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Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Urban Xenophile



The Urban Xenophile: Jordana Manchester Interview 


Jordana Manchester has traveled the world, walked with lions, and has written plenty of amazing articles. On her blog The Urban Xenophile she showcases her skills as a freelance writer, expresses her enthusiasm for anthropology, shares with us her globe-trotting adventures, and tells us what it’s like to be a student of life.  Follow along the journey of Jordana Manchester, The Urban Xenophile.

Age: 32

Home Town: Vancouver, Canada

How did your love for academia and writing come about?

Well, I started writing poetry and short stories when I was seven, and interestingly, all throughout high school, I was desperate to become the next Diane Sawyer. But once I hit the work force after high school, life got in the way. It took me ten years to come back to writing and academia. It was a combination of encouraging friends and family, as well as my globe-trotting that inspired me.

What was your involvement in the fashion industry and why did you decide to leave it?

I worked as an independent model on and off for a few years in Canada and the United States. Later I worked in retail and eventually as a sales rep for a premium denim brand. As a model, I was enamored with the world of fashion, I found the creativity was dizzying, but spending five to six hours on a set, in what felt like ten pounds of make-up only to have some editor crop, trim and airbrush me to the point of no recognition, then later remind me I needed to lose a pound or two off my 95 lb frame, it all became too much. I wanted just wanted to feel okay being myself. I still do independent projects from time to time, I love working with new photographers and artists, and I’m currently working on creating a fashion blog that’s geared towards adolescents and young adults.

In your studies at the University of British of Columbia what is the hardest part of being a budding cultural Anthropologist?

Trying to decide what to focus on! Anthropology is such a vast field, and to become a practicing anthropologist, the road is long, and you have to narrow down your field of interest. I’m interested in everything from Aboriginal languages, to the anthropology of media; it’s all fascinating so it’s really tough to choose.

How do you balance being a student and a freelance writer?

It gets a little chaotic from time to time. I’ve learned to function on minimal sleep, and master the art of the five minute meal. I could write up to ten research papers in one semester, plus a few hundred articles, and all of a sudden, I found myself becoming a bit of a scheduling guru. The other thing I’ve had to learn is that asking for help is okay. I’m incredibly disciplined and I have two military parents to thank for that. They instilled in me a strong work ethic, a ferocious tenacity and an incessant need to improve myself on a daily basis, all things that have propelled me through. And in November, I’ll be crossing the stage to collect my diploma!

Your portfolio is vast and unique. You cover a lot of topics and your work has depth. What drove you to focus on more than one subject as you began your freelance writing career?  

Thank you! I definitely write in a number of genres, partly because my clients are so diverse, and partly because I have so many interests. I’m a naturally curious person, an avid reader, and I love nothing more on a Friday night than to sit and chat with strangers in my favorite cafe. I think being able to write about a variety of topics requires you to be hungry for new knowledge. I find that most people exist in this state of stasis, an insulated bubble where they just want to get by; they’re not really interested in anything outside of their own world. I’m interested in everything, probably to the point I annoy people at times, ha ha ha!


What have been some of your favorite places that you’ve been in your travels?

I’ve been engaged in a ten year long love affair with Cuba. The food, the music, the people, the culture, it’s all intoxicating and every time I visit, my adventures grow richer and richer. Sumatra also has a special place in my heart, along with England’s emerald green Lake District, San Sabastian’s cool Pintxos eateries, the ancient alleys of Jerusalem, the mythical mountains of Iceland and of course, the million year old dunes of Namibia. Can you tell I’m in love with the world?


In your post ‘Working With Lions: My Time in Zambia’ you talk about your lifelong dream of traveling to Africa and eventually going. How was that experience?

I had to pinch myself, every day. I remember the very first day aboard our overland truck, and we were making our way north from Cape Town to the Orange River. As the sun set over the Savannah, I started to cry uncontrollably. I remember trying to hide my face in my arms so no one could see. Africa was always a distant dream, and I had achieved it, long before I ever thought I would. I was grateful for every moment, for every individual along the way who shared their stories with me, and I will always feel humbled by the humility and kindness of the African people I met on my journey.

It’s safe to say your sanctuary when visiting London is the British Museum. What are some of your favorite artifacts and exhibits there and why?

Ah the British Museum. My church. Even saying the name makes my heart race a little. Here’s where I really geek out! For an Anthropologist, visiting the British Museum can feel like a bit of a pilgrimage, seeing all those archaeological artifacts levitate from the one dimensional pages of a dusty textbook, into a three dimensional thing, it’s truly exhilarating. With over 8 million objects to choose from, it’s definitely hard to narrow it down, but I do have favorites. I always feel a sense of pride when I see the Kwakwaka'wakw masks representing Aboriginals from Canada’s North West Coast. They were a group that impacted the field of Anthropology immensely, and their history is rich and fascinating. I love the Egyptian Exhibit, especially when Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus makes its rounds. And the African Exhibit was a highlight for me on my last visit with all the contemporary art created out of old AK-47’s and artillery. I felt a sense of hopefulness about all the micro-movements going on throughout Africa.

I read that you’re a foodie, in your experiences around the world, which meals warmed your soul? Those meals that made you felt good after you ate it.

I’m definitely a foodie, and it’s an aspect my blog, I’ll be building up over the next few months. I don’t just love to eat, I’m fascinated with the cultural implications of food. It tells us so much about how a particular culture functions on a day-to-day basis. I love learning about where local ingredients come from, how they’re cultivated, eating customs, and how food is to both unite and divide people. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had were with complete strangers inviting me into their homes. I had a meal just outside of Trinidad de Cuba with a family of five who picked me up as a hitchhiker just outside of Havana that was out-of-this world. I had an incredible Singaporean meal in the mountain town of Lijiang in southern China that still makes me smack my lips. I’m also obsessed with England’s gastropub scene and all that good old fashioned comfort food. And I could die tomorrow if some great Bobotie (South African) was my last meal!


What are favorite places to eat in Vancouver?

I have so many. Vancouver has really come into its own in terms of the culinary mastery you’ll find in the most unassuming of places. It’s considered the most multicultural city on the planet, which is great for people like me who love to be taken places with a good meal. Some of my personal favorites include an Italian joint called Campagnolo on Main Street, Bishops on Broadway, a Spanish Tapas bar in English Bay called Espana, Balilicious on Cambie, Wildebeest in Gastown, and La Brasserie, an Alsatian restaurant located a few blocks from my house. 

When did you begin The Urban Xenophile and how did you come up with the title of your site?

Urban Xenophile was a small dream of mine for a number of years and it only came to fruition two years ago. The name came to me while I was reading a rather weathered National Geographic somewhere in Morocco about a woman who had given up all of her possessions to see the world - It was not dissimilar to my story. She was described as a ‘xenophile’, and I had never heard that term before. I discovered it described an individual who was obsessed with anything foreign. I thought it suited me brilliantly, coupled with the fact I was a city girl, I became the ‘Urban Xenophile’. I created the site because friends and family kept prodding me to share my travel stories and life experiences through writing. I was shy at first, you know, to put it all out there, but I’ve loved it and my readers send me the most encouraging emails. My plan is to build it into a brand, and hopefully, I accomplish that dream!

You’re photo essays are amazing! What inspired you to document your travels through photography?

I’m a photographer in training and still have a long way to go with my art, but I love being behind the lens. It was actually a boyfriend with a Nikon D80 that encouraged me to grow my talent. He put the camera in my hands one day and told me not to think about it, “just shoot!”. He later taught me about perspective, light, shadows and how to visualize scenes, giving me just enough skills to capture what I knew was going to be the trip of my lifetime. I’m officially addicted and currently saving up for my own DSLR.

How have your studies in Anthropology influence the way you looked at the world as you embarked on your travels?

Oh my goodness, in every way possible. If Anthropology has taught me anything, it’s humility. I learned that “different” and “weird” should never coexist in the same sentence, because what may be “strange” to me is completely acceptable to another. I’ve become more of an advocate against social constructions like “race”, and feel we can all be culturally distinctive without the labels. It’s both made me more accepting of my fellow humans, yet also expect better from them. And lastly, it’s made me realize that language is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of culture, yet to me, the most fascinating!

Do you feel like there is a lack of humanity in journalism and a lack of human interest stories that matter in mainstream media?

Yes, and thank you so much for asking that question. It’s the main reason I decided against a career in journalism back in high school, and why choosing a path of Anthropology just made sense. What was being taught in journalism schools across this country at the time, was how to be a cutthroat information gatherer, how to flex the rules of ethics, how to manipulate a story to make it sensational, and how to capitalize on an individual’s misery. I didn’t want to be a part of it. I think there is a huge void in mainstream media and social media and online communities are filling in the gap. I think people are tired of being fed a steady diet of negativity, narcissism and inaccuracy, and in my opinion, it’s one of the biggest shake-ups the world of news has ever experienced.

Where can people reach you?

People can contact me through the contact form on my blog at Urbanxenophile.com, or directly through gmail, jordanamanchester@gmail.com.

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