“I love being in transit”

an interview with Taiye Selasi

Nonstop (Issue III/2019)

Taiye Selasi, you have lived in many different places, from Accra to Berlin. What is your experience of the transitioning zones, the state of being in-between, when you travel from one place to another?

I have been travelling at least twice or three times a month for the past three years. So I sometimes joke that the place I feel most at home is an airport departure lounge. But something funny happens to me whenever I’m in transit: It is then that I think most clearly. Somehow, I feel in these moments and those places completely disconnected and detached from my whole own narratives of self. Although I am completely impatient with all the banalities of current airport culture, I love being in transit.

What does it mean for you have roots in so many places?

What it means for me to be multilocal is that I feel I have the privilege to live one of the richest versions of 21st century human experience. Where I used to feel anguished, confused and judged, I know have sort of empowered myself to enjoy the richness, the variability, the texture, and yes, sometimes the complications of being a multilocal human being and living in an increasingly multilocal world. 

Do you have a favourite mode of transport while travelling?

Yes, the train. I love looking out the window, I love the fact that I’m overland, I love being connected to the ground but at the same time in motion. No matter where I take a train, I’ve always been able to read and to write on the train. Trains have always awakened my imagination, especially if I have a window seat. 

Do you connect particular modes of transport with the cities where you lived?

Certainly. The mode of transport that I most associate with Berlin is my bicycle. Lisbon has many cobblestones that make biking next to impossible, so I most associate walking with Lisbon, and also with Rome. It’s a joy to get lost on these winding cobblestone alleyways that go up and down the tree-lined hills. While I lived in New York, I was amongst other things impoverished, so I always took the metro. But I loved it! And still now, what makes me most realise that I’m back in New York is the clamping of the subway doors. What I most associate with Accra, sadly, is being in a car, because we still don’t have the kind of infrastructure that makes public transport possible. But I hope that one day we will. Because when I drive 25 kilometres to Togo, to Lomé, there are metros everywhere, there are scooters everywhere and I really hope that this culture will also come to Accra. 

Which mode of transport do you use the most?

Unfortunately the plane. It is bad for the environment, but we haven’t yet found a more sustainable alternative for fast three-hour-travel from Lisbon to Stuttgart.

In Sweden, the new term “Flygskam” was coined. It refers to feeling guilty when flying because of climate change. What do you think about that?

It doesn’t surprise me that there is such a term as climate guilt in Sweden, because they have the luxury to do so. When looking at it through the related lenses of economics and imperialism it is obvious: The places that manifest the climate consequences of the actions of the global north are not in the global north, so there you have the luxury to say: “Oh let’s not take planes anymore, let’s just go walking through our still, pristine fjords”. But if you’re living in a country where a huge percentage of discarded clothing and waste is been dumped in landfills, then you shoulder the burden.

an interview by Gundula Haage

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