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.

coming home to myself.

inspiration, Joy, life, Uncategorized

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Everyone thought I was fucking crazy.

They thought I was making a decision on whim in January when I bought a one-way ticket back home, to Atlanta, two weeks out. I’ve thought a lot these past six months about the exact moment when I knew I needed to take a leap. About how my fear of the unknown and the uncertainty about where my latest leap would land paled in comparision for the aching of discontent I’d been nursing.

I needed to come home. I needed to return to Atlanta, a city where my heart had remained for some reason, a city where I thought I’d never need or want to return after leaving three years ago for the Spanish adventure of a lifetime.

But what has become abundantly clear these past six months home, in Atlanta, it wasn’t the city itself I needed to revisit and take lessons from. It wasn’t about becoming reacquainted with old memories and emotional and mental sensations which were familiar. It wasn’t about meeting all that made me feel like I wasn’t just passing through in yet another city, bidding my time until I was gone and on the quest for home once more.

It was about committing to the next leg of this never-ending healing journey called life. It was about looking at my demons I’d been too afraid to face. It was about vanquishing the embers of forgotten self-worth, self-trust and self-determination. It was about knowing and accepting the home and heart within myself.


Being back in Atlanta has been odd and nothing short of what I expected. I feel like an outsider. I’ve spent the larger part of my time here tucked away in the suburbs, living alone in the huge family home I grew up in. My days and evenings are cloaked in silence, save for the murmuring of the TV in the background I turn on to distract myself from the fact that I am alone.

On one hand, being as alone as I have been this past half year hasn’t been awful. Alone time soothes me hugely. But being as alone as I have been has once again hammered in that there was nothing left for me as I originally thought; that returning here was only a resting space for me to launch myself elsewhere in the world. A time for recalibration.

Each day in this house I’ve faced my past with a piercing honesty. I’m finally able to see my childhood and life up until now for what it has been — a sequential period of me not possessing enough self-belief to trust if I stood facing the world on my own two feet, just me and God, that I’d be okay. Instead it was much easier to default to leaning on my parents — financially, emotionally and mentally — to carry that torch of lacking self-belief for me. And it has severely hindered me in fully growing up and being an independent and self-sufficient woman.

I’ve never really lived on my own as an adult. When I graduated from college, I moved back home, to the family home I live in now alone, with my parents and my three sisters.  It took me nearly a year to find a job as a reporter where I would actually be using the expensive ass Journalism degree I earned from a private university. That job paid me very little as opposed to job I’d had prior for a huge nonprofit that I was fired from after six months. But I told myself that being happier and fulfilled at work was worth the severe pay cut I took.

My parents supported this decision and did what they have always done — filled in the money gaps. They paid my phone bill, my car note and insurance. If I ran into a (financial) bind they’d bail me out, no questions asked. In their own way this is how they show love — by helping. But there are costs for everything and their ever constant help came at a great one to me and of course, as with money, it came with strings.

Moving to Madrid would not have been possible without my parents. To qualify for my student visa, I had to show a certain amount of money in my bank account that I didn’t have. My parents transferred the money to my account so I could show that. And when I got ready to leave, they gave me more money to ensure I’d be okay my first few months since I wouldn’t be working right away and had no job lined up. When I was fired from a new job I had taken in January of 2014 it was my parents who helped me make my rent because I didn’t have any savings.

Once things settled a bit more for me and I found a better job, it was the first time in my life I was living as an adult on my own. I paid my own rent from money I made. I took care of myself. I felt free and capable. I felt like I could handle my life. Which is why when I decided to move back Stateside after just nine months, I knew I’d been exchanging this sense of freedom for something else.

When I decided to move back to the states after nine months in Madrid, I landed back at home with my parents. I spent two miserable years in DC. During those two years, I struggled to find work and flitted between jobs I hated. I quit jobs often without thinking. My parents had been giving me money every two weeks, so I’d grown complacent. If shit didn’t work out, I knew my parents would be there to catch me. But within the past few years, this has become a battleground and a space for me to be controlled and not treated well; to be helped and had the help hung over my head or thrown in my face at any given moment.

Each day in this house serves as reminder of the state of affairs, as far as my relationship with my parents. It reminds me of living with a mother who stopped at nothing to criticize and pick at me, explaining that her cyclical verbal vitriol was out of love, and me naively believing it. It reminds me of a living with an emotionally absent father who was far more interested in watching CNN marathons than getting to know me as a person.

In many ways, these shadows of my both of my parents haven’t changed. My father is still somewhere off in the stratosphere. He tries to be more present but his attempts are foreign to me. My mother still treats me as a mass of projections and life regrets, using whatever time we’re around each other to denigrate me. The words no longer hurt me like they used to because I accept that is who she is and all she is capable of being. What hurts is to know I’m not respected as a whole person deserving to be treated well to her and that, once again, being at the whims of money she can provide subjects me to more poor treatment.


Everyone thought I was fucking crazy when I purchased a one-way ticket to Atlanta just six days in the year. But knowing I was looking towards a year filled with more chosen misery, I had to leave. It was a means of self-preservation and reclaiming my joy. And although I landed, not exactly on my own, because I do live rent free in a house my parents own, it was a (temporary) compromise I was okay with making.

I’m not a jealous person. People are often jealous of me and it has many times been the reason for the demise of a friendship. Because it’s not an emotion that registers for me I’m oblivious each and every time it happens and only get it when someone else points it out to me. There’s one thing I can say I’ve long been envious of others for — tapping into self-belief enough to land on their own two feet and to live an independent, self-sufficient life as an adult. I ask myself why it has taken being in a new decade for me to realize this needs to happen, why I’ve been afraid of stepping out and consumed with failing and falling flat on my ass out in the big world.

But I realize my fears about stepping out into the world aren’t unfounded and they aren’t individual, specialized fears. Every person who has ever stepped fully into adulthood has felt and thought these things, but with each step they took, they became more determined, more sure, more trusting in both themselves and God/the Universe, to have their back and provide for them. It’s radical trust. It’s radical faith. It’s free-falling into uncertainty and not knowing, all the millions of questions which remain unanswered yet somehow knowing in the end, it’ll all turn out just fine.

Now it’s my turn.

The end of April I received notice that I’d gotten into a creative writing workshop hosted by Callaloo Literary Journal of Texas A&M. The workshop will be held at The University of Oxford all of next week. When I first got in, I had no idea how I’d finance this amazing opportunity (and they were no scholarships available) but less than 24 hours after launching a crowdfunding effort, I had enough money to pay the registration fee. I hesitated to pay it because I had no idea where the rest of my funding would come from.

Well, it all came. And I have followed my heart and extended my time in Europe through the end of August. Not everything is planned. I’m going to allow things to flow naturally as they should. I’ve never traveled this way all the years I’ve been traveling. And I’ve also never fully financed it all on my own either. I’ve spent the past two months working very hard to do this all on my own dime. Without Mom and Dad sweeping in and saving the day. Without completely abandoning my self-belief.

It’s safe to say I’m terrified. It’s safe to say I’m turning over in my head all the billions of unfortunate scenarios which could go wrong. But then I’m also thinking back to that woman, that woman who three years ago was so fucking determined to be free and chart the course of her life, despite how terrified she was. And how it all worked out in her favor.

This woman uprooted her entire life to move to Madrid, Spain, where she knew no one and didn’t even have a job lined up. She rented a room out a flat from a woman personally recommended that was on Facebook. She navigated culture shock with a nonexistent support system in both Spain and back at home.

She weathered a rough almost year in another country and returned to the States more in power of herself, more sure of how she wanted the rest of her life to go. She somehow was able to stay the course during a hard two years in Washington, DC and didn’t give into conformity. She left DC when she knew her joy was still to be captured and it couldn’t be where she was currently. She found more of herself back in Atlanta, her hometown, and was able to look joy in the face again and slowly begin to gather bits and pieces of self-belief. She got into an amazing writing workshop to be held at the prestigious University of Oxford.

That woman is enough. That woman is braver, more courageous, more sagacious and tenacious than she could ever know to everyone around her. That woman is an inspiration. And that woman, that woman who is almost always afraid of the newness that is thrust in her direction yet leaps anyway, will be okay and taken care of.

And that woman is me.

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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spirit in scotland.

Uncategorized

I left my heart in DC bleeding, throbbing, still beating some weeks ago when I journeyed to London and then a four-hour train ride north to Edinburgh. I left a part of me back in the District, the place I’ve grudgingly called my somewhat home the past year and a half.

I left you there yet you caught up with me. The ghost of you traveled with me across the Atlantic and never left my side.

This was my first trip in a long time, 16 months to be exact. I know because I’ve been counting the days and lamenting my discontent with having to stay put in one place, having to stay put in one place where I never wanted to be. Watching airplanes whiz by above my head, dancing and mingling with the clouds as I rode the Metro on the way to nowhere. Seeing planes slowly became painful and a steady reminder of something I loved — travel — I could temporarily no longer do.

But it also reminded me of you, of how you were no longer in my life. How everything about you is just a distant memory, an afterthought, a realization I’m more comfortable stuffing down and repressing rather than reliving. Somehow travel became about you, too.

And so as I spent seven days surrounded by complete strangers from all over the States, people who in that short period of time I grew from becoming apprehensive and nervous about opening up to, sharing intimate parts of myself and bonding. I thought about how every person we grow to love, every person we let in our hearts and minds and lives ultimately starts off this way, someone we view with apprehension, unsure of if they’re worthy of a slither of authenticity, of our truest, nearest and dearest selves. I thought about how often the ones we love morph and shift back into strangers, how we go from effortlessly showing our ugliest shadows to not showing anything at all. To not calling, not emailing, not texting, not seeing each other anymore. No embraces, shared laughter, conversations into the wee hours of the morning. No more confessionals.

I thought about how I have nothing tangible left of you anymore. It’s like you were never here. Like you didn’t completely change me or my life. You’re just gone.

My first full night in Edinburgh, as I lounged in The Emmaus House, a bed and breakfast and spiritual haven for many, I shivered although I had on at least five layers of clothes and rocked back and forth underneath the plush duvet on my bed. My entire body ached and my head was the temperature of a thousands suns blazing. I imagined what you would say to me in that moment. If I had been sending you a flurry of Google Hangouts messages, like I used to do whenever I traveled and had a new adventure solo.

Nneka, get some rest. Drink some water. Take some medication. I’ll check on you in the morning. Goodnight. Sleep well.

I feel like shit but I can’t sleep.”

“I’ll talk to you in the morning. Bye Nneka.”

“-_-“

When I went to Lindisfarne two days later and walked along the dock as close as possible to the LIndisfarne Castle and atop the overlook point to look at the glittering, dazzling North Sea below, the wind violently whipping past my face, I thought about how I would’ve detailed how amazing that moment felt to you later on. How I might’ve dubbed it a “top life day” like I did last year in the short 36 hours I spent in Paris. I thought about how you probably would’ve wanted to hear my voice filled with excitement and get all the little nooks and crannies of all the details.

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The food. The glorious food. The fish and chips I had twice. The pints of hard cider. The cheap wine I drank while painting late at night. The delicious food at the bed and breakfast. Chips and curry sauce at midnight.The Nepalese food I had at a restaurant around the corner from the bed and bed and breakfast twice which rivaled any Indian food I’d had in months. The last dinner my last night in Edinburgh with the glass of French rosé and the awestruck views of Edinburgh up on Calton Hill late at night, sharing a sacred moment of singing and standing in silence with the bunch of new (spiritual) friends I’d made.

Lazy lounging. Sitting around the fire laughing and joking while drinking cup after cup of Earl Grey and eating Scottish shortbread. Writing very little and allowing my thoughts to settle. Letting my heart be as loud as it dared to be and silencing my thinking mind for seven days. Being honest with myself. Remembering a decision I made over a year ago to apply to a PhD program in London, not receiving funding to go this fall as planned and having to defer. Remembering when you told me it wasn’t right for me but I didn’t listen. Finally letting go of that dream because it was never quite the one I wanted.

Pentlands. The Pentland Hills. The roaring wind which made my eyes teary so that I could barely see the beautiful views and the cows. I wanted to go back to the bed and breakfast and sit lazily again. Sit on the couch, as I had been doing all week, and staring into space, letting the voice of my heart flood me over and over again until I drowned in beautiful truths and clarity. I stayed a little while, long enough to take a five minute stroll past a golf course, wooded area over a rickety bridge and into a clearing where I shared some of my heart’s deepest stirrings. Declared the clarity. Stated my desire going forward to live an integrated life where everything I do is a reflection of who I am, my heart, my interests, my passions, my zeal, my bravery, my courage. Letting go of resisting my calling as a healer. Feeling ready to fully step into that role and how it may manifest.

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How could I deny that you weren’t here in all these moments? You were here. Your spirit was everywhere. You were with me and perhaps you’ve never left in that sense.

People often talk about losing someone you love being something you heal from. Something you eventually get over and learn to focus on other things. But when your love for someone is so deep, so intricately etched into my heart as you were, I think the only compromise I’ve been able to make is a knowing, a deep knowing, that I’ve found my own ways to cope with my grief over the loss of you, your presence and the huge space and now void you’ve created.

I can’t call or text you anymore because you won’t answer. You stopped answering a long time ago. I can’t email you because my words will be lost in cyberspace never to be received. I don’t use Google Hangouts anymore because there mere thought of logging on and wishing and hopping you’d message me sickens me and makes me feel pathetic to a degree I’m not comfortable with admitting other than in these words.

I came back to DC after a renewing, restful week in Edinburgh and regathered my heart. I found it barely beating in a puddle of blood in the same place I’d left it. In gathering it I had to admit I don’t love you any less than I did before.  And also with gathering it, I had to admit that my love, my love for you, has faintly translated to an all abiding spirit that accompanies me, whispers to me in the stillest moments and wills me to remember that I am enough, I am cherished, I am worthy, just as you frequently told me yourself.

americanah in arlington.

Uncategorized

My skin was a mass of prickly, raised bumps because of the frigid temperature in the media room with a projector turned into a makeshift classroom. The air was always so icy in that room, able to zap through even the thickest and fluffiest of sweaters, encouraging teeth to chatter.

The year was 2011. I was a graduate student in a pseudo MFA program, a program I applied for and told no one about except for my boyfriend at the time, because I had been yearning to become a better writer after plateauing just two years after leaving J-school. I needed to feel the magic about writing again. I needed to be excited about pieces I was working on, about sitting down to write, even. That excitement had dried up and disappeared it seems, lost in the shuffle in being unable to find a full-time writing position for almost two years after graduating.

I’d survived the first two semesters of grad school, much to my surprise, much to the sacrifice it had been. I was still a full-time reporter, spending eight hours every day calling, emailing and scrounging the internet for newsworthy tidbits in the metro Atlanta area. I somehow found a way to balance both of these worlds — the world of reporting which I’d haphazardly, unexpectedly fallen in love with during my college years and the the new world which seemed to be opening ahead of me, of writing that existed outside of reporting.

But then again, I can’t say I really survived more like fought desperately to remain afloat. My typical day was eight hours of doing reporting followed by four hours in being in class by the evening. Then driving nearly an hour to get how at the end of each day and doing it all over again, three times each week. Looking back, the time and effort I exerted for grad school seems out of reproach. I don’t know how I managed it but reaching for our dreams often seems second nature even if we are embroiled in situations and environments which leech from us.

This course, in the icebox classroom, was one on intercultural communications. It was an entire semester dedicated looking at how we can communicate with each other, internationally, with the cultural cues which often differ. And how to reconcile those differences so communication becomes smoother and reciprocal. Each of us had to pattern an avatar, a person of a certain age, gender and nationality and then choose a book which was representative of the fictional avatar we had created.

I chose Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Purple Hibiscus is Chimamanda’s first novel and the first book of hers I read which touched my heart. When I heard some weeks ago that’d she be in Arlington doing a talk at a local library, my heart sang and fluttered with joy. This would be the moment to soak up the knowledge and prowess of a writer, a woman I admired so deeply.

And while, for a lot people, the admiration and respect they have for her is merely just because of her talent, her eloquence and precision of which she speaks (evident in the many lectures she has given and TED talks which she’s now known for) and how she seems to have effortlessly captured the world’s attention by interweaving her Nigerian heritage into her works, it’s much deeper than that for me.

It’s personal.

I think about when I first started reading Purple Hibiscus back in grad school. I think about how I was in a precarious, fragile state of discerning both my Black American and Nigerian identity. I think about how reading that book gave me the courage to even begin to accept both parts of me as real, tangible and not warring at each other in the most violent of ways.

And it moves me to tears. Just like each work of hers has ended in a pool of tears in my lap, with a few stray tears tapping on the pages, making them wrinkly and noisy.

I read Purple Hibiscus and started to imagine that being Nigerian wasn’t something weird or misunderstood, as I had been led to believe throughout all my childhood and the teasing I had received for my name. And the rampant questions about whether or not my father was a prince or king, commenting on the “smelly” food that Nigerians often ate and calling me cruel names which elicited rounds of giggles from my classmates but a barrage of tears for me in private.

I read The Thing Around Your Neck and felt so intimately how being Nigerian impacts so many things and how Nigerians, Africans, are human, too. We are not some spectacle to be examined underneath the looking glass. There are complexities surrounding our relationships with others which are real, just like everyone else has.

I read Half of a Yellow Sun and ached for my ancestors and the atrocities of the Biafran War. The stolen lives, the stolen sense of peace, the stolen memories marred by a war which shattered families and hope for a better future.

I read Americanah and understood to a greater degree what my father, an immigrant to this country nearly 40 years ago dealt with. How he must have felt confronting what it meant to be Black in a country predisposed to othering him instead of trying to understand his difference. I understood to an extent that I had never before how difficult that must have been and how assimilation, though detrimental to me and my sisters who went through most of our lives lacking the proper context of what Nigerian culture and tradition is, was a means of bitter, double-edged survival to him. From softening his accent (which after all these years still rings through) to opting that people refer to him by his English, more widely known name instead of his proper Nigerian one.

And while hearing her speak last week, it was comforting. It was this same sense of a gentle understanding, of being made to feel that who I was, Nigerian, is okay.

She was candid in talking about her father’s kidnapping and visibly emotional. She apologized if she at all seemed off but admitted it had been hard to cope for her because her family means so much to her. Instead of just speaking for an hour, she spent her talking time taking questions from the audience. She paced herself as she spoke, being careful to insert the needed pauses, the emphasis on certain words and to laugh where she saw fit. But there was also a sense of ease, grace and calm that ran underneath each of her words.

It was an ease, grace and calm I hope to one day as effortlessly impart to others who come into my space and come into contact with me. It was refreshing and admirable.

There was a point where someone asked Chimamanda what her name meant. And as she explained the meaning of her name, my God will not fail me, there was hushed silence that fell over the room.

A sense of awe.

It was the same sense of awe I felt as I lined up behind many, many others after a thunderous round of applause was given after her answering questions was concluded to get my copy of Half of a Yellow Sun signed, a book signing I didn’t even know would be happening until after I had arrived and found a seat.

Those manning the line  apparently told everyone to write their names down on a slip of paper to expedite getting their name spelled in the front cover of their books. I missed this, completely, although I wondered what the slips of paper everyone was holding were for. I didn’t think to ask because I was so enraptured that she was literally sitting feet in front of me.

Then it was my turn and I was rendered speechless. I silently put my book down in front of her, turned to the cover page where she was signed. She looked up to me as to ask what my name was and I feebly said, “Nneka.”

She looked back up at me and repeated my name, with a smile, “Nneka.” Saying it in the way I’d heard my name pronounced all my life by my father, deep and throaty with the strong, Igbo Nigerian accent which I’d always loved (and wished I had).

And yet again, all the feelings of insecurity surrounding my name and all the pain it had brought, all the teasing, all the declarations about how weird or strange my name was, all the mispronunciations, all those asking me if they could call me something else because pronouncing my name the proper way was too much of an inconvenience for them — were quelled and I was reaffirmed in that moment. There is beauty in my name, there is acceptance, there is a knowing. I am a Nigerian Igbo woman.

And I met Chimamanda Ngozi Adhichie, a fellow Nigerian Igbo woman. She knew my name. She recognized my name. She said my name. She knew how to spell it. There was no hesitation. No head cocked to the side in confusion. There was no awkward pause. There was no attempt to ask me to spell it again and again and again (and still spelling it wrong). She knew how to spell it. She wrote my name in a couple of strokes, one and done.

There is beauty, there is power, there is a resting I can reside in because of that. There is beauty, there is power, there is a resting I can reside in because I am me.

 book_Fotor

traveling while black.

african, discrimination, prejudice, race, travelingwhileblack

Growing up in the predominantly black suburb of Stone Mountain, Georgia perhaps shrouded me from ever feeling like I was different. I grew up submerged in sea of other people who looked like me, spoke like me, listened to the same music as me. There was no clear separation. It wasn’t until I went away to school at Mercer University that I grasped what it meant to be within the minority.

And being in the glaring minority was only amplified, to gross, sweeping levels when I moved to Madrid in the fall of 2013. I had never experienced the phenomena of being the “only one” because I was always one of many, many, many others who were just like me. I had never identified with the isolation, confusion and frustration of constantly having to navigate my (literal) physical space within others who were not like me and clearly did not understand me, nor where they committed to, in the very least, of being tolerant of those like me. I never had to stuff down the constant anguish of doling out explanations of who I was for the sake of sanity or knowing, intimately, how a little bit of you dies and breaks off each time you have to negotiate within yourself to do it.

Maybe if I was more deluded, more in denial, more oblivious, I could pretend one of my greatest passions behind writing (ahem) and cooking — travel — bears some affect when my race comes into the picture. And no, I’m not just pulling the “race card,” holding a chip on my shoulder, being overly sensitive or reading too into things. This is something I know firsthand from the several experiences I’ve had over the past year, when me, my Black self, was jetting around the world in search of adventure, and I realized, a sober realization, that doing so was a revolutionary act in itself.

I can reflect on London, strolling the cobblestone streets. My feet, exposed and uncovered frozen solid, my teeth chattering, the layers of clothing I attempted to wear still rendering me frigid. Eating a kabob loaded with pickled red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, succulent lamb juicy and bursting with flavor and a cooling yogurt sauce, dripping onto my the front of shirt, laughing with my cousin and his friends. Staring bright-eyed, in childlike wonder, through the wrought iron gates, speckled with gold leaves which looked as delicate as foil, at Buckingham Palace at the change of the guards, the guards clad in morose, somber grey posts instead of the red pea coats I thought I’d see.

But I only, mostly remember, slapping a vibrant head wrap on my head the wee hours of my departure before heading to London Gatwick airport. I remember, vividly, being asked if my head wrap was donned for religious reasons and when I shrugged in confusion, leading the border control agent to believe I meant no, urging me to remove my headwrap, exposing my nappy natural hair, my TWA, matted to my head. I remember her roughly fingering my hair, attempting to feel my roots but only snagging my kinky coils, and causing me to yelp in pain. And being asked, with vitriol and aggression leaking in her voice, only seconds later, to remove my shoes, although I was originally told I could keep them on.

I can reflect on Brussels, stumbling into Grand Place, where one of the most ornate, beautiful and awe struck cathedrals I’ve seen with my naked eyes — outside of The Duomo in Milan and the Catedral de Sevilla in Sevilla — or pushing my way through the Godiva where the smell of freshly churned chocolate tickled my nostrils and aroused my taste buds. I remember the nine hours I spent there, not knowing a word of French. Eyes being cut at me, like I was a suspicion, a threat, someone to be feared. People bursting my bubble of boundaries, demanding I answer them in French, because of course, I’m Black. My skin is brown. I have to be African which means I most likely speak French. But I didn’t. Not then, not now.

But I only most remember, going through passport control at the Brussels airport and the officer looking at me stunned, blown away and utterly bewildered. After looking at me and down at my passport and up at me and down at my passport and up at me and down at my passport, he cocked his head to side and peered at me and asked, “What happened?”

I squinted back at him and stuttered, not sure what I was supposed to say. And okay, maybe I did look different. In my passport photo, I had honey blonde hair stringy and broken off and in person, I had a dark haired (my natural hair color) nappy coils which were short and low cut. But did I really look that different? My face looked the same. These were the microaggressions. The demands to explain.

I could also go into grave detail about how dozens of times I’ve been “randomly selected” to undergo extra screening before jetting off to a new locale. Asked more questions then necessary. My belongings being rustled through for an indeterminate amount of time, threatening me to miss my flight. Or being stared at like I have three heads when out and about in a foreign city. Or feeling like I was abnormal or strange because of the color of my skin. The whispering, the pointing, the slower than slow service because of my brown face, because of course, I’m not deserving of the customer service that other, White customers, receive.

But I think you get the point. I think you can see that I’m not exaggerating. That these are very real micro aggressions which can wear on someone who is so determined to see as much as the world as possible but when other people are determined to remind you of the global appeal of anti-Blackness. How Black faces being unwanted isn’t just an American construct and how it is a global one, in every truest sense of concept, one bolstered by colonialism and White supremacy coursing through the veins of every living soul.

And yes, many will argue with my passport, my blue passport emblazoned with a gold eagle on the front presents me with a horde of privilege. But let’s also be real — what difference does my blue passport really make, that when whomever flips it open to the photo page, and they see my un-American name? When they look at it, and instantly, know it’s not American? When they know I’m foreign, in some sense of the word, and decide, right then and there, to discriminate?

Many others will tell me that yes, as a Black woman, a tall Black woman, I’m warranted the stares and the ogling I get whenever I go somewhere where I’m not in the majority. People will tell me to expect it. That it’s just because I’m tall, as a I stand, statuesque at almost six feet. And in the same breath, they’ll also tell me to extend an olive branch, to be more understanding of their confusion and the subsequent ignorance which arises in their questions and their ignorance. They’ll tell me explain, to be a good example, to be a representative on behalf of countless others.

But dammit. That isn’t me. The me I am, the me I have grown to be, isn’t interested in that. The me I am isn’t interested in extending nary of even a damn twig branch. The me I am isn’t here to be your bridge to cultural understanding. The me I am isn’t here to be representative of what it means to be Black, to be Black American, to be African. The me I am doesn’t want (or ask) to be affronted with the different treatment and surely doesn’t want to be exhausted to have to bother to explain. To me I am understands that Black American and Africans aren’t a monolithic group. That there are differences and wavelengths that vary along gender, religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic levels. And to be asked to be a representative is insulting and denounces the vasty amount of diversity that exists within us, among us.

I understand my existence, for most, is audacious. That daring to be a Black American and African woman who is unapologetically proud of who she is…unfathomable. But who I am is who I am. Who I am is proud. Who I am is authentic. And who I am won’t stop daring to see the world, one city, one town, one country, one continent at at time. And the who I am doesn’t ever want to, have to, desire to, have to explain.

paris

solo sojourner: a black woman’s solo travel manifesto

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I am writing this for me.

I am writing this to remind myself on low days, when my mind skitters to that dark, desolate, lonely place deep within the wilderness, when I feel as if I can’t fight to find my way out, that I am enough. That I am powerful. That I am unconquerable. That I am a visionary. That I am brave. That I have the embattled courage of my ancestors coursing through my veins.

Those low days, those days when my life seems to be hanging in the belly, in the underside of the time, in the bitter, unforgiving balance of distance, are plentiful. They chase and swirl around me as I sleep and often are there greeting me as my eyelids flicker and adjust to the bright sunshine sneaking in through my blinds at the head of my bed.

And really there is a clear connection of the low days, the dark periods, leading me to the light and unbridled jubilation. I see it clearly, especially, in the beginning of what has lent itself to being a transformative period of my life.

The fall of 2012 was the last semester of grad school filled with mostly working on my thesis creative nonfiction manuscript. It was also a period where I was struggling to find myself, the bare bones of myself, after being left past devastation in a relationship which armed me with more battle wounds and scars than sad memories of a great love lost.

Do you know how it feels to be caught in a vacuum, not knowing who you are or where you are headed? Not being able to trust your emotions, your thoughts or your instincts? Feeling a vast void because your existence, you realize, was thrust into a malicious stranger who capitalized on your (inner) beauty and strength which was mounted on shaky confidence, too afraid to stand strong and irresolute? This was me then. This was me emerging from a toxic, emotionally abusive relationship with a man I loved deeply who I should’ve never trusted, who never meant me any good from the start.

In retrospect, I thank him endlessly. He has thus far been one of my greatest teachers, one of my greatest lessons. He was the sole person I can credit with making me crouch still enough to dare to look inward and take a discerning look of who I was and who I could become. He saved my life, as much as travel has saved my life.

My first solo trip in September of 2012 was an experience filled with euphoria, confusion and tears. I cried hot tears of frustration on being lost, not knowing my bearings and not being able to communicate (well) what I was thinking/feeling in Spanish to strangers, just as equally as I was astonished, in awe and enraptured by Madrid and its beauty. Taking that trip definitely started stirring my gears to finally make my longtime dream of living abroad a reality but much bigger was this concept of moving more inside of myself.

It had been a long time since I had heard my inner voice clearly and distinctly and knew I could trust it. It had been a long time since I relied on myself to get from one point to another. It had been a long time since I was at peace, felt like I was no longer warring with the essence of who I am.

This degree of vigor, steadfast dedication to following my heart pushed me to traveled solo to Seville, Milan, Paris, Oporto, London, Brussels, Zurich and Mallorca last year, and is continually the throb and rhythm I use to continuously chart my course going forward. I listen to myself. I listen to myself and I take the leaps, despite how terrified I may be. I’d say being terrified, generally, is the barometer I use to know whether or not I’m making the right decisions.

porto

My (new) therapist recently shared me with me this amazing analogy which put into perspective what type of person I am and why solo traveling, why daring to see the world, one city at a time, with only my own company, has become a defining space for me. She told me I was like that kid, who every day during recess, climbed to the very top of the jungle gym, stood atop the highest point and jumped, arms failing, smiling, without looking, yet still having every shred of hope I’d land on my two feet. And even if I didn’t land on my two feet, I knew I had somewhere, whether it was hidden or exposed, the dignity and strength to recalculate, reevaluate and try again. And again. And again. And again.

But that is me. I leap before I look and I terrify all those around me, namely my parents, who pride themselves on having a plan, staying safe and not charting into the unknown. But I’m learning and know intimately for myself, the unknown, the dark spaces, the nights fumbling around with no viscosity, is where transformation occurs. That’s where life occurs. That’s ground zero. That’s where the meaning we’re all searching for comes in, robs us blind, and inspires us on heights which were before inconceivable.

I know how revolutionary it is to chart this life for myself and to have a vision no one else can tangibly reconcile and therefore not easily believe in. I also know how revolutionary this is for me as a Black woman daring to do so, as an African woman daring to do so. I also know how revolutionary it is to mosey into every corner of the world, looking for a new adventure, looking to uncover new truths about myself (or hidden truths), as a Black woman, as an African woman.  I know this and perhaps, this is what makes traveling alone, traveling with no one to fill the white noise, the silence, the space which should be regulated for companionship and company, so rewarding and fulfilling. And perhaps, that makes this all, this all makes traveling and seeing the world with just my own two eyes, all the more worth it.

brussels

(I am writing this for me.

I am writing this to remind myself on low days, when my mind skitters to that dark, desolate, lonely place deep within the wilderness, when I feel as if I can’t fight to find my way out, that I am enough. That I am powerful. That I am unconquerable. That I am a visionary. That I am brave. That I have the embattled courage of my ancestors coursing through my veins.)

how (and why) I moved to spain.

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Since repatriating back to the States, the question that I am asked the most other than why I left beautiful, stunning Spain to live in lackluster Washington, DC (I wonder now, too), is how, aside from gathering the gumption to move 5,000 miles away, I even executed an international move. For instance, how did I secure work to make money? How did I find somewhere to live? How was I legally able to stay in another country for nearly a year and earn legitimate money?

Well, trust me, it certainly wasn’t a walk in the park. It was nearly ten months of frustration, stress, confusion, patience and hundreds of dollars, before I even set foot in Madrid. And quite honestly, when I look back on that journey I took before the transformative journey of being an expat, I wonder how I managed to do it all, mostly on my own.

Metropolis

Rather than having this lengthy conversation with innumerous facets repeatedly with different people, I thought I’d write a comprehensive, full frontal and gut-wrenchingly honest (because more is needed of that in terms of becoming an expat, especially an expat of color in Spain) post highlighting just how I was able to pull this shit off.

I decided I wanted to go. I decided that I most definitely was going to go and stopped entertaining that it was an outlandish idea.

Talking myself out the self-doubt was probably the hugest thing in terms of starting the preparation to moving abroad. I decided in November of the previous year (November 2012) that I was going to move to Spain and stuck to my guns. This isn’t the say that I didn’t entertain tons of self-doubt in the ten months leading up to my actual departure to Madrid. I did. After I decided I was going to for sure move, I told my parents, followed by close friends. This was done partially because I was excited about it and partially because I needed to speak it aloud for it be more real rather than some abstract concept I was concocting absently in my mind.

I contemplated how I would get to live in Spain.

If you’re in the least bit familiar with the state of Spain’s economy at the moment, you know that unemployment is quite high, so any thought of casually waltzing into the country with a work visa — without the prior backing of a company based in the States with offices abroad — is nearly impossible.

The vast majority of Americans who reside in Spain are either study abroad students or people like me who decided to teach English. I knew the only option for me to get to Spain was a student visa, so it really came down to me researching my options. And there are two: going through credentialed, established programs solely for placing native English speakers in teaching positions, such as the North American Language and Culture Assistant program backed by the Spanish Ministry of Education, CIEE, UCETAM, BEDA or do it solo dolo through an established language academy.

The latter typically have programs who offer intensive TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate programs who might offer assistance with things such as getting your TIE once the student visa you obtain lapses after the first 90 days, finding housing and helping you get teaching jobs to build your own daily schedule. Both routes will get you a student visa but the process will vary, slightly.

I actually did both. I started out as a freelancer after getting my TEFL Certification and then switched to the North American Language and Culture Assistant program (also known as Auxiliaries de Conversación). The unpredictably (and bullshit) of freelancing teaching became too stressful, and I needed to know that I had a set amount of money coming to me monthly which is why I switched.

I applied for a student visa.

A moment of silence for the most horrific process I have ever endured.

Okay.

Maybe I’m being a tad dramatic, but I’m not exaggerating on how confusing and frustrating the process is. When I applied for a student visa for Spain, as a Georgia resident, in 2013, there were 14 things total I needed: a completed national visa form, two recent passport size pictures, drivers license, original school certificate of admission, information about the study program, proof of health insurance coverage, proof of means of support, proof of accommodation, local health certificate, original certificate of good conduct and the visa fee (~$150 at the time I believe).

Whew! Each of the originals of those and a copy were needed. Yes, copies of everything. I still remember running around the corner to a nearby Publix the day of my visa appointment to make copies last minute because I didn’t realize how literal that request was.

Now, these requirements might have changed because this was now two years ago when I applied and they vary based on the state you live in. I pulled the checklist with extremely detailed instructions from the Consulate website I had to go to. Because I lived in Georgia at the time, I had to go to Miami to turn in my application in person after making an appointment months in advance, to give me time to get everything together, namely to get the original certificate of good conduct (fancy way of saying an official FBI background check clearance). That document alone took weeks and once it was received had to be sent back to the Department of State for Apostil Certification (a fancy way of saying notarized basically). You’ll also need fingerprints to send in along with the paperwork for the certificate of good conduct, which was a clusterfuck to figure out in Georgia cause only certain places would do it, contrary to what the Consulate told me would be the case.

I figured this all out on my own through trial and error and mindless Googling for insight because the Consulate of Miami would not answer (or return) my phone calls. I got really desperate at one point and sent an email which they eventually “answered” in one line, still not helping me in any way. I say this to say that depending on Consulate you have to go to you may or may not have this same experience. Just be prepared to have to just figure things out if it comes down to it.

Proof of means of support is another one of those things that was mind-boggling. Because I wasn’t going through one of the pre-established programs that feed directly for English teachers and instead went through a language academy (which means they were not providing my means of support or salary like the other programs do), I had to prove I had $1,000 per month that I would be in Spain (12 months x $1,000 = $12,000). Other consulates weren’t as strict and would let you just get a letter from your parents or legal guardian saying they’d be responsible for you. Miami wanted a bank statement printout showing the proof of funds. I hear now this has changed and they want a six month history of funds to meet this qualification. Ouch.

I saved as much as I could.

Because piecing together the various parts of my visa application began to get costly, this was difficult, along with other expenses that popped up unexpectedly (hello life!).

Also, as an aside as far as saving, because I freelance taught my first few months in Madrid, nothing was guaranteed and I knew this (to a degree) before I moved, saving more should’ve been a priority. Freelance teaching is highly unpredictable and there were often moments when I wasn’t paid the exact amount I was promised, if at all or really late. Ranges per hour can vary vastly; the academy I taught in, for instance, paid only 12€ per hour! Getting the heftier rates per hour often involves a mix of experience and reputation and as newbie TEFL teacher, this wasn’t something I could demand right off the bat.This made drawing up a budget based on expected salary to be nearly impossible, although I knew, at the end of every month, I needed to allocate money to rent (~350€), my metro pass (~60€), groceries (~20€ per week) and for fun things.

To be quite frank, I didn’t save as much as I should’ve, and I paid for this mistake in the first few months after my move. I was fortunate to have family who understood and helped me, but if I could do it all over again, I might’ve worked a second job during nights or weekends to create a cushion for myself so I didn’t have to depend on others to finance my dream. I highly suggest you do this, too. Make this journey one that you make happen on your own. It will feel that much more gratifying.

I consolidated all my belongings into two suitcases and a small carry-on.

Per the sage advice of others I stuffed down the desire to bring the slew of six-inch heels into my luggage and everything in my wardrobe. I only brought a fraction of my clothes with me, under the assumption I could shop for things once I was settled there and only five pairs of shoes. Funny thing was, as a curvy, tall woman (I’m 5’10”) I had a lot of trouble finding clothes and shoes for myself as the typical Spanish woman is petite. That’s a story for another day though…

I moved.

Getting comfy on a flight out of Newark in Jersey courtesy of Jet Airways (fly them if you ever get the chance; impeccable customer service and delicious Indian food served on flight) was the easiest part of this journey. Cause all I had to do was check my luggage…and sit.

The other part, which I deem equally important, is the why. Why, would I, a Black and African woman in her late 20s, pretty successful in terms of career strides up and leave everything she knew in exchange for an overwhelming amount of unfamiliarity? Why would being surrounded by a language I barely spoke with people who didn’t look like me and knowing not a soul be alluring?

Sometimes you get so desperate for a change you take gigantic, nonsensical leaps which seem crazy, ill-fitting and illogical to most others. But for me, it was just the leap of bravery I needed to reignite me and set my spirit alive. I hadn’t realized then, even while I was an expat, how much I was changing, how each moment, with each choice, I was consciously changing, morphing more into the spirit I had always been. The spirit I had convinced myself wasn’t good enough, needing fixing, needing to douse her head with tons of self-help books and practice meditation, religiously, to be acceptable, a good person, a good woman, a good daughter, a good sister, a good friend, a good companion.

And that’s what it all boils down to. I didn’t think I was good enough. I thought adding some extra stamps to my passport, traveling to other countries, trying a new career, speaking another language other my native tongue fluently would make me…great. But what I discovered was that I was already and had always been immeasurably great, marvelous, wondrous, amazing, inspiring. That’s what travel and these great intercontinental and international adventures are about— inward journeys.

Maybe you’re reading this post contemplating an international move. Maybe Spain is your destination. Maybe you’re thinking you’re crazy (I know I did when I first considered moving to Spain). Maybe you think your dream is far-fetched, too far from the norm, too off the beaten path to be accepted from your family, friends, your boyfriend or girlfriend.

It’s not.

And you’re not crazy.

Take the leap. Even if you’re scared. Especially if you’re scared. Even if you’re trembling and fearful that everything in the world could go wrong if you left everything you’ve known behind.

But how will you know if you never even try?

Plaza Mayor

realities of repatriation.

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Life is different now.

Life is radically different than, say, a year ago, when I was navigating the streets of Madrid, juggling an exhausting freelance English teaching schedule, on the verge of giving up and throwing in the towel.

On the verge of saying goodbye to what was a fairytale, a journey away from normal, a journey towards the rest of my life, towards the rest of myself, away from all the things that ailed my aching heart and my clouded psyche.

I needed a reprieve. So, I ran. I ran 5,000 miles away with some sort of courage, with the hope I could start over, that I could forget all the trauma, letdowns, disappointments, ill treatment. I thought if I went somewhere where no one knew my name I could be a different person, a new me, a new woman, a renewed spirit.

And, that was the truth, for a while. When I moved more than a year ago to Madrid, my mind was drowning with the negative voices which I had become accustomed to, the voices of bosses and supervisors who didn’t see my brilliance or value, friends who thought I was unpredictable, aloof and uncommunicative, family who didn’t see me at all. And lovers who projected their shadows of defeat on me, leaving me to feel I was too much. I was always too much, which made me instinctually shrink in hopes of being accepted and deemed more appealing.

But then all the things I had tried to outrun caught up with me. I was drowning in reoccurring bouts of victimhood, perpetual negativity. I was woefully unhappy with English teaching and the direction things had began to take career-wise yet again— rather I saw not writing anymore was not the key to feeling fulfilled and happy. I was also really lonely and in dire need of true companionship, something I had been sorely lacking in the nine months I had been in Madrid.

So, I packed up all my shit, again, in those same two suitcases I fled from the States in, and headed back home, only to Washington, DC. I ran again, hoping I could outpace myself, hoping a change in scenery, new challenges could aliven me, make me feel whole, inspire a genuine smile for the first time in months.

There’s this funny thing that happened when I moved six months ago today, though. This repatriation and culture shock thing that many former expats or current expats or those adept with frequently changing their addresses and swapping them with cities all over the world won’t share with you. It slapped me in the face after my first four weeks filled with bliss. It slammed me to ground and left me in a foreboding sense of weeping and melancholia.

And it was unexpected. Because no one talks about how doubly difficult it is to navigate coming back “home” after you trade and sacrifice everything and everyone you’ve known for an abroad adventure. You spend all your time building up the expectation of leaving that no premeditation is lent to returning, which makes returning that much harder, that much more isolating, that much more lonely, that much more hopeless.

Because you are alone.

You are alone in this emotional navigation. Your near and dear expat community you bonded with when you first landed in another country aren’t there. They’re still out there living out their adventure. And you’re here, grasping at straws, trying to rediscover a glimmer of something exciting, something to look forward to, something to figure out that will inspire that same feeling of being on a journey to discovery like you did when you were abroad. You’ll attempt to find resources to turn something nonsensical and arduous to put into words to family, friends, those you might be dating — websites, blogs, books, guides — and will come up empty-handed. Because in some sort of sense, no one wants to talk about returning, the end of the journey, because it’s hard. It’s harder. It’s a bit more real and less filled with adrenaline. Instead the only feeling you keep rounding up to again is feeling like a failure.

Feeling like a failure was the feeling I grappled with the most. I couldn’t reconcile how the same woman who had on her own traveled to 11 countries and 27 cities was struggling to get out of bed each morning. How I had little to no desire to try to make friends or talk to people. How I felt like a listless, less inspiring, less courageous, less interesting version of myself.

I felt like no one cared about the transformative period that living abroad for almost a year had impacted and changed me, how humbling it was to chronically figure out how to make 10 euros last a week or longer because I only got paid once a month. How after a while, speaking another language that wasn’t my native tongue became easier, more expected and something I craved. How I got used to the distance, being far away with the familiarity of being close to friends and family, my favorite restaurants, foods, TV shows and stores.

Being an expat is truly an exercise in becoming accustomed to distance — emotional, mental, and physical distance — and forging forward in discomfort, alienation and unfamiliarity. Being uncomfortable becomes like a game, something to look forward to, something you crouch in in the low moments. Sitting too still, things becoming too familiar becomes boring and belittling.

But after the past six months of being rejected from job lead after job lead, trying English teaching again and hating it, again, defeat in redefining my relationships with old friends and family members, trying to make myself understood and not feeling like a sparkly, fun ball of enthusiasm and child-like wonderment, I knew how I was feeling was not normal. I knew that perhaps I had been in a dark abyss for too long. I knew not wanting to leave my bed or my room for days at a time, or not showering for days at a time and exploding in emotional episodes the few times that I did venture out into the world, how those things became my new challenges, that I was sinking into a period I had identified, a feeling that was familiar during different periods of my life.

I felt it my senior year of high school when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt it the summer before I went to college when the relationship with my father barely hung on by threads and I grappled with my mother’s illness. I felt it the first three months in college as I was plagued with guilt for leaving my mother to start my own journey. I felt it for most of the eight-month duration of my last relationship as I was verbally and emotionally abused by my ex-partner. I felt it the summer before I moved to Madrid as I drowned in misery over the life of mine which no longer made me happy.

And it was back again. It had made a reappearance. It was like a deep, darkening fog with zero visibility. It swallowed me whole, left me choking, gasping waves of emotions, of tears, heaves of despair, shards of silence. I was sinking, I was drowning, I needed a way out. I needed hope again. I needed for hope to not feel so out of reach. I needed to not feel like depression wasn’t overtaking my life, engulfing my entire existence, yet again.

I started therapy two weeks ago.

I walked into that office, my knuckles a ghastly white, my nails digging into my palms from nervousness, from clinching my hands as tightly as I could. This was a new level of vulnerability I’d never experienced. I was there to admit that I needed help. I was there to admit that I couldn’t do this — I couldn’t saunter around in this beautiful world only seeing black and white and not the varying shades of gray and the bursts of color — alone.

I was there to admit that trying to do it alone, and failing, was no longer heroic.

Life is different now.

Life will be different now.

Because I can imagine hope and what it might feel like, again.

african ATLien.

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Drizzles of rain tickled my nose, tapped on my checks and bled into my clothes. My glasses were also speckled with the precipitation, enlarging the small dots into blurry radials. I could see very little, but the bass thumping in my chest and the music waves whizzing by my ears as I listened to Andre 3000 and Big Boi perform “Bombs over Baghdad” enlivened me.

I was surrounded by thousands in Centennial Olympic Park, the heart of downtown Atlanta, my hometown, the city which tugs and pulls at my emotional strings. We were all gathered in a space that in 1996, was the sight of a horrific bombing during our only time hosting the Summer Olympic Games.

During the last weekend of September this year, we reclaimed the space. We gave it a host of dear, heartfelt, intangible, unforgettable memories. We flooded our psyche with melodies of songs we hadn’t heard in years which conjured up thoughts of old friends, new relationships, going away to college, partying recklessly as a 20-something or teenager without a care in the world. We lavished in the revelry, our own Southern Coachella, a homecoming for many of us, of remembering the deposits that the south and everything it encompasses to the totality of a person. Our traditions, our sounds, our people, our essence.

And yet, this was in Atlanta, the city which I have an complicated, intricate and distanced relationship with. The city which I abruptly severed my 28 year long affair and entanglement of emotional, mental and spiritual frustration a year prior to dance into the sunset of Madrid. This was the same city where I was experiencing a music high of a lifetime, a set of hours which I will one day candidly and fondly tell my offspring about. It was the same city.

It was the same city I longed for in low moments while in Madrid those nine months. The city which when I closed my eyes while overcome with tears in my shoebox sized room in my flat, the window pouring in sunlight which stung my eyes when I peered out of it, I could see the familiar places, people and things I sordidly missed. I could smell the fried chicken, yeast and cinnamon rolls from Mary Mac’s wafting near my nose. I could taste a vanilla milkshake from The Varsity, red velvet cupcakes from Camicakes or a slice of pizza from Fellini’s Pizza.

It was the same city whose traffic on 285, 75, 85, 78 and 20 could cause even the calmest, namaste person to have an episode filled with rage. The same city where Blackness became equated with success, affluence, higher education, entrepreneurship. The same city where I went to elementary, middle and high school, college and grad school. The same city where I learned how to drive, first fell in love, made and lost a numerous amount of what I thought were forever friends. My spirit was first formed and vitalized and born in this city, in the same city.

As precious as all these stakes of nostalgia bear to mind, it’s the same city where I ravaged with the duality and double consciousness of being both an African and American, where I struggled to discern which side I most identified with, my father’s Nigerian roots or my mother’s Southern roots by way of Alabama.

It’s the same city where all during my years of schooling, I was teased and stigmatized as a dirty, ignorant African, an African booty scratcher. Less than because I had a name which was unpronounceable and commonly misspelled. It’s the same city where I internalized the shame of being different and disassociated, tried to pretend that I wasn’t just American because of my name, the marker, one of the few tangible ties to my culture and heritage followed me everywhere I went.

It’s the same city where I learned from a young age what it encompasses to be a Black southern woman and how in many ways, there was a direct incongruence to what it meant to be an African woman. I was both, I always was both, but how do you reconcile feeling confused when both sides are critical of each other? When both sides sorely need to inject some understanding and a meeting of minds with each other but instead pit themselves against each other at the hands of White supremacy and anti-Blackness, unbeknownst to them?

It’s the same city where I listened to my Dad speak in Igbo to his friends on the phone or at Nigerian parties yet didn’t bother to teach myself or my sisters even one word. It’s the same city where I learned none of my Nigerian history and instead had to take pouring over old, musty encyclopedia during library visits at school to grasp even an inkling of my heritage and even still, only knowing very little because I never traveled there, never seen Nigerian soil with my own eyes.

Atlanta, Georgia, the new South, the home of the Georgia red clay, where Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up and where Major General William Sherman lit a torch to the city during his infamous March to the Sea. The Midnight Train to Georgia, Georgia On My mind. Yes, this city.

The same city standing on the shoulders of years of mounting racism, which you can still see the glimmers of if you look in Cobb and north Fulton counties. Yes, this city. The same city where I chronically felt a gaping hole for knowing the other side of myself, knowing intimately what it meant being African on more than one level. It’s the same city where I wondered what it would feel like to mix and mingle with my Dad’s side of the family, the Nigerian side, but the burden of being separated by the Atlantic Ocean became all too real quite often. It’s the same city where I had to default with being a Southerner became just enough because it was the only culture I had access to through lived experience.

The horn of the South, the new mecca for Blacks, yes, it’s this same city where I watched my father succumb to the pangs and throes of assimilation, telling every person he met his middle English name instead of his proper, first Nigerian name to be accepted. It’s the same city where I pondered the same and eventually did the same, making sure to tell people to pronounce my name the American, incorrect way and linking it to my middle name which was more common, more acceptable. It’s the same city where I thought loading myself up with degrees, accomplishments, credentials, skills and qualifications would make people forget that I was different once they looked at my name. I though i could forget I was African. I thought they could forget, too, because it brought me too much shame, embarrassment and unprocessed pain.

The same city. Atlanta, yes, this same city.

Whilst I stood amid the drizzles, speeding up as each successive thumping of the bass in my chest and jumped up and down, wildly failing my arms to the beat, I stared at the buildings that glittered behind us. Behind us as we stood, a sea of faces, feelings, emotions, adjectives.

I pondered all these complexities. And I left them at the feet of the stage. I left them there. I left them there as a nod to acceptance, a nod to knowing all I had grappled with in the past, fully knowing they wouldn’t be grapples of the future.

I left them there, where they still lay, unbothered, meddling in the grass, becoming foot fodder for all those who may walk by underneath their feet.

I left them there, I let them go, I separated myself and there, in Atlanta, is where my fears, my insecurities, my doubts, my confusion over both sides of me will forever remain.