Well it’s official. I know I am absurdly late to the game, but I’ve just launched my first podcast, and recorded my first episode. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to come around. Maybe it’s because it’s a medium I didn’t think I would have the stamina for. Plus, I don’t exactly love the sound of my own voice (does anyone?) But when my career (temporarily) went up in flames, and my son’s daycare closed down, leaving me to transition back into being a full-time stay-at-home Mama, I had some major soul-searching to do. Even though this has been one of the most challenging chapters my little family has had to go through, we’ve developed new coping skills, and tighter bonds. We’ve taken the opportunity to focus on the important things in life, and, find ways to tap into our creativity. Thus the birth of Across Storied Lands.
Across Storied Lands is my ode to travel, culture and the beauty that can be found in humanity when we look below the surface. Each podcast episode will be available in written form in addition to the audio version as accessibility and inclusiveness should be the first priority for content creators (at least for this one it is). So, without further ado, here is my very first podcast episode.
Across Storied Lands – The Podcast
Across Storied Lands, engages in honest conversations about travel, culture and the human condition. Your host, Jordana Manchester, is a Canadian born writer, travel advisor, anthropology enthusiast and mother. Tune in weekly to embark on an audio journey across cultural landscapes, explore ways to be a better, more mindful traveller and hear inspiring stories from listeners like you.
Welcome to the very first episode of Across Storied Lands, I am your host, Jordana Manchester, a Canadian-born travel writer, advisor and anthropology enthusiast. Each week I will be discussing themes in travel, culture and the human condition. I thought for my first episode, I would share some background on myself, explain about why I started this podcast in the first place, and give you a brief overview of culture, from an anthropological perspective.
But before I continue, I would first like to acknowledge that I am speaking to you from the ancestral, traditional and unceded territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (or Squamish) Nation. The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh people are descendants of the Coast Salish Aboriginal Peoples, a people who’s history dates long before the common era and who lived and currently live in present day Vancouver, Gibson’s Landing and the Squamish River watershed in the province of British Columbia. Now that we have acknowledged the ancestors and keepers of this great land, let’s dive in.
Where are you from? Canada. No, no, where are you actually from? If I had a quarter for every time I heard that, I’d be podcasting from an overwater bungalow in the Maldives half of the year. So why such a question? Well, I’m bi-ethnic. I don’t like the term bi-racial because race is a made up social construct. I’m part African American, part Caucasian, and the rest of my ethnic make-up is a tapestry, like many Canadian settlers. My skin is not white. Which never mattered to me, until it mattered to other people. I’ve called Canada my home since birth, nearly four decades. But because of my big unruly hair and obvious non-white features, my origins have long been a curiosity for folks. It never bothered me much when people would ask me where I was from, and I would always respond the same way; With a smile, politeness, I didn’t know any different. But as I grew older, and the notion of my identity took a more prominent role in my life, those same features I saw in the mirror, combined with those questions from strangers had me thinking. Who am I? Where do I come from? Can I really call myself Canadian? And what does it mean to BE Canadian?
Millions of Canadians have multi-ethnic backgrounds, most, I would argue, with the exception of our First Nations and Indigenous People’s. But, being part Black growing up on the West Coast of Canada was a unique experience. And so too was growing up in the military. I was a military kid, an army brat as we’re often called. I would spend my weekends riding my hot pink BMX around the base with playmates, buying 20 cent Candies from Susie’s Market, or just hanging out in the front yard, watching my dad’s battalion repel out of a Chinook.
I went to a public school with a mix of civilian, military and naval kids. We were a mosaic of faces, and the service kids shared a very similar culture: Armed Forces Life. From a very young person’s perspective, even then I could sense that military life was one that embodied brother and sisterhood, an undeniable Comradery. There was a very close sense of community amongst the soldiers, and amidst the families that lived alongside eachother. It was also a life that meant there was long absences from eachother, months sometimes longer at a time when Dad’s and sometimes moms went away on exercise or peacekeeping missions. You would rarely find a locked door, when babies were born, and children had birthdays, everyone gathered to celebrate, family was the absolute bedrock of this culture. And if a soldier was ever hurt, or didn’t come home, the grief was shared collectively. In many ways, it was a warm and inviting culture, but it could also be very isolating. International affairs and foreign politics dictated postings, missions, and tours. There were orders that came down that were expected to be obeyed. Military culture is complicated. A family unit’s experiences are not shared. While one family member spends much of their life on the front lines of conflict, the other family members are left to maintain the foundation back home.
When I eventually moved away from the base, and tried to settle into civilian life as a pre-teen, it was extremely challenging. I went from being surrounded by armed forces kids, to kids looking at me with complete disbelief when I told them my Dad was in the army. Military culture wasn’t one that I left behind. It’s a part of me. It’s part of my culture.
So why am I telling you this? Other than for us to all get a little more familiar? Well, because these two very different facts, my being bi-ethnic in a predominantly White community and growing up in the military are two major building blocks in my cultural foundation. They aren’t the only things obviously, but I feel like they had the deepest impact on me. And as I began to travel further afield, outside of Canada, outside of North America, I wore those cultural “lenses.” In my luggage I packed my biases. My judgements. My insecurities and feelings of being “othered” were cast on others. We’ve all done it. And it’s almost impossible not to look at the world through our own lenses, for better or for worse. It’s what we do with those perspectives that matter.
Then I became a mom, and my re-framed views on my own culture, and the way in which I interact with the global community underwent yet another change. It’s my responsibility to keep my young son’s mind mind open, his heart willing, and his curiosity never-ending. Basically, I just want us all to be better humans to eachother, and that is why I started this podcast.
So in order to accomplish that, I need to explore the uncomfortableness of culture, especially those that we aren’t familiar with or those that challenge our belief systems. I want to talk about things like culture shock, culture diversity, and how we perceive language barriers or language differences as we in the anthropology world like to say when we’re traveling. I want to talk about the language around culture in the travel industry, and some of the issues that I have with it. You may not agree with everything you hear on this podcast, but I hope it at least starts a dialogue, at home, amongst your friends, or even just with yourself.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve referred to anthropology a couple of times, I even describe myself as an anthropology enthusiast. My love for anthropology isn’t just a hobby, I actually completed an entire degree in it. I know. Unless you’re an actual anthropologist, You’re probably thinking back to that one super-interesting one-off course you took in human evolution, or maybe it was an Egyptology course and then went on to finish a degree in something that actually pays a decent wage. Yep, I did a full four years of it and though I never went on, though I still dream about doing my Masters in it, it was the most eye-opening, fascinating and enriching experience of my life. It made me a better traveler, a better daughter, a better Mother, a better human.
Here’s a really quick, crash course on anthropology and culture:
In the most general sense, anthropology is the study of humanity. More specifically, anthropologists study human groups and culture, with a focus on understanding what it means to be human. Anthropologists explore aspects of human biology, evolutionary biology, linguistics, cultural studies, history, economics, and other social sciences.
Modern anthropology is often divided into four distinct sub-disciplines: biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology and archaeology. The four disciplines can be generally characterized as follows: biological anthropology (also known as physical anthropology) is the study of human-environmental adaptation; cultural anthropology is the study of how people develop and use culture as a tool; archaeology is the study of the past through materials, spaces, and artifacts left behind; And linguistic anthropology is the study of how people communicate and formulate language.
That’s anthropology, so what is the definition of culture? Well, that’s a much tougher one to answer. Back when I was doing my degree at the University of British Columbia (which wasn’t even that long ago, I only graduated in 2015), there were over 160 definitions of culture. All of the founding fathers and mothers of anthropology each had their own definitions, then came the sociologists, psychologists, historians, ethnologists, theologians, humanists, economists, basically any discipline that had anything to do with studying any form of human behaviour and belief systems had their own definition of culture. But to avoid following Alice down the rabbit hole, culture can be defined as the characteristics and knowledge systems of a particular group of people, and these systems include language, belief systems (including religion), cuisine, social habits, music and arts. To take the definition further, this knowledge is fluid, and ever-changing. Culture is not stagnant, despite what your preconceptions may be. Culture in every community around the world has been adapted. And there is no such thing as monoculture, or one singular culture.
There are a number of nations around the world that I often here described as “all being the same”, or monocultural, China being one of them. Japan is another nation that I often here travelers describe as being one culture. White it’s true, the yamato are the dominant ethnic group, but the Aynu, an indigenous group native to Hokkaido and northeastern Honshu speak a language distinctive of Japanese. Indigenous groups around the world are always spoken of as the exception, and rarely given the representation they deserve. They are “exotified” a term I’ll talk about in another episode. My point is, Mono-culturalism is nearly impossible, everyone practices their own modified versions of their own culture. Even the slightest difference creates diversity.
While culture is old as humanity, the study of culture is relatively new. In the 19th century, humanists and theologians thought of culture as the epitome of refinement, a sentiment that has survived today. You’ve probably heard someone say something like, “John is so uncultured”, or a particular city, lacks any form of culture, my hometown of Vancouver is often accused of this. This notion of refinement came from the German concept of “bildung” or total perfection. You were a member of the elite class if you were well versed in art, classical music and cuisine. This may sound like a far-fetched and old school way of thinking but Today, the term “uncultured” is still used to refer to individuals that are perceived to have a lesser education, a lack exposure to ethnic diversity, less travelled and they’re often accused of being downright xenophobic. Again, this is a term I would love to explore in another episode.
Okay, so we’ve talked anthropology, and culture, and you have some personal background on me, let’s add a final layer to this ongoing discussion. Let’s talk about travel. I run a luxury and surprise, culturally focused travel business. I love nothing more encouraging my guests to explore life way the heck out of their cultural comfort zones. And that often means having difficult conversations and answering unpopular questions.
I’ve travelled to more than 70 countries, and worked in and around the travel industry as a consultant for over 15 years.
I’ve also worked with tourism boards around the world as a travel writer, so I’ve had the unique opportunity to see how culture itself has become the main focus for destinations. In many regards, Culturally focused tourism has become both a lifeline and a means to revitalize cultural loss in many places around the world. I’ve seen first hand how tourism has empowered vulnerable communities to make drastic change, and share a part who they are with those who seek out knowledge and experiences. But tourism has also caused the erosion of cultures, and if this new era of travel should be teaching us anything, it’s that it’s that we need to be more mindful, more respectful, more empathetic and a lot less selfish when we do travel. How do we do that? My hope is that I can share a few ideas, field questions you may have, and include interviews and dialogue from seasoned travelers, anthropologists, cultural experts, writers, artists, and anyone else who wants to take this journey with us.
Now, before I sign off, first, I want to thank you for listening, from the bottom of my heart. I truly appreciate you listening in and I hope that you will tune in Next Wednesday for a very special episode of Across Storied Lands.
For the entire month of June, every episode of Across Storied Lands will be dedicated to love and travel in a series called: Pandemic Love. Back in March, I launched a bit of a research project. The world had fallen to its knees, and I wanted to find some beauty in what felt like a very dark time for humanity. I asked 150 individuals, two questions: How were they coping in their relationships during this pandemic, and what role did travel play in their past, present and current love lives. The questions were left open for interpretation and what followed suit was an avalanche of, heartwarming, heartbreaking, raw and very personal stories. During the month of June, I will be reading out as many of these incredible stories as I possibly can. So please, be sure to check back next Wednesday for the first episode of Pandemic Love or better yet, hit the subscribe button so you never miss an update.
And if you have a story you would like to contribute to Pandemic Love or have questions about this episode, click the voicemail button if you’re listening on Anchor or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
And finally, if you enjoyed this podcast episode, please leave a review or share with a friend. Until next time, remember, in a world where you can be anything, be kind.
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