Origins: Retrace Your Steps

Travel changes perspective – morbidly cliché but true. It also sparks new ideas. Editor in Chief Marie-Anne Leuty (she/her) recounts how TQTB came into existence in a garden in Lisbon.

24/8/2018, AROUND 14:30:

‘So, we fucked the Indians in Brazil, and the n*****s from the plantations, you know, the Africans. And we did it for control, but in the end, the people we colonised love us because we integrated with them – mixed everything up.’

The dusty Nissan Micra careens around the roundabout. Obi’s knees graze his shoulders while I avoid eye contact with the Airbnb host in the rearview.

Internal dialogue kicks into overdrive. This dude’s clearly a lost cause. He’s taking us to the apartment. We’ve been up since early to catch the flight, so neither of us is in a place to expend energy to remind him about the other sides of his weighted story. I focus on the arboreal arrangement in the next roundabout. We ascend into the hills of Lisbon.

Two weeks earlier, I tipped into my second burnout. A full meltdown with a confidante at work who knew how to handle the situation, recommend I head home, call the company doctor, allow my brain to diffuse. The trip was already on the cards, but I didn’t make the final furlong.

Fragile and broken once again by the corporate world, I wish the Micra onward to Anjos. The erratic driving is a help and a hindrance.

SAME DAY, 19:30:

‘My n****r!’

We keep walking.

‘Ey, yo, my n****r!’

Yep, he’s definitely addressing Obi. We stop to talk, his keen green eyes meet ours. He’s no more than 35.

‘You’re Igbo right? My dad’s Nigerian… he remarried when I was small. She’s a white lady. I ain’t mad at him, she was nice. But my mum’s your colour and my dad’s your colour, and people assume this white lady’s my mum. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love her, she’s good for my dad, but she’s not my mum. I’m Cape Verdean. Can you spare any change?’

His olive knuckles pale around the crack rock clutched in his palm.

27/8/2018, 21:00:

The quiet crowd gathers around a white van on Praça de Rossio between the national theatre and Igreja de São Domingos. The church has existed here in some form since 1241, testament to the square’s medieval grandeur. Tourists mill around the ginjinha bar as junkies sit along the perimeter, unhungry. A hush cloaks everything and everyone. The line slowly moves forward as septuagenarians climb into the back of the van to collect their donations.

30/8/2018, CLOSING IN ON NOON:

There’s nothing like travel for a change in perspective. Lisbon demands that you acknowledge its geography. As we climb, it feels good to move with the land, skin glowing under the sun, each step brings us closer to its rays. 

Today’s destination is the Botanical Garden. Timing is everything, so we pause on Calçada da Patriarcal to dissolve our tabs – this is my first experience with LSD. As we wind along the descent into the garden, a wave of cool air and shade envelopes and shields us from the midday sun. Cacti stand proud bearing their fruit, palms tower overhead. Deeper into the microclimate, plants become more lush, so thick and verdant you could bite into them. Shards of light pry through thick branches with evergreen leaves, dappled shadows wrap themselves around us with cool, reassuring arms. We wind around a corner and, carved into the side of the escarpment, is a man-made pool edged by a walkway. Monstera tumble over, rich, unapologetically filling every available space between the rising trees. This shit is magical.

The acid’s making itself known.

Monstera deliciosa is native to the tropical forests of southern Mexico. A misfit residing in Portugal, this displaced behemoth has thrived for generations in this alien, urban, European setting. Unlimited by the confines of an office or a window sill, thick air roots sink deep into the pathway and hillside. So entwined and adapted to its new geography, the rolling waves of castellated green embrace and uplift us.

The seed that became The Quick + The Brave planted itself at a time that didn’t feel fertile. We were vulnerable. Fractured by systems and environments that continually ask us to shrink, accommodate, reject intuition and push for endless goals with no meaningful value. A distinct crossroads presented itself. Were we going to continue in the same vein as before, facing burnout after burnout, making ourselves smaller and smaller to make others comfortable? It was a path I’d been on for a long time. It taught me that I can be very resilient up to a point, but the cost is too dear. 

When you feel stuck, trapped in a cycle of routines and habits to numb yourself from reality, finding a new path is intimidating. Lisbon was a wake-up call. A reminder that different people connect in infinitely different ways, and our realities converge and meander just as broadly. 

It was time to look deep, deep down into the darkness of our situation and own it. The only way to get through times of uncertainty is to have faith that things can, and will, be better. You don’t know what the path will be, what new darknesses and lights you’ll encounter. But come what may, you’ll fight because it is better to live with purpose than to allow the burdens you rail against to consume you. 

These encounters in a new city, a different culture to our adopted everyday in Amsterdam,  were pivotal in helping us find inspiration rooted in our values. And by ‘values’, I don’t mean in terms of corporate managerial speak – I mean it from as far removed from that as it possibly can be. I’d heard the word used so much in corporate settings and contexts that it had lost all meaning. In that environment it had come to signify acquiescing to the needs of the business until your own worth lay bruised and rumpled on the floor. 

Exploring a different city prompted us to consider what meaning we could bring back to ‘values’: celebrating our cultures rather than folding them away to be palatable; finding and creating spaces where inclusivity is a way of life, not a buzzword; establishing small sustainable practices with ripple effects on our immediate environment; honouring the gut instincts that centre self and community care.

From that subconscious realisation, we embarked on a new chapter that would make little to no sense until puzzle pieces started to fit together two years later. Those darknesses were in wait for us, pushing defences that we’d cloaked ourselves in for a lifetime, further and further back. 

Building TQTB is nothing short of a labour of love. Love for our community and love for ourselves because, ultimately, how can we care for those around us when we silence our better judgment, taking on roles our spirits tell us we shouldn’t play? Seven days in Lisbon amplified the dance of the infinite parallel experiences and existences happening at once. Stark inequalities were dramatically placed at our table to observe and remind us. Nothing swept away, nothing concealed.

Follow Marie-Anne: @marieanneleuty 

Follow Obi: @obi.island


Obi Mgbado

Marie-Anne Leuty