Newfoundland author Sharon Bala stated in a recent post at Atlantic Books Today: “Short stories are an endangered species. Valiant publishers still print collections. And those collections punch above their weight when it comes to awards.”
While this particular collection may not be punching above its weight, Wasela Hiyate’s Travel Is So Broadening (2015, Quattro) is a good assemblage of nine short stories, all having something to do with the aspect of travel, and not necessarily travel for tourism’s sake. Some have to do with coming from another country to Canada, others from Canada returning to their native country and trying to cope with the changes, and so on. It doesn’t matter if you use a private jet, or hostel hop, the travel experiences are the same. In each case, the traveller(s) take some kind of emotional hit due to experiencing some self-discovery, and it is not always negative, but it is ‘broadening’. For example, one of my favourite stories is “Mo” (which is short for Mohammed. His uncle suggested he go by Mo in Canada). Mo is from Pakistan and is having a little trouble acclimatizing himself to the language and the people. He doesn’t understand Muslim extremists and worries that he will be considered one because he is a Muslim. He can only really relax when walking home late at night after the restaurant he works in closes:
He gulps the fresh night air in the deserted street. He feels a calmness he remembers from when he was a child. There would be just a slip of fragrance from the Jasmine before it closed itself for sleep during the day. Mo considers the unexpected beauty and brutality of the world that these two forces exist together, side by side.
We always carry a little bit of home with us wherever we travel – some more so than others, especially if they’re linked up to their surveillance cameras and Verisure Smart Alarms back home from their smartphone to monitor the situation back there for peace of mind when on lengthy travels. We tend not to feel at home in a strange country (even if it is the USA) if we get off the well-beaten tourism track. That is the case with several of the stories here. Would you react like the woman in “The Monkeys in Songkhla” at seeing the blatant sex tourism that is promoted in Thailand? Seeing the tourists in the Jeep in front of you drive off a cliff in Trinidad as in the title story, or consider a gentle, kind man as a knife murder in Iqualiut in “The Hat Maker”? Yes, there are several thought-provoking stories in this collection; perhaps enough for you to consider a stay-cation next year! Or, you might be inspired to travel! Seeing what lies off the beaten track can be exciting, so whether you decide to visit Windsor Castle instead of the more popular Buckingham Palace in the UK, or you decide to try out some CBD joints instead of going for a bike ride along the canals in Amsterdam, you might find that going off the beaten track is actually more enjoyable than you thought!
Out of the nine stories in Travel Is So Broadening I enjoyed about two-thirds of them, but as they say, your mileage may vary. The ones I liked best were the ones that leave you thinking, considering what you would have done as the tourist in that country, or if you were the one having to live and work in a different country just to escape poverty and strife back home. In this way, these nine stories about travel are broadening in the fullest sense of the word.
Wasela Hiyate was raised in Toronto after emigrating from Guyana at the age of one. She studied in Montreal and earned a MFA from the University of British Columbia. Her writing has appeared in The Malahat Review, Descant, The Fiddlehead Review, The Art of Trespassing, The New South, Coming Attractions 2010 and other literary publications. The title story of Travel Is So Broadening was nominated for the Journey Prize. In a past life, Wasela traveled and worked throughout Asia and Europe and taught ESL in Turkey and Mexico. After working in legal publishing, she is now at work on various writing projects, including a historical novel.