Crossroads with Renée Cheréz: Sanctuary — Body

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  • Published on October 29, 2022
  • Last Updated December 22, 2022

Renée Cheréz reflects on how through travel experience, she’s learned to create her own sanctuary within herself, ensuring that she always has a safe place.

Sanctuary, a noun, derives from the Latin word sanctum, which means ‘holy’ and is often used to reference places that hold spiritual meaning — churches, temples, mosques and other religious buildings and spiritual sites. In part one of this series, I reflected on my home, my sanctuary — the place in which I’ve found refuge for the past two years in Mexico. I considered how it has allowed me to traverse deeper into the internal world of my body, which over time, has become a sanctuary in and of itself. A holy container of depths that I have found worthy of curiosity, enthusiasm and exploration — the very same energy I root into when I explore a new city or museum.

But I haven’t always felt this way. In fact, there was a time I hated being alone or in silence or even just being a deeply feeling person. I’d do whatever was necessary to drown out noiselessness with distractions: engaging in meaningless conversation, staying busy, excessively drinking or mindlessly hanging around people that I didn’t really want to be around. I’d do anything to not feel or be with whatever was whispering for my attention. In the summer of 2018, I lived with a family in Tam Ky, a moderately sized city on the south central coast of Vietnam, where I taught summer English classes. And, for the first time in my travel journey, I came up against myself. I’d been exploring how anti-Blackness had infiltrated my being, and I didn’t like what I was feeling, which was mostly a combination of grief and rage. I didn’t like that I couldn’t pretend to be okay. It seemed like I was always feeling something and didn’t know what to make of it, and when I reached for my handy distractions, they didn’t offer the pseudo peace they once did. When the same wave of emotions would ensue back home, I blamed it on something outside of me: work, friends, family, a place.

The digitalization of travel and the ability to follow a person’s adventures through social media can create a false narrative, however idyllic, that by getting on a bus or plane, all will be well, that whatever that was challenging, painful or “too much” will magically disappear as the plane ascends into the clouds or bus pulls out of the station. Healing can’t happen in the same place causing the illness because the nervous system never forgets. It’s why no matter where I am in the world, quick-flashing red, blue and white lights will elicit tense shoulders and darting eyes in search of possible escape routes. I find the whole idea of long-term travel or choosing to emigrate to a new place allowing you to “transcend trauma,” and all that has set into your body as truth both hilarious and absurd. And that you should somehow be unaffected by heavily armed police in new places.

I wish it was this easeful, especially for Black wanderers. If anything, getting on a plane and moving from place to place is like a slingshot that shoots us with lightning speed directly into ourselves. Internal awareness seems to stretch as we explore a new place that offers more peace and predictability. In a way, isn’t the choice to move across place as Black travelers also a declaration to become one’s own sanctuary? Knowing that yes, we are worthy of living in places that offer gentleness and care to our nervous system while also acknowledging that colonialism and all its siblings have made it so that there is nowhere on Earth to which we can truly escape in our Black bodies. And maybe, for Black explorers, all roads lead back to our body, asking us to make space for parts of ourselves at a table that has grown in space and capacity, if only a little.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.


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