"I wish people would be able to see these borders as ficticious things."
September 5, 2020 11:00 AM   Subscribe

The country-counting community--people who try to visit every country in the world--are a small, tight-knit bunch. They are also overwhelmingly White. Jessica Nabongo talks about becoming the first Black woman to visit every country in the world, a trip she detailed on her blog (and Instagram).
posted by jessamyn (19 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fascinating. I know I read some stuff at some point about what countries don't want to allow women in (no, I can't cite where, it was quite a while ago) and I remember thinking that this is something no woman can do. I'm glad one did!

Interesting how her Ugandan passport is a great loophole for this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:21 AM on September 5, 2020 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this post! Her attitude is so generous and enthusiastic — and given the experience she’s drawing on, it hit even harder when she talked about how Black people are treated in the USA compared to the rest of the world.

And I love her Instagram. She’s doing the 50 states now and just hit my home state a few weeks ago. A good antidote to how claustrophobic and isolating everything feels right now.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:16 PM on September 5, 2020 [2 favorites]


This is awesome, I have so many questions for her! I wanna know about her experiences as a black traveler, as a solo woman traveler, what countries she hated and why, surprising experiences.....I'm gonna go read her blog now.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 1:20 PM on September 5, 2020


Here is one that few even know about
Is it a country?
Most people haven’t even heard of Transnistria, the breakaway state of Moldova that hugs its border with Ukraine. And that’s partly what makes it so fascinating to visit.
posted by robbyrobs at 1:25 PM on September 5, 2020 [4 favorites]


What a cool person. And, jesus:

Finally, the way black people suffer in the US is unlike any places I’ve ever been. I’ve been held at gunpoint by police officer in Miami. The chances of that happening anywhere else in the vast, vast majority of world—maybe 191 countries—is pretty slim.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:35 PM on September 5, 2020 [22 favorites]


I can see a game like 80 Days but from her perspective being pretty interesting.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:34 PM on September 5, 2020 [1 favorite]


This is in the Rahawa Haile category for me—Black women whose achievements are impressive on their own, but in their very singularity also make it clear how much white people treat freedom of movement as the exclusive province of white people. (Here's Rahawa on hiking the Appalachian trail.) Like "the outdoors," international travel doesn't belong to white people, but functionally, it's treated that way—with the sort of casual subtlety that means privilege-blinkered people like me don't really notice there's a barrier until someone breaks through.
posted by babelfish at 3:41 PM on September 5, 2020 [20 favorites]


This is chilling:
There’s not any country I’ve been to where I think “no black person should go there.”

I’ve been held at gunpoint by police officer in Miami. The chances of that happening anywhere else in the vast, vast majority of world—maybe 191 countries—is pretty slim.

posted by eye of newt at 4:31 PM on September 5, 2020 [6 favorites]


It’s crazy to think of how many political borders have changed just in my lifetime.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:23 PM on September 5, 2020 [2 favorites]


Wait let me check... yes I have managed to visit every room in my apartment today... omg all those plane flights just seems exhausting. Really impressive, good for her.

Now complex, what about Iran and N Korea? Ahh multiple passports:

JN: Oh, yeah, like my Ugandan passport saves me no less than $2,000 because of African visas, mostly. And also like, for example, it's really difficult for Americans to get a visa to go to Iran, [but] Ugandans get visas on arrival—same thing with Eritrea. It's one of notoriously one of the hardest visas to get. I have visa-free access. North Korea. Americans are forbidden to go to North Korea. I was able to go for six days. So loads of benefits to using my Ugandan passport. And I think, in the end, I used it to enter 49 countries. Venezuela was another country that I couldn't have gone on my American passport when I went.
posted by sammyo at 9:12 PM on September 5, 2020 [7 favorites]


babelfish, thank you so much for the link to the article in Outside magazine she wrote about her trek. It was a powerful and disturbing read.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:50 PM on September 5, 2020 [1 favorite]


This is awesome. I recently read Ken Jennings's book Maphead, about geography nerds, and he has a chapter on this subculture of people who try to visit every country in the world. Some of them seemed to have enthusiasm for geography or travel, but the majority were basically rich retired people with nothing better to do or "collector" types who wanted higher and higher numbers of countries visited. I found that aspect kind of sad, some of the folks he interviewed didn't seem at all interested in the places they went, just in the bragging rights. It's wonderful to read this interview with someone who's done it in such a thoughtful, genuine way. I'm also going to read her blog now!
posted by cpatterson at 10:52 PM on September 5, 2020 [4 favorites]


I’ve been held at gunpoint by police officer in Miami. The chances of that happening anywhere else in the vast, vast majority of world—maybe 191 countries—is pretty slim.

Something I think most Americans do not appreciate or understand, this is true for everyone. Much more likely for black people, but USA and to a lesser extent Canada are the only places I am worried about police interactions and I am a fully privileged white het man. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, many other places that are held up as "police states" where your personal safety is not a prime concern in dealing with police.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:54 PM on September 5, 2020 [8 favorites]


Amazing. Love this quote:

I've been to every country in the world and feel that anyone that wants to travel somewhere should go regardless of race or gender. I've dealt with racism while traveling, from rude waiters to being considered and treated as a drug mule and many things in between. When I experience these incidents I often get angry, express my anger, then move on. I will not let hateful individuals ruin an entire trip for me. ⁣

posted by greenhornet at 2:43 AM on September 6, 2020 [2 favorites]


I knew a guy in the 80’s who took a year & hit about 50 countries. He started on the west coast of Africa, Morocco, I think, and worked his way across the continent & then through south & Southeast Asia. He wasn’t country-counting, he was just wandering, & came home when he was ready to sit back down. He came back with some killer Ethiopian recipes & was a featured guest at our collective dinner parties at the time.

I want to start traveling again so bad that I find myself doing things like Google street-viewing Croatia & New Zealand for hours on end.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:00 AM on September 6, 2020 [2 favorites]


but in their very singularity also make it clear how much white people treat freedom of movement as the exclusive province of white people.

Most of my international travel has been centered around going to countries with giant holes in the ground & getting in them. As a caver involved in the organized caving community, I’ve thought about this a lot, as it’s so overwhelmingly white that I had to have a few private conversations about the implicit racism in the early days, for fear I might have accidentally involved myself in a racist org. Pleased to note that this year, under the stewardship of our new NSS chairman, (A good friend of mine who lives in San Antonio- this is significant because leadership has always been in the southeast) a diversity committee has been formed & is chaired by an amazingly energetic young black woman who I think will get shit done. There are Hispanics/Latinx in the community, but the majority of them are Mexican nationals or expats, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the fruits of her efforts to draw minority groups into the NSS.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:17 AM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


[Please note this is a post made as part of MeFi's Fundraising Month. Read more about this project here.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:04 AM on September 6, 2020 [3 favorites]


Not surprised to hear that a majority of these "travelers" are white. My friend tried to set me up with a distant acquaintance on a date, and I discovered she is a country counter. Something seemed very selfish and oddly petty about this hobby, even though it could be a very expensive venture. She told me about buying a bag of tea from a vendor in Tibet, and the tea leaves ended up being dry and bad, so she went back to him and demanded her money back. I asked her, "Really? Like, you actually wanted a refund?" and she said "Yeah! It doesn't matter where I am, I don't like being swindled." So I said, "Well, how much money are we even talking about anyway? That could've been a significant amount for him if he was a street vendor."

Left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. Also to hear her giddily describe how for many children she was the "first whitey" they had ever seen. Then when I mentioned that I like taking pictures she launched into a pushy attempt to trade her old dSLR/lenses in exchange for a series of drum lessons.

Long story short, I won the chess match we played and then left.
posted by Chickenring at 11:38 AM on September 6, 2020 [4 favorites]


It's cool that she's doing this as a Black woman. But it makes me sad, as a traveler who prefers longer stints in a country and a big emphasis on local culture and history, that she only seems to have spent a few days in many countries and her content focuses on cool places to have a drink and expensive places to sleep (in the mold of today's "influencers", I suppose).
posted by mkuhnell at 2:39 PM on September 7, 2020


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