Sometimes This is Hard and I Make Weird Decisions
My flight to Dakar left Dar Es Salaam at 6 am this morning. Flew to Johannesburg, 10-hour layover, then another 8-hour flight up the continent's west side to Senegal's coastal capital.
I've wanted to go to Senegal for years. Music, dancing, fashion, beaches, mangroves, French – it has a lot of things I like. It's a lot more dangerous than Tanzania, sure, but I figured whatever risks are present could be overcome by reaching out to a network of acquaintances and just keeping my wits about me. I've been excited about this trip for months.
Around mid-afternoon a friend from Arusha sent me an Instagram message to say goodbye and to see how my flight was going.
I sent a short response: “No idea. I didn't get on the plane.”
“Shit Hil, isn't that an expensive mistake?”
It wasn't a mistake. I just didn't get on the plane.
There are worse problems to have than too many friends, too many streets to learn your way down, too many houses that feel like home.
I could be working a job I hate, living my life in a town I never liked, stuck in a shit situation that just kind of happened that has no end in sight. It could be a failed marriage, an unplanned pregnancy, a violent childhood, an unexpected death, a systemic oppression, a miscarriage of justice, a chronic illness, a cycle of poverty. A famine a fistfight a fatwa.
My problems aren't problems at all. Just the inevitable emotional upheaval that results from the constant movement I've chosen, and the accompanying need to swallow it and carry on.
I've been on the road now, in some capacity, for just under a year. Ten months of no home, no structure, no routine. It's beautiful, it's inspiring, it's incredibly fun, it's an absolutely unbelievable privilege for which I am unendingly grateful.
It is also, at times, really fucking hard.
In a time of constant movement, there are nonstop hellos and constant goodbyes. Every day brings new friends, new experiences, new people to love and then leave.
Strangers become acquaintances quickly, acquaintances become your new best friends. You have unusually vulnerable conversations with people you've met an hour earlier, rely heavily on the integrity of people you've known for eight minutes, spend a month living in the home of someone you'd only met a months previous.
The hello part is amazing. The openness you feel towards strangers is a welcome change from the ho-hum way we interact with our neighbours at home. But with every hello comes a goodbye. You get on a bike, get on a bus, get on a plane, leave forever.
When I walked through Arusha on my last day carrying my two backpacks, I expected what you'd expect for mzungu walking through town with luggage – a hustle and a hassle. I expected offers of fraudulent safaris and attempts to sell knock-off Maasai jewelry. Instead I got hugs and handshakes and whole lot of “Rafiki you'll come back soon right?”
I just say ndiyo (yes) and smile. In 10 months of constant goodbyes, I've become adept at smiling as I walk away. It's a cold skill to master.
Leaving is just leaving, I've learned to do it quickly. To say kesho (see you later) when we both know it's actually kwa heri (goodbye). To kiss a person at the departure gate and walk away, don't look back, pretend it didn't feel like love. To not cry until you get on the plane, to not cry at all.
Travelling alone leaves you open to the world, but vulnerable to the nonstop loss of the relationships you build along the way. When you leave, you leave alone, bringing nothing but the memories with you. Your heart simultaneously full to the point of bursting, but constantly making room for new people and increasingly incapable of hurting you as you fortify the walls around it.
My heart is full and I'm heartless.
It's something Joelle and I talk about a lot. I'm travelling, she's moved across the world. My situation is temporary, hers is as permanent as anything can be guaranteed.
She chose love and stayed in a place a million miles from home. A decision she doesn't regret one bit but it's not without its drawbacks. In this world there are few benefits without costs.
Joelle's little sister reads every one of my blog posts so she can feel closer to Joelle's new life. You can call home, but you can't video conference hugging your parents. You can't Skype your friend's wedding, can't WhatsApp hiking with your sister, can't Facetime festival season, can't iMessage kicking back with your roommate.
I think about my family every day. Think about my friends back home, concentrate to make sure I still remember the inflection in their voices and the way they move around a room. I text them when I remember but I don't remember often enough.
I think about the people I've met on the road and wonder if it meant as much to them as it did to me. Think about messaging people I only spent a day with to be like, “Hey hope everything's good with you just wanted to drop you a quick line to let you know I fucking love you and I miss you so much.”
I miss the hell out of people I have no idea when I'll see again. If I'll see again.
I miss you and I love you so very, very much.
It's a privilege to travel the world, I'm the luckiest person I know and I know that. It's not hard, but it's not that fucking easy either.
On what was supposed to be my last day in Tanzania, I took a phone call from a friend in Arusha while lying on my back in my hotel room in Dar. The sound of his voice made the tears roll down my cheek and into my phone so quickly I was worried they'd short-circuit the phone. Short-circuit my heart.
Until yesterday, I hadn't cried in 10 months. Yesterday tears were my auto-response.
I called Joelle while she was at work in a small-scale panic, like, Joelle I have 8 hours until takeoff, 8 hours to decide if I get on this plane or not. Called my mom in Vancouver at what would be 2am for her and tried to wake her up.
When that was unsuccessful I called my friend in Arusha, we'll name her Cathy, like “hey I hope you're not busy because I think I'm losing my mind.” If I couldn't talk to my mom I at least needed the advice of a woman her age.
We went over the pros and cons. Money? Fuck it. Safety? Stay. Adventure? Go. Emotions? Stay.
“Hil I think you're making all these phone calls because you're looking for somebody else to justify for you what you don't even need to justify to yourself. You obviously don't want to leave, so just stay.”
I hung up and brought my Lonely Planet guidebook for Senegal to the bookshop down the road, traded it for a discount on a Swahili exercise book. The bookshop owners, a hilarious older British couple, knew I was supposed to leave the next morning and inquired as to why I'd be making this particular exchange at this particular moment.
- I'm not going.
- I don't want to.
“That's as good of a reason as any. Karibu tena. Welcome back.”
- Asante. It feels good to be home.