“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson
I spent a total of six months living in Guinea-Bissau by myself. But because my camera was stolen in a book store in Denver (of all places) and I lost the memory cards that held pictures from my first three months. I can't find any pictures of the time I had there by myself. I can remember everything clear as day. I have photos from after when people showed up and joined me. Perhaps some day I'll have to recapture those pictures by returning to the places I went.
My six months in Africa passed slowly at first. Like a death crawl. And then gradually, it sped up. I began to thrive after about 3 months. It took that long, but I was finally in a good place and able to figure things out. By the end of the sixth month, I was in love with the place, the people, and with seeing things I'd never seen before.
After Africa, I stopped in London on my way home. I was alone. And I was surprised that I reveled in the aloneness. I just wanted to see the world. And so I did.
I made friends with a French girl and an Australian girl named Sophie. Together as newfound friends, we found all kinds of things in the local markets. Below Sophie and I had just discovered what real mistletoe looks like (at home, we'd only ever seen the fake stuff). We toured the city from our shared hostel. And we explored what London offers at Christmas time. Borough Market was amazing and the sense of peace over the city was so different from the American cacaphony.
Borough Market was full of breads, chocolates, fruits, and I was amazed at both how cold I felt after living in a tropical climate and shedding some of the pounds I had previously carried, and at how temperate it was in London. People never talked about freezing and snow wasn't really a thought.
The experience was deep and never lonely. I had friends and family members who were very concerned that I'd find myself lonely wandering the world alone. I was the furthest thing from lonely I could imagine. I felt alive. I felt rich even though I think I had less than $100 for the entire expense of the week in London. I was immeasurably content.
I made a load of new friends. Some of whom I'd met in Guinea-Bissau and then met back up with in London, and others who I have never seen before or since. And that didn't discomfort me, instead if built a sense of self. I knew who I was and it didn't matter that none of the people I was around had any clue about me. I felt confident on a whole new level.
From my experiences, I learned that travel forces each of us into a new box, for really outside any box, there's usually just another box, but an unfamiliar one. When we travel alone, we see the most. When we travel with someone, we're limited by the filters we share, but there's still a great expanding of our horizons and of the relationships because we're breaking out of the mold.
Above is me "sleeping" in the restaurant at the airport above. Clearly someone had to take the picture, and that'd be me. When traveling alone, I advise you get comfortable photgraphing yourself and asking strangers to do so. That way you come home with a full set of memories. On my full-day layover in Morocco, I met some shop owners at the deli I made my temporary home inside the airport. They invited me to share breakfast with them. It was awesome. We had tagine...which is delightful. I wish I'd gotten a better picture of these guys, but I didn't want to be rude asking for tons of pictures. And I was a bit used to Guinea-Bissau where you're lucky if they consent to you taking their picture.
People at home felt sorry for me over the long layover. I guess they didn't realize it was a chance for me to get to know a new place. I wasn't uncomfortable. I also didn't have the constraints that most of us "adults" have these days. I didn't have to worry about making it home in time for work. I didn't think about what I was missing out on. I was just present. I just enjoyed what came to me.
The picture above is me before leaving Bissau. My dear friend Esperanca fixed my hair so I could be African when I got home. I loved it. The experience of going home with my hair showing where I'd been was amazing. When I arrived at the airport in Denver, I felt like a wholly different person. And since then, I've slowly returned to who I am with the contraints of everyone around me.
I want to find a way to break free again and be the person who doesn't mind a 20-hour layover in a city she can't explore safely alone. I want to be the person who isn't afraid of anything because I trust myself. And I think more travel is the key to that.
After this time, I've traveled with my husband and I've had to learn a whole new level of letting go of stuff. It's not just doing what makes most sense to me, it's also about doing what makes sense to him. And we're learning to find the balance so we can both just exist in any new place and find what makes the experience best for us in that place.