Listening to my inner voice and how I almost gave up on a dream

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.  

…………………………………….

Local produce market

Local produce market

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.  

Mt Kilimanjaro

Mt Kilimanjaro

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.

 

African fabric

African fabric

Standard three questions: 

What’s your name?

Lauren

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. 

Tailor who made me several skirts, tops and a dress

Tailor who made me several skirts, tops and a dress

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…

Main street in Moshi, Tanzania

Main street in Moshi, Tanzania

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.  

Josephine and I

Josephine and I- my guardian angel. If it wasn’t for her, I likely would have ended my dream of traveling East to South Africa!

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?

Leave a comment below

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18 thoughts on “Listening to my inner voice and how I almost gave up on a dream

  1. Pingback: Flashback Photo Fridays: Walking across the border | Roamingtheworld

  2. I’ve had a couple of really low points and what is strange is afterwards I have such incredible highs. I was really burnt out after Honduras but then loved Nicaragua and I was sad after Ecuador because my family left so started off Colombia wanting to go home and it turned out to be my favourite country.

    Sometimes you need to listen to your heart. Sometimes you need to stick it out.

  3. Funny enough I’ve never quit while I was in a rut or wasn’t happy — I’ve always quit while I’m ahead! I left a good life in Shanghai to move to the unknown in Singapore, then left a good life in Singapore to pursue another job in Paris.

    I always knew I wanted to spend my 20s traveling and never want to get ‘stuck’ somewhere; those cities will always be there — but my youth won’t. So that’s why I never spend more than a year and a half in each city, no matter how much I love it (or who I have to leave behind)!

  4. I was so unhappy at my job last year. I ended up switching schools and just felt like I was being taken advantage of as an auxiliar. I wanted to stay in Spain a third year but I decided enough was enough and I needed to go home. Staying in Spain meant teaching English as a job and I needed to get away from that (not to say I won’t ever teach English again but I could NEVER be an auxiliar again) Even after I bought the ticket to go home, I agonized over the decision for months wondering whether I was giving up on Spain and my dreams.

    SIx months later, I’m at a new job and the difference is night and day. I love my new job, I don’t dread getting up in the morning (sure the commute is not so great but I’ll deal with it!), and I know I made the right decision for myself. Will I ever move back to Spain? Maybe. But not as an English teacher!

    • Thanks for reading.
      Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience as an auxiliar. I feel lucky. Both years I’ve had schools that treat me well, even if I don’t feel like I’m helping the students as much as I could. Some days I feel my work is pointless- going through the English workbook is BORING but I’m not here to change the ways teachers teach, only to try to be an example when I have an opportunity every now and then to do an activity.
      Glad to hear you have a great job now and can appreciate the difference.
      I hope you have another opportunity to live in Spain and do a different type of job, if it’s still your dream to live here!

  5. I nearly went home early when I was studying abroad in Sevilla. I was miserable and so painfully unhappy. But I ended up staying and just used the time to travel around Europe and keep learning Spanish. I was never happy there and I was so excited to leave, but it felt good not to give up.

    • Yes, sometimes it’s the I’m NOT giving up part that keeps us going!
      Sometimes I have a tendency to get too focused on completing something and seeing things through, when maybe I should throw in the towel… LOL.
      Glad you had a chance to stay and travel in Europe!
      And look at you now, you’re back and living in BCN and loving it (or most of it, right?!)!

  6. This is so timely for me! I’m just tonight thinking if I should quit my English teaching job and move home early… I’m still not sure. I don’t know if I’m doing it out of fear or out of knowing whats best for myself. Anyway, great post!

    • Hi Alexis,
      Thanks for stopping by!
      Good questions to ask yourself- is it fear? is it what’s best?
      Sometimes reflection and looking at the bigger picture is the best thing we can do! I’d be curious to know more why you’d go early but I also don’t want to pry.
      I know my English teaching job isn’t so satisfying but I decided a while ago, that I’m not here for the job even though that’s what brought me here, if that makes any sense.

      • Well, I’m just not making the social connections that I’d hoped to here. I feel like I’m a little isolated and that if I were home I’d be establishing …. something. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to stick it out for my contract since I don’t mind the job and finding another one seems super daunting. I go back and forth, wanting a stable life at home and wanting to travel the whole world forever haha

      • Hi Alexis,
        I get it. It’s difficult to be in a different country, deal with cultural differences and the language and then NOT feel you have a good friends or even a social circle.

        Glad to hear you’re going to stick it out. I’ve been lucky and have wondered what I’d do. As you know, my closest friend in Vitoria left but thanks to travel plans I don’t really have too much time to focus on her being gone. I also forces me to focus on other things and get out and meet other folks…

        Hope things get better for you.
        Yes, I get the stability vs. travel thing. They both have their goods and bads, like everything. Sometimes you have to do them to know what you really want!

  7. I’ve been in quite a few ruts, and I’m probably going to get myself into plenty more more before I check out, lol. I do hate being in them, but there’s something so invigorating about that ‘being mobilised’ feeling you get when you’re finally wrangling your way out of that stale swamp.
    It’s always left me with a definite sense of achievement, of moving forward. Beats dying in your comfort zone. I have limited patience with people who constantly complain about a situation but fail to do anything about it.

    • Yes, ruts are no fun but life is full of them as you know!
      I agree! I can’t imagine how my life would have been if I had boarded a plane and left Africa early! It’s had such an impact on my life and often when I’m in difficult situations, I think, if I could handle/pull through in Africa for 9 months, I can handle X!

    • Thanks for the grand compliment Sarah!
      Yes, I’m sure with your curiosity and adventurous spirit, you’ll find yourself somewhere in Africa sooner than you think!

  8. Perhaps your friend just needs some perspective, and going home will do her a world of good. I ran into an old coworker and she remembered how unhappy I was my second year in Seville – I had completely forgotten the tears and the confessions to Asun. I broke up with my boyfriend, went back home and got to despejar a bit and realize that I was in a good place.

    • Yes Cat. Perspective and being home will do her a world of good. She knew she needed to be with family and she listened to her heart.
      I remember you saying you weren’t sure about coming back for a 2nd year but sounds like you also weren’t sure about returning for a third year? Life is incredible, isn’t it?! we just never know where the camino will lead!

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