a life of my own.

freedom, life, solotravel, spirit, travel, wholeness

The streets of Oaxaca City were quiet and I a stranger sleuthing through the quieted darkness in May of last year, the eve before my 31st birthday. I’d arrived at the Oaxaca City airport a half hour before exhausted yet wide awake.

I felt like I could breathe again after drowning for most of the year: a traumatic event affecting a family member, a romantic relationship I knew deep down was wrong for me yet couldn’t let go of because I cared too much; the severing of once close turned draining friendships, discontent with my home environment, a loneliness which began with a longing to be understood and seen.

I told the Universe out loud I wanted a reprieve from the depth of all I had been feeling and cognitively churning through. I wanted a chance to exhale and not have to focus on coping from all the bad, all the drain. I’d been dreaming since early January about Mexico with an eerie amount of specificity.

I’d dreamt I was walking the streets with a warmth in my heart I hadn’t felt for a long time. By early April I’d booked a one-way ticket to Oaxaca City with a vague idea of when I’d return. It seemed crazy then and maybe it still is now looking back but I was being guided. My request for a reprieve had been heard and honored.

And so here I was, sleuthing in the dark. Dragging my suitcase up the stairs in the Airbnb I’d booked. Dropping the suitcase in a spare corner with a groan and flexing my fingers. Sighing while collapsing on top of the bed fully clothed.

Then I was asleep. And then it was my birthday. I woke up with text messages and my first thought was to memorialize this moment. I took a photo of the room as the sun was rising with the curtains still closed.

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I went to lunch with a large group of women within walking distance from where I was staying. A vegetarian restaurant. The company and conversation drained me. The food was decent enough. Before we’d completed our meal, it started raining. The light drizzles met the top of our heads, our fingers, our arms, then our plates. Speed of the rain slowly intensified. Not a light, afternoon rainstorm. A torrential monsoon.

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I looked down at my floral dress and my sandals and said a prayer. I walked back to my Airbnb only to remember I’d left my window open. My suitcase in the corner was sitting in a puddle of rainwater.

 


 
I write, talk and think about freedom a lot because I’ve never really known what it means to be free. Certainly not as a child and lesser so as I’ve grown and matured into a woman well into my adulthood. A few weeks ago I was sitting in silence on the couch before I turned the TV on the watch a show on Netflix when I thought to myself that I felt suffocated and perhaps had always been under the burden of expectation. I’ve felt suffocated because of my parents.

Being the daughter of a Nigerian immigrant is something I’m immensely proud of my. My Nigerian heritage is so much a part of who I know myself to be and often intersects in what I write about as well. But even things like my beautiful name, the name I’ve struggled to accept and love, came with responsibility I never wanted.

My name is given to the oldest girl in a Nigerian Igbo family. In English, it means mother is supreme and is in homage to what the mother is and acts as in the family — the nurturer, the glue, the person who holds the unit together through love and care. In so many words and conversations, my father, who is also the oldest in his family, explained to me my role, my responsibilities, the things expected of me.

The pillar I was expected to always be. As a child, especially as a child who was born and growing up in (Black) America, I lacked the cultural context for why this was important and why I needed to step up. I vividly remember being told in an ominous way that since I was the oldest I was to be the example and that my younger sisters were watching me. It was up to me to be without blemish.

The mother is the resting space, a space to return even as you grow and age. The mother is synonymous with home and never forgetting from whence you came. My name is not just what I am called and known as. It is a responsibility. To be seen as the role I hold in my family and within the greater fabric of this world at large — to care, to help and encourage others to heal, to encourage others to return home, whatever or wherever that may be.

My presence, my existence, the fact that I am here, a living breathing entity means I am here to be home to others. I have never felt at home to myself.

I didn’t want the responsibility it meant to carry my name. I didn’t want the weight of expectation. I didn’t want to have to shoulder the burdens and cares of others. But as I learned as I grew older, as the conditioning was deepened, this was who I was called to be. Holding tradition, humility, sacrifice, obedience, duty and obligation close as dear, treasured friends.  

The past five years have been an unrelenting tussle between me trying to find a way to juggle all these things, what they mean as far as family, honoring and respecting them, and how to honor and respect myself. For the most part I didn’t find a way. I simply gave in. I collapsed underneath all the pressure. I played it safe because I lacked the bravery or conviction to do otherwise.

And sadly this is what I’ve done most of my life: the practical, logical and wise thing. I listened to my parents. I heeded their guidance of what was best for me. Their insistence of how I should lead my life meant at the age of 26 I had two degrees. I’d worked hard. Paid my dues. Done everything perfectly.

And I was miserable and empty.

There had to be more I told myself as a refrain muttered often. After graduating from Journalism school and before I started graduate school, I fluttered from paid internships to shitty part-time jobs. At one point I worked as a receptionist for a tax preparation service. I spent my time at the front desk bored and scrolling websites looking for writing jobs, emailing editors asking them to give me a chance. Nothing worked.

When I finally got my first full-time writing gig at a local newspaper in the metro Atlanta area, a full two years after I’d graduated from college, I let out a sigh of relief. I was sure this was it and I’d finally feel fulfilled. Six months into that job I found myself wondering if there was more. And when I finished my Masters degree two years later, that feeling only intensified.

There was more. I found the more in Spain. In the capital city of Madrid. I found freedom.

I found the space to figure it out. Start over. Piece together who I was thousands of miles away from home with zero distractions. Zero nudges of guidance from parents. Zero of the insistence of doing it their way, the way that had worked for them and wouldn’t work for me, distracting and confusing me. I owned my voice. I claimed my power. I began to have an inkling of what I was incarnated on this planet to do. And it was not, and had never been, dulling or ignoring my heart or my inner voice.

It involved listening to my own guidance, my own voice, my own desires. It involved…me. All of me. Only me.

 


 

This time feels different. This time setting out on a wandering journey away from home, the home I always knew, the only home to ever exist before it dawned on me home is a spirit inside of me, feels different because it is different.

I am different.

I am not doggedly packing up all I own into two suitcases and convincing people I’m brave to leave it all behind when I’m instead terrified and unconvinced in the person I am. This is not then. I’m also not running as fast as I can away from my life and expecting to meet a new version of it and me once I’m there.

I know, this time, my life never stops turning and I never stop living it no matter where in the world I may be. And I know this is the right decision for me and I remain unmoved of any negative feedback I may get. Although, surprisingly, there has been none this time around. And even if there was? I wouldn’t care. It would not move me.

My journey starts in Oaxaca City. I’m returning to the very city, as a starting point, which breathed life into a dormant version of myself full of this reminder I received in response to an email. An email I might add I wrote to the very man who had the courage to end the relationship I mentioned before that wasn’t right for me. Turned out it wasn’t right for him either. We both cared too much.

But he said this one-liner to me and it has stuck with me since. Hearing it from him, in a way, gave me a permission to take a leap:

I don’t think you should get too down on yourself about your life. It may not be perfect, but it’s yours. Finally.”

My life is my own. Finally. All the ebbs and flows, ups and downs, disasters and exhilarations. It’s mine. All mine.

Finally.

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broken in bogotá.

life, solotravel, travel

Before heading to Bogotá a few weeks ago, I’d heard nothing good. In fact, I heard much of the opposite. Stories of about how wayward and conniving the taxi drivers there could be. Warnings to not ever hail a taxi from the street lest you be overcharged and swindled. How dreary, cold and overcast the weather generally is there. The high altitude which can assault those not accustomed to it with migraines, aches, pains, nausea and fatigue.

I wasn’t exactly excited about going there. Although I was excited about eating my way through Colombia at the up and coming Bogotá Wine and Food Festival. It was, after all, why I was there instead of continuing to hang around Medellín , where I had spent a magical few days prior to exchanging a city with “eternal spring” for one where I’d need to consciously layer.

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Brrrrrr.

And its coldness, the wind and the clouds hanging low in the sky, drifting beneath the golden green mountain peaks assuredly met me, a mere two days into the total five days total I planned on spending there. I was at El Chato surrounded by food writers and chefs. We were passing shared plates around the shared table, with the sound of a chorus of oohs, aahs and pleased food moans.

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Towards the end of the lunch, I finally connected my phone to WiFi after being disconnected and offline for most of the day. As I often do, I pressed my thumb against the Gmail icon and did a cursory scan of the subject lines. The name of a friend popped out to me most. The name of my dear friend along with the words “killed in a fatal auto accident.” My breath left my body. Then I froze.

A heavy plate teetered in my hands and eyes darted back at me. I wasn’t sitting alone at the table and those around me, the strangers around me, wondered why I was acting so strangely, why it looked as if I was practicing a balancing act with the plate in my hands motionless. A nudge and gentle laugh from the person sitting next to me jolted me back to the present, to which I shared robotically, ignoring the compassion I received. I excused myself to the restroom. I didn’t have to pee.

Instead I sat on the commode, blinking ferociously, feeling nothing and everything at the same time. I held my phone in my hand, reading the subject title of the email over and over again, willing to believe the truth. I had a friend who was dead. A friend of mine, one who I had vulnerably shared bits and pieces of my life and heart for the past seven years, was dead.


 

The first time I met my dear friend, Precious was her name, it was the fall of 2010. I was 24-years-old in the first semester of my graduate writing program. She sat next to me and seemed to be scribbling on her notepad notes from our professor who rambled in circles for the entire three hours of class. I didn’t speak to her for months. And later when we became friends, she admitted she thought I was unapproachable, although we often caught each other’s eyes as two of the few Black women in our class.

Turns out, she wasn’t scribbling notes on her notepad. She showed me some months in the semester her sketches she spent her class time creating. She was a gifted artist aside from being a brilliant, fluid writer and poet. She was a year younger than me and wiser than me in so many ways. Her quiet strength moved me as she talked from her eyes and her heart.

She was and still remains the most extraordinary person I have ever met. Her friendship healed me after years of losing friends due to people telling me I was too exhausting, required too much and was too sensitive and feeling to keep people in my corner. I never gained that sense from her from the moment we became friends. She was open and honest, friendly and warm. We talked about our lives, our families, our joys and passions, our deep-seated and hidden pains.

Even after I graduated a year early and no longer saw her on campus during the week, we still kept in touch. Our friendship wasn’t predicated on frequency. Often we went weeks or months without seeing each other before we reconnected. But when we did? It was like no time had passed at all. It was as if, once again, I could pause all the tunnels, noise and distractions and be heard, be loved, be affirmed, be enough.

I never told her this and now, I wish I had but she was my shining star. I looked to her with seedy admiration because of how she channeled all her pain and past hurts into moving forward. Her shining example enabled me to do so again and again. After breakups, after disappointments. After moving to Spain, leaving Spain, moving to Washington, D.C. and leaving Washington, D.C. She remained my friend through all the changes and ups and downs, all the drama-filled phone calls and texts about my latest meltdown. And she never let any of lapses in judgments lessen the strength of our friendship.

The funny thing? She once told me she thought I was braver than her. I never agreed. I still don’t now.


 

Today marks three weeks since her death. Because we were those types of friends who didn’t depend on seeing or talking often to keep the love and nurturance of our friendship alive, sometimes, most times, most days, most moments, I can busy and distract myself with the lie she’s somewhere distantly still alive. That life hasn’t changed. That she didn’t die alone on the streets at night.

It works most times.

And other times the truths ripples over me and I ruminate. I turn it over and over again in my mind and still can’t come out with any shining truth. She is dead and intellectually I know this. Emotionally I wrestle with despair and disbelief.

The day after I’d learned she died, I opted out of morning outdoors yoga and a group dinner. I stayed buried underneath the crisp, white duvet in my room and ordered room service: a cheeseburger, french fries, tomato soup, a slice of cheesecake, an ice cold coke. My food arrived minutes later and as the TV blared in the background, I sipped the tomato soup spoonful by the spoonful. Then my chest heaved with heavy tears.


 

My last full day in Bogotá I balanced filling grateful with broken as I stuffed my face with at least five different burgers and Colombian artesanal beer. The day was uncharacteristically sunny and cheerful and the sun’s rays bounced off the full, blue sky. I still wanted to cry. I still wanted to ball my hands into two ardent fists and box with the shadows of the Universe until I had answers.

Instead I ate. I sipped beer. I had conversations with the families that sat around me and watched as they looked onto me in amazement when I told them I wrote, that I was there to write about their city and their country.

Then I gathered all my things up and left. I went back to my quiet, dark and lonely hotel room. I packed up all my belongings. I prepared to leave Bogotá and I pledged to never return. To never revisit the site of when I communed with the ghosts of grief and grief fully entered me.

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dwelling in the dominican republic.

freedom, inspiration, life, spirit, travel

I journeyed to the Dominican Republic 71 days ago but I couldn’t bring myself to parse together any words until now. I’ve held the words, memories and reflections I had from the seven days I spent in Punta Cana inside me like they belonged in a coffin, waiting lonely and inaccessible from the outside world.

Some trips change you. Some trips are more than a period of time spent taking beautiful snapshots to share with friends and strangers on social media. Some trips are more than a series of things to do and places to go and things to eat and experiences to be had. Some trips remain etched on your heart and leave footprints on your spirit long after you’ve departed. The week I spent in the Dominican Republic was one of those trips.

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When I stepped foot outside of the airport and the sound of one of my favorite languages danced near my ears, I was hot. Really hot. I shed a couple layers of clothing as small beads of perspiration began to form on the small of my back. I twitched and scratched the nape of my neck. I shifted my weight nervously from one foot to the other. One foot to the other. One foot to the other.

But then I exhaled and breathed in the sweetness of the breeze. I smelled the ocean and trees although I couldn’t see them. I felt their presence through the smell. I exhaled and the heaviness from a draining Thanksgiving lifted away from my body. My eyesight sharpened. I laughed to myself. I thought about how you often don’t realize how long you’ve been holding your breath, bracing for the next blow, waiting for the next thing to come tumbling down, until you steady yourself and exhale.

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Until you decide to pause and let go.

I floated through most of the week I spent surrounded by influencers, photographers and fellow writers mostly pondering my worthiness. Through each experience, through each thing offered to me, through each meal, through each interaction, through each excursion, through each check-in at a luxury resort I wondered why I was there. I smiled on cue, I laughed when it was apropos all while mentally churning these thoughts, all while I wondered if I deserved any of what I was receiving. I was just an ordinary writer penning ordinary stories and doing ordinary works. I didn’t have thousands of followers like many of the others. I wasn’t a much sought after social media personality. I was always and have always been a writer concerned with honoring my heart first and foremost and telling the stories which felt most genuine.

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And those questions still stick with me months later as I navigate through yet another transitional season of my life where all familiarity is being stripped from me bit by bit. As the things which I once held near and dear fall away in a gentle fashion and I’m left to only contemplate the void they leave behind. Do I deserve any of this? Do I truly matter? Does living my life the way I see fit, veering the very opposite of a life of conformity, truly have any merit? Am I just a crazed person for thinking I have it, in even some small inkling of way, all figured out?

I pondered my worth as I floated in the pristine, almost crystal clear waters of Saona Island. Myself and the others in our group unloaded off our private yacht to have Cuba Libres (rum + coke) poured for us on demand as we splished and splashed, marveling at the beauty of the moment we were present in. Starfishes floated at the bottom of the sea floor and while there was excited talking and chatting, I took the moment to float on my back in the water, my leopard print one-piece bathing suit acting as a marker since my voice had disappeared from the chorus of chatting. There was a stillness I felt as I floated, my ears taking in the soft whooshing of the water and the soft lull of the waves moving my body back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

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I mused as I chomped on lobster a half an hour later and sipped on white wine after spending a short time wading in the water and participating in photo opps. I reflected as I fumbled in my tote bag for money to buy a fresh coconut to drink coconut water from. I silently prayed I wouldn’t be forgotten, that I wouldn’t forget myself my needs or desires, wishes and wants, my highs and lows, my heart and my spirit, as I stumbled to get back on the boat to take us back to the resort at the end of the day, my skin a bronzer tone than it had been before the day had begun.

I continued to reflect and muse and internally ponder as the rest of my time there progressed. As I spent free afternoons wading in beach waters. As I ate food prepared by an amazing chef in a private villa. As I partied at Coco Bongo on a Saturday night and drank far too much rum. As I peered at the beauty of the Dominican Republic from a bird’s eye view up in a hot air balloon, lamenting how my ankles and calves and toes had been attacked by mosquitos of the morning dew of grass in the wee hours in the morning, after sunrise painted the sky in hues of azure, pink and violet.

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Certainty is a treasured idea and notion but often in life, we don’t have it. We wade through the waters, seas and tributaries, lakes and streams, baby ponds and vast rivers, wishing we had it in each moment because it would make rising with the tide, and not fighting the tide as it rises, touching the shore more and more ferociously as the moon orchestrates all motion, a helluva lot easier. It would make our steps more measured, steadier, more sure, stronger, more dauntless.

But in thinking back to the seven days I spent in the Dominican Republic, communing with the water, willing to be healed in the nourishing way that water often can, there’s a truth I can have and hold until whatever comes next. Until whatever clarity I need shows up. Until the shores of it reaches my feet and takes a bit of stand gripping at my toes with it.

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And that truth is shrouded in being present. Fighting the temptation to rush ahead ten thousands steps because being sure would feel more comfortable than being perpetually unsure and having to collapse into the current of uncertainties and I don’t knows.

A wise person knows to be human is to not know. To hang along the edge of simply weathering the plane of many questions, of wearing a jacket clad with questions marks willing to be answered but instead, coaxing the answers that are unknown to just be. To exist in their own space. To level out into something which is undiscoverable and unanswerable. And to be okay. To be okay with not knowing and to find the grace to live within despite.

To live knowing all will be okay. To live. To live knowing all will be okay.

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This trip and experiences from the trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic were made possible and sponsored by the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism. 

the surprising reason solo travel changed my life.

inspiration, life, madrid, solotravel, spain, spirit, travel

Because solo travel has transitioned from just something I do to a way of life, all my solo travel experiences have become a blur. I don’t mean that to say I have forgotten all of my solo travel adventures I’ve taken.

How could I forget my solo trip to Milano where I had a couch surfing experience from hell and a dear friend saved my ass and salvaged what could’ve been a horrible trip? Or the 36 hour solo trip I took to Porto, Portugal and the time spent sitting on a cottage along the Douro River crying because I was verklempt? Or being stunned into silence by the view of Eiffel Tower?

I’ll never forget these experiences. Not for the rest of my life. It’s just it’s been four years of solo traveling. Four years and as of now, 11 countries and 32 cities full of my wanderlust taking me to corners all over the world solo dolo. When it becomes a way of life, it’s sort of unconscious. It becomes who you are and how you see — and experience — what and those you encounter. The beautiful conversations you have. The scenes which beg to be photographed. The culinary bites which you either love or hate vehemently.

Solo travel has changed my life. As a woman. As a Black woman. As an African woman. As a daughter. As a sister. As a friend. As a lover. As a writer. As an artist. As a creative. As an empath. As a spirit-filled and spirit-led person.

I read a lot. A lot of blogs, a lot of tweets. There are more and more women taking solo trips. Which means there are more and more people writing about these experiences. Although most of the written are vaguely surface-level.

 Yes, solo travel will teach you to enjoy and love yourself in new ways and to not fear being alone. Yes, you will emerge from a solo trip with a newfound sense of wonder and confidence. And yes, every woman should have the experience at least once in their lifetime. 

Can we go deeper though? Can we talk about how solo travel creates new neural pathways and shifts you emotionally, mentally and physically?

For me, the most unexpected and surprising reason solo travel has changed my life is how it instilled within me the treasure of still truths. A knowing that it’s okay to start completely over and to not have a plan. Solo travel taught me it’s okay to break the mold and veer off the path lain in front of me that isn’t really mine but instead is one that’s always been taken.

Traveling alone — without friends, family and a significant other by my side — inadvertently taught me how to be who I a truly am, the person I spent most of my life running from. An individual. A woman who lets her heart guide her. A woman who isn’t fearless like most people think she is but instead, a woman who is almost always afraid but is brave and courageous simply because she works with the fear in her life that arises.

I did not have that sense until I dared to start doing things alone. And not just travel either. I mean doing everything alone, from the mundane to the magnificent. To spend a lifetime not listening to your heart and what it wants and deferring to the voices of others, is like living a life chained. A life which is limiting and has limits. A life which can’t expand, grow wings and fly away and reach new heights. A life which is rife with too much comfort, too much familiarity and too much of the same.

A life which wants to change but is afraid to change and rather than look the fear square in the eye, quiet it by staying put.

Solo travel, surprisingly, handed me the rest of my life, my life which was waiting for me to awaken to it, to say I was ready to accept the great challenge and calling I was born and named for.

I’m writing this post from a flat near the center of Madrid, Spain. Almost four years ago, I took my first international solo trip here. No one was excited for me when I announced that I was taking this trip by myself. I was met with endless questions about how safe it would be for a young woman like myself traveling with no companion. People asked me if I spoke Spanish. What I would do if I got lost. If I would run out of money. If I would be able to use my cell phone.

The almost two weeks I spent in Madrid were spent carrying those questions, holding the projections of others near and dear to my heart. At a certain point during my time there, I wanted to enjoy myself without my brain being flooded with other people’s stuff. 

Then was when the magic began.

As you can imagine, being back here in Madrid I am filled with nostalgia from those moments (and others) and remembering. Remembering what my life used to be like when I lived here years ago and how much time has passed. How it seemed so automatic that I needed to relocate my entire life here, my entire former existence, to a foreign country and city after a short period not even equaling two weeks.

I’m also reflecting on the great surprise of how solo travel began much needed healing. Solo travel unlocked my heart. It gave me myself. It told me to not fear, to shake off shrinking myself and settling for good enough. And it told me, with a gentleness, a kindness, it was okay to dream while awake, with my eyes wide open, in my waking, moving, everyday life. To not have to wait until it was night and the stars danced in the sky.

My heart. It told me to lean into my heart and trust. Lean into my heart and leap. 

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Considering taking your first solo trip soon? Join the Afros y Paella mailing list to get solo travel affirmations to accompany you on your journey and to get the scoop on my upcoming workbook Solo Sojourness: A Roadmap to Planning and Bravely Taking Your Solo Adventure. Join my mailing list here.

a love letter to madrid.

inspiration, life, madrid, spain, travel

A mi Madrid, mi corazón,

Seems nonsensical to have such a deeply intimate relationship with a city. You are not a person. You are not in human form, with a body. And yet, who you are, the beauty of you, has changed me forever.

My journey with you, my relationship with you, began when I was in middle school. I was told I had to pick a language to start earning foreign language elective credits. I picked Spanish because French seemed too hoity toity and German — well the sound of it I liken it to an angry making, impassioned squabble. I wanted to learn a language which, in some way sounded magical to my ears and sounded marvelous leaving my lips.

Learning Spanish was easy, almost too easy. And perhaps this points to my destiny, my fate and how I would ultimately meet you, how I would ultimately decide to change the course of my life, and move halfway across the world.

It was fated from the beginning. We were fated from the beginning. It was kismet.

You, in all your splendor and glory, were like the most compassionate of teachers, forgiving, always sending reminders that life could be life-ing but that I’d be okay. Like, how when I had the shittiest of days, walking from teaching an English class, missing home (and all the familiarity it entailed) and I’d look up and see an awestruck cathedral and be moved to tears.

That’s just who you are.

But also, you’re firm, you’re a bit rough. You had hard lessons to teach me, too, on the importance of being almost deathly observant and detail oriented. Remember the time when I went to get my formal Spanish identification card and on my paperwork confirming my appointment there was the phrase billete de avión, scrawled in barely legible handwriting with a permanent marker? And remember how time I sat down to that appointment, the phrase, scrawled in barely legible handwriting, was pointed to? I was supposed to bring my plane ticket with me. I had to come all the way back on another day, and I left crying and cried all the way home and took the wrong Metro home three times.

You taught me about perseverance, to an upteenth degree I never knew was possible. From you, I learned sometimes things are not easy to adjust to, sometimes we have to suffer until we can grasp and hold the beauty for ourselves. Sometimes things are just bad. Sometimes we can’t prettify them or reframe or be optimistic. Sometimes the gift we must cling to is the gift of acceptance, of accepting our now so that our future, a better, brighter future, can be had.

The value of a dollar — or should I say Euro — is something else you gently showed me. I learned from you, while living in a city not making a lot of money, I really don’t need a lot to thrive. I learned a full refrigerator often equals a full heart, too, because cooking and nourishing my body is connected to nourishing my soul.

Timing is everything you taught me, and often, the things we want most need a little more time to manifest and enter into our lives. And that time is not on our time or within the realm of our (limited human) understanding of all the things which need to slide perfectly together for the right things to come into being. You taught me that as things not happening or moving oft inspires a rage within me, that fighting what is beyond me, what is not yet ready, benefits me none. That resistance actually stalls the goodness more from being apart of my life. And well, what sense does it make to block my blessings?

People and some friendships and relationships are temporal, you taught me as well. I learned I’m so hungry for people to stay, for as long as possible, because I know in too familiar of a sense the emptiness that people leaving, being abandoned, feels like. I want so badly to prevent myself from experiencing that despair that often I fight like hell for people who have imparted their lessons, wisdoms and love and are slated to leave and move on to what’s next, for them, for the next person they’ll help inspire and heal. And you taught that sometimes, the shortest, most random, most intense people and relationships, have the power to shake us up and change us the most. And that’s certainly no coincidence.

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Outside the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, where I spent time with a friend who, in many ways, changed my life.

You taught me, chiefly, that following my heart has to be a way of life, without compromise, if I want to feel free and come into more and all of who I am. You stressed to me on several occasions the reason I often feel the propensity to take huge leaps and scare the shit out of everyone around me is that I ignore the smaller callings of my heart, those moment to moment, day to day minuscule heart stirrings. Those minutiae decisions which seem ordinary but instead if overlooked mount and build into a massive snowball I have no choice but to take a grandiose leap to surmount it. You taught me life can be different, that life can be filled with ease, if I always listen and trust I will be taken care of when it’s hardest to listen and obey.

Missing you seems like too trite of a sentiment to express. You are etched and embedded into chambers of my heart and the fiber of who I am. When I left almost two years ago, I mourned you for quite a long time. It’s why adjusting to Washington, DC was such a struggle initially. I didn’t want to let you go. I wasn’t ready to.

But as in every relationship, in every bond and every connection — body, spirit and mind — made, there’s an art to honoring the lessons, beauty, the laughter, the growth and transformation offered and parting ways. Honoring what was had enough to create distance. Honoring what was to let go.

I can let go now.

I can let go while reflecting back, seeing the woman I now am because of you, with unceasing gratitude for how the shifts and growths you started, the things you taught me, the love and beauty you never failed to show.

And I can rest the aching, the dull ache, I’ve somehow tried to quiet all these years, with a knowing, a deep knowing, that I ever where to return, if I ever longed to be in your presence one more in the future, you’ll be there to welcome me with open arms.

Besitos,

Nneka

why i travel.

inspiration, life, travel

Carmen Sandiego isn’t who I imagine myself to be, although wanderlusting, exploring all the corners of the world, measuring my constant quest for truth, wonderment and to know myself more, is who I am. That is the woman I have become and perhaps the woman I have always been.

But no, I’m not Carmen Sandiego. For one, I’m Black. I rarely get fancied up in a uniform, especially when traveling. I have an unruly, obnoxiously large afro with an agenda of her own. I wear glasses on most days and no makeup and chapstick, lipstick if I feel the need to feel like a prima-donna. I don’t scale the earth’s surface in the search of an adventure endlessly. Most days I spend staring listlessly at a blank Pages document willing the words to come. Often they don’t, and I’m left only with the resolve to try again the next day.

I don’t travel to take the snazziest photos of whichever destination I’ve decided to journey to. I don’t travel to get the most likes on my photos on Instagram and Facebook, to get the most retweets on Twitter. I don’t travel to be woefully braggadocious about that time I had high tea in London, ate croissants in Paris or sipped sangria while eating paella in Madrid. Travel is not the talking point I wager to make others feel inferior, less experienced or not as well-rounded as I.

Travel has always — and will always be — the instrument through which I save myself, over and over again. I’ve had my passport for seven years now and each time I recount the story for which I took my first international trip it makes me laugh. It happened on whim and I took a leap, one of those leaps I’ve become known for, because my heart’s stirrings told me to go. My heart told me I needed to go on this trip to Kingston, Jamaica with the church I was attending at the time. My heart told me that being a member of an orchestrated mission trip was what I needed in my life.

And my heart never hungers for the wrong things. It has never insisted on those things which my intuition wasn’t calling me to for a specific reason. My heart knows best. I trust it without question.

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Just like my heart led me that first international trip seven years ago, it led me to my first international solo trip to Madrid four years ago. It led me to moving to Madrid exactly a year later. It led me to leave Madrid after nine months and relocate to Washington, DC, another new city, almost two years ago. It led me to go to Scotland three months ago and have the most peaceful week I’d had in years. My heart led me to take a quick 24 hour jaunt to Philly in late November. It led me to being the repeat solo traveler I am today and to stop waiting on others to take all the trips I wanted to take. It led to me being scared just be that, me being scared, and not being paralyzed in fear where I forget my courage despite my fears and doubts.

You see, at this point in my life, where my intuition is strong, my clarity is clear, and I’m more in tune with myself than I have ever been, I simply cannot discount the wisdom and bravery that my heart’s messages and guidances instill within me. To not listen to my heart and to not take my heart’s leadings would be a grave self-inflicted injustice.

As I look towards an entire new year ahead of me, the year which I will ceremoniously bid adieu to my 20s, I’m thinking about a lot. I’m still reflecting on the wondrous year 2015 was. I discovered myself — my softness, my kindness, my bravery, my candor — and grasped I was enough for the first time in my life. I no longer waver on knowing that yes, I needed to heal, but no, I am not a broken person needing to be put back together. As is, just as I am, just as the way I was intended to be makes me marvelous. This wisdom informs nearly everything I do.

Travel is wrapped up in all of this. It’s not my fascination with travel — which I certainly have — that keeps me wanting to chart all over the world and to see as many places with my bare eyes, feel the warmth of the sun and smell the sweet scent of air everywhere, literally everywhere. It is a sacred, special, spiritual vow I made myself to allow travel to be the space where I expand and transform. This is my why. This will always be my why.

There are many places I’m hoping to see this year, some new places, some old. Some places where I’m familiar with the magic which resides here and others where I’ve yet to discover the flavor of its magic. But more than anything, I yearn to see how I will change and in what ways I will shift. How I will be different as a result of having been there. What emotions and wisdom become clear. What grace I’m able to extend to myself and then others, too.

And it is my hope that this year as I journey through these experiences, you’ll feel just a bit of the magic I’m processing along with me. August will mark three years of this blog’s genesis and so much has changed since then. It’s taken me that amount of time to be true to myself and true to this space I’ve cultivated. I’m also hoping this space can become a resource, too, a space not just to house my thoughts and inner stirrings but also where you can start to find yourself within the magic of traveling as well.

Here’s to 2016. A year full of wonder, bursting at the seams with promise and full of magnetic energy to manifest just a little more of the life of your dreams.

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