REETA LOI

YOU DON’T NEED TO TRAVEL FAR TO FIND CUL­TURE, SAYS REETA LOI

Diva (UK) - - Contents - @ r_e_e_t_a_

Stay­ca­tions: a recipe for cul­ture and di­ver­sity

I was sit­ting in a bustling cafe in the beau­ti­ful Saint Ger­main de Pres area of Paris with my girl­friend. We gig­gled away as we tried to or­der scram­bled eggs in French, dig­ging deep for the rem­nants of GCSE knowl­edge in there some­where. The waiter did not seem even slightly im­pressed with our at­tempts to speak the lan­guage, but he was adorable in his lit­tle waist­coat and big belly, so it was dif­fi­cult to take his grumpi­ness too se­ri­ously.

As we chat­ted away, ex­cited about the week­end ahead of us on our ro­man­tic break, I no­ticed an­other grumpy Parisian man, in his 50s, star­ing at me. I didn’t know what to make of this. In London, I can usu­ally tell if some­one is look­ing at me be­cause I’m brown, but was this be­cause I looked too gay or were we in a place where be­ing a vis­i­ble les­bian cou­ple wasn’t cool? I didn’t know Paris well at the time so I car­ried on as I was but felt in­tim­i­dated, judged and awk­ward, and started to get quite an­gry as he con­tin­ued to look at us with a frown on his face as we ate break­fast.

Later, he got up to leave and as he walked past our table, dropped a note in front of us. It was a small light-blue Post-it curled into a cylin­der and sealed by the sticky side. I opened it as my girl­friend and I looked at each other in as­ton­ish­ment. Brac­ing my­self for what­ever nas­ti­ness the note might con­tain, I read it out loud: “You two are lovely.”

As the man left, he gave us a huge smile and wave. Well, I wasn’t ex­pect­ing that! I’d spent about half an hour feel­ing re­ally un­com­fort­able, but he was look­ing at us be­cause we looked so loved up and happy. I felt like a right id­iot and also felt like the Parisians were re­ally fuck­ing cool.

I was in Cuba a cou­ple of years ago and that felt like a com­pletely un­known cul­ture to nav­i­gate as a queer brown woman on hol­i­day with her white wife. We avoided hold­ing hands or kiss­ing in pub­lic, but when­ever we had to show our pass­ports, which is quite a lot in Cuba when buy­ing bus tick­ets or tak­ing out cash, we’d some­times get a quizzi­cal look be­cause we have the same sur­name but don’t look re­lated. We met this bril­liant woman who worked at the bus garage and man­aged to get us onto a bus to San­ti­ago de Cuba in the mid­dle of the night, de­spite huge de­lays and us hav­ing to sleep in the sta­tion for a few hours. Not the high­light of the trip for me, but she made it spe­cial not just by be­ing so help­ful de­spite us speak­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages, but be­cause she thought we were sis­ters-in-law when she saw we shared a sur­name. “Ah, tu es fa­milia!” she said with a smile. To which my wife replied, “Yes, she’s mar­ried to my brother!” Good save.

I’d love for us to be ac­cepted as a mixed eth­nic­ity, same-sex cou­ple ev­ery­where in the world, of course. But sadly it’s some­thing we need to con­sider any time we go on hol­i­day. I try to avoid coun­tries which crim­i­nalise ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity or where it’s dan­ger­ous for LGBT peo­ple, such as Russia or the Mid­dle East. I’ve been to In­dia, but sadly it’s not top of my travel list as it con­tin­ues to per­se­cute LGBT peo­ple with ar­chaic colo­nial ho­mo­pho­bic leg­is­la­tions which im­pede our hu­man rights. As women we also need to con­sider how safe we feel, and In­dia doesn’t as­sure me with it’s safety record (or lack of), when it comes to the pro­tec­tion of women. We must en­sure we are safe, pre­pared and vig­i­lant as les­bians and bi­sex­ual women when trav­el­ling, and also re­mem­ber to look out for our trans sis­ters, who may be par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble in some of these coun­tries.

And let’s never for­get how much the UK has to of­fer. For­tu­nately for me, I don’t need to travel far for In­dian cul­ture, as there is a wealth of it on my doorstep in London. Whether it’s samosas and ladoos from Southall or the bril­liant Hungama Bol­ly­wood wed­ding party in Dal­ston, there’s a vibrant cul­ture wait­ing to be ex­plored. Our cap­i­tal has so much to of­fer – a di­verse melt­ing pot rep­re­sent­ing ev­ery cul­ture in the world. The more we sup­port our global com­mu­ni­ties at mar­ket stalls, restau­rants and shops, the more we en­sure that London re­mains not just the cap­i­tal of the UK, but the cap­i­tal of the world.

In a Paris cafe, a man stared as we ate. Was I too brown, too gay?

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