed the flag, they also created a culture that celebrated the planting of the flag on foreign lands. Through this lens, adventure stories were a cultural and geographical guide to foreign places. And the right and might of the British Empire to conquer and rule.

The books promised the gift of foreignness, adventure and travel without the bother of leaving the armchair. Adventure stories created landscapes of distant, tropical islands. The heroes journeyed to the islands by sea. Battling storms and shipwrecks they learned to be brave and survival skills. Crossing the oceans signified crossing into a new world, leaving the rules and rituals of home behind. In the new found land, the heroes were free to create their own version of paradise.

We crossed the ocean too.

Chained up as cargo in the belly of a square rigger. The adventure ship and the slave ship passed each other in the night and in the daylight. They were the two sides of the same colonial project.

Shipwrecked on an island, the heroes had to create new rules. The first rule was conquest. In adventure stories, it was never possible for the heroes to share the island with the inhabitants already living there. Conquest was the right of the whites. It could be peaceful as in seducing, naming and subjugating Friday in Treasure Island. Usually it was more violent.

Guns. Bullets. Blood. Dead natives to the left. Dead natives to the right. White heroes in the centre, hugging victory.

Once conquests was completed, the next step was creating white civilization on the island. That civilization was a rough version of Little England. The resources of the island, whether crops, minerals or people, were harnessed to enrich the empire. The natives were taught to be good Christians, happy to find a new savior in exchange for their land, rights and culture. Smiling natives were the best advertising for the beneficence of colonial rule.

Adventure stories are complete only when the heroes find their way back home. Their mission accomplished the travellers return to a more comfortable life funded by the treasures acquired from the foreign islands.

The British Empire is long dead, but adventure stories live on. Travel literature is the latest reincarnation of the form. More on this later.

It was adventure stories that inspired my love of travel and outdoor recreation. This time, I, the Black native, is the hero of the story.

And I win.

Sailing on a Half Moon


Putting Race in the Picture at Casa Loma

“Can my mom take a picture with your group?” said the woman as she smiled at me.

“No. We are not props,” I said.

I turned my back to her. Irritation rumbled in my belly. I took yet another photograph of our group posing in front of the Casa Loma museum. The place was filled with people visiting Toronto’s historic castle on a summer afternoon. They posed beside the fountain, the lush gardens and the tower of the castle.

Our group stood out from the crowds for one reason – we were Black.

Multiple languages and accents drifted in the air as people modelled for photographs. A young Chinese couple snapped selfies with their arms wrapped around each other. A Spanish-speaking dad hoisted his son on his shoulders as the rest of the family gathered around to pose in front of the roses. A French-speaking man asked me to take a photo of him and his family. I took three with his iPad, he was pleased with them.

Casa Loma was the terminus of our two-hour urban walk, along the parks and leafy neighbourhoods of mid-town Toronto. Perched on a hill overlooking the city, the castle has 98 rooms and was once the largest private house in Canada and the USA. It was built by one of the richest men in Canada in 1911. The castle was a list of firsts – it had home electricity, telephones and central vacuum. Today the castle is a museum, wedding venue and is used as a back-drop in many films and television shows.

Our walking group meets a once a month, on a Saturday afternoon, to talk, walk and explore the Black history of the city.  On this stroll we had meandered along on St. Clair Avenue, a street named after the hero in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

We did not know the white woman who wanted to pose with us. Her request made no sense – not in Toronto, not in 2017. We live in a city where people of colour are half of the population.

Her request got me thinking about race, art and the politics of images. There is a long tradition in American and European visual art of showing Black people as the ‘other.’ Curiosities. Exotics. Nameless. The white people are the focus of the picture, while the Black people are the small figures, in the margins. They are used to highlight the difference between the races and the implied superiority of one over the other.

The white woman’s request was a continuation of the tradition of portraying Blacks as curiosities.

Black History Walks Toronto