Sometimes people catch you by surprise.
What’s more surprising is when a friend throws you for a loop. You know when you think everything is ok for them and then, one day they open up to you a little and you realize, it’s not.
I tend to be the social one, the extrovert, the talker, the one who wears her heart on her sleeve. Two weeks ago when I received a whatsapp from a friend asking me if I knew what happens if she left her job early, I immediately responded with, “No idea, but please please don’t make any rash decisions. Come over to my house this evening, will have tea and chat.” Chat we did. I was surprised to learn that despite hanging out often; cooking together, watching movies, roaming around town, chilling and drinking tea in my cozy apartment together, she wasn’t happy. She was stuck in a rut and so unsure of everything. I was sad to hear this and of course, surprised. I’ve had my share of ruts and uncertainty and no how difficult they can be.
How did I not detect anything was wrong? She assures me she keeps things to herself. Not even some of her closest friends knew but it still made me feel uneasy. How easily we can be in the company of friends and not really know what they are going through.
But I could relate. I’ve been in her shoes many times and I know how challenging it is to rise out of the misery.
Traveling solo in Africa had me questioning my decisions numerous times, especially a month into my trip. Christmas was fast approaching and it seemed everyone I encountered told me, “Traveling in Africa is dangerous, it’s not a place for a woman traveler.” Though, it was only men telling me this. I questioned my goals, my dream, and just what the hell I was doing in Africa solo. Questions bounced in my head:
Am I crazy? Is it really as dangerous as people say it is? Or are they just perpetuating the stereotypes of Africa, a continent that is so vast, so full of different cultures, languages, music, food, dance, and so many possibilities yet gets labeled as a whole? Labeled with buzzwords; famine war, rape, AIDS, etc. I was so confused and a bit homesick (which I didn’t realize nor could I admit to myself until months later) that I browsed flights and envisioned myself home- I would surprise my mom a week before Christmas.
I’m terminating this crazy dream early.
I planned to stay just long enough to go on a safari in Serengeti, snap photos of Mt. Kilimanjaro and buy some souvenirs including tailor- made African print clothing. I didn’t come all this way NOT to see some of the most impressive sights.
While enjoying my complimentary breakfast of eggs and potatoes and a cup of coffee, a tall, suave twenty-something, cocoa- skinned man sat next to me. I rolled my eyes. Here we go again, I said to myself. After a month of traveling solo, I knew why he choose to sit next to me, despite being the only one at the guest house eating breakfast with ten vacant tables nearby. Bring on the three questions. The three questions that at least once a day an African man has asked me.
I was feeling sassy and in no mood for non-sense. I was home-sick, sad, and uncertain. I wasn’t interested in what he was looking for: Sex. And a Western visa. I wasn’t the woman traveler looking for the “whole” African experience. In fact, I hadn’t considered that some travelers travel with this in mind. Nothing against them but I soon learned, there must be lots of solo woman travelers (many from Scandinavia) passing through Tanzania who want to test out the theory that “once you go black, you never go back” because after spending 6 weeks in the guest house, I found out he spends his time between four hotels talking up women (because he never seem to “work” but was always at the guest house). He must be successful. I wasn’t looking for an exotic experience then again, I come from a place full of different walks of life, a kaleidoscope of people and cultures.
Standard three questions:
What’s your name?
Where are you from?
I shrugged my shoulders. Guess?
He asked me if I was ok. But I didn’t say much. He must have sensed something was wrong.
Are you married?
Usually I say yes because saying you have a boyfriend is like saying you’re single to them.
But instead of answering him I took it as an opportunity to get information. I wanted some clothing made and maybe he knew where to go and the best place to buy African fabric.
He looked over his shoulder, exchanged a few words in Swahili with Josephine and told me to talk to her, the manager of the guest house, who was enjoying a cup of tea. I finished my breakfast and then chatted with her. Turns out she had some spare time and immediately offered to show me a few places.
I remember the sun shinning on my face, looking at the beautiful fabric and imagining my self back home in a week. I wanted to soak up my last memories. I felt better that evening but I was still boarding a plane. Africa was not for me, I told myself. I’m buy my ticket by Sunday, giving me 2 days to get everything sorted and book a safari.
I spent time talking with the workers of the guest house, who made me feel like family. Who made me feel like I belonged, who lent an ear to my uncertainty (to the white gal who had a dilemma do I keep traveling or go home, a complete first world luxury but they didn’t say anything), and who comforted me by their presence.
When the day came to book my ticket,
I had changed my mind.
I didn’t feel the intense feelings of needing to return.
I stayed in Moshi for six weeks, a place where most trekkers stop by for a day or two as they prepare for their climb up Mt. Kili. Travelers always looked at me with surprise and said the same, Two weeks? Here? What have you been doing? My need to relax and stay in one place was lost on them who had a strict, round the world journey they had to adhere to. Four days here, three here, two before we need to tak a plane here…
I counted my blessings, I wasn’t tied to anything or anyone. I didn’t have a schedule or any place to be and no one was expecting me. How lucky I was to be able to stay as long as I wanted in a place, even if it wasn’t a big tourist destination without a whole lot to do. I have some of the fondess memories in Moshi because I got to know locals and a few ex-pats, see markets, be invited to see a kids football match on a dirt patch, ride on a motorcycle to the game, see daily life from sunrise to sunset,and visit a few non-profit projects; I felt apart of something. I was part of a little community.
This sense of community, a place I could call home was exactly what I needed to pick myself up and be inspired to travel again. It was in this town that I met a new friend whom I traveled with through Malawi and Mozambique! Sometimes in my most uncertain moments, I need a chance to relax, focus on the little things in life and most importantly, have people who are willing to lend an ear to help me see the bigger picture.
I‘m sad my friend is gone. Sad I couldn’t convince her to stay till the end of the program but that’s me being selfish. Selfish because I want to spend time with her, enjoy more inspiring conversations, cook food together, and explore more of our city together. It’s a bit of a shock to the system to know a friend is leaving but…
I’m happy for her. Happy that she’s honoring herself.
Happy she’s listening to her intuition and doing what’s best for her right now rather than staying out of obligation and out of what she feels she is suppose to do. It’s easy to feel trapped- to do what we think is expected of us rather than what we really want or really need.
I admire you dear amiga! My you find your happiness soon and may you receive all you need.
Have you ever been in a rut while living abroad or traveling that you almost called it quits early? Or have you ended something early because you weren’t happy or it wasn’t what you wanted and grateful you did?
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