five reasons why 2016 should be the year you solo travel.

solotravel

If there’s one thing you should know about me from reading this blog for the past (almost) three years, it’s that I’m a one woman show. I don’t wait for anyone to take my travel adventures. It’s been four years since I first started solo traveling and today, I’m at 11 countries and 30 cities traveled solo dolo.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Solo travel is not only an interesting conversation I can count on to dazzle a possible suitor or liven up shaky dialogue at an otherwise stale happy hour, but it’s also the one area of my life where I can directly credit a lot of my personal growth and refinement of my identity. Traveling alone put me directly in tune with my own thoughts, opinions and emotions. It has helped me to discover exactly who I was on my terms and not based on what everyone else has to say about me. And lastly, it has been a space where my penchant for adventure and exploring has been fed and rendered me joyful.

So, of course, I want to encourage each and every one of you to take a solo trip if you haven’t already. And here are my five reasons why 2016 should be the year where you make it happen.

 1.  It’s a leap year. Which means leaps should be taken.

The month of February has 29 days this year and as you all know, the years in which this occurs are referred to as leap years. Leap years occur on average every four years. Which means after this year, we won’t have another year with 366 days until 2020.

(I promise I wasn’t intending to make this a lesson on addition and calendar and years, but sometimes I get really into these kind of things and tunnel into a rabbit hole. And then I get really excited and start rambling and babbling and get really committed to the tangent, whether related or not, I took myself on).

Anyway, my point is, years like this year are extraordinarily rare; let it encourage and inspire you to take a leap of your own, that leap being committing to a solo trip before the year’s end. Make 2016 a year you will (literally) never forget and years from now, look back on fondly because you exercised your courage.

2.  There are places you want to see and you should stop waiting on other people to see them.

One of the main reasons I started solo traveling years ago was because I was tired of waiting on my friends to want to go somewhere with me because the idea of going alone seemed really weird, especially as a single woman with no kids. But after countless times of getting really excited about taking a trip after picking out a destination, starting to put money aside for said trip, booking a hotel on a credit card and then following up friends before booking a flight and being met with countless excuses such as — not having the money after all, not being able to get time off work, not as enthused about the trip overall as originally communicated — I was done. I was done waiting.

Which brings me to my next very crucial point and perhaps the best aspect of traveling solo…

3. Planning a solo trip is a helluva easier than coordinating for a group one.

There is so much freedom in traveling alone because planning is super easy. Only having to check in with yourself is what makes the difference here. You don’t have to check in about dates, the best day to fly out, where to say, how much you’re willing to pay (or not pay) for where you stay and innumerous other details. When it’s just you, you also don’t have to compromise which means you get the exact travel experience you want without having to bend to what a friend, lover or family member may have personal expectations.

4. Because fear isn’t a good enough reason to not solo travel.

Think of the most inspiring, courageous and brave person you know. It could be your mother, a dear friend, your partner, a coworker or neighbor. This person’s light shines indescribably bright and being around them is always a pleasure. They seem to be really in control of their lives and overall happy, peaceful and authentic to who they are at their core.  And they also seem particularly fearless and unafraid of what life may bring. Because for one reason or another, they are prepared for whatever life may bring and will stand unwavering, unmoved, unaffected, not completely blown over or shattered.

Now, know that this person, whoever they are, is probably always scared and the difference between them just being a person who is ruled by fear, as most people are, they act in spite of it. This is the true mark of a brave, courageous, inspirational person. They’ve made friends with the fear that arises in their lives and consciously work with it, not against it, and use it to propel them forward.

Being afraid to travel alone if you haven’t already is normal. When in your life has a new experience not been scary though? It’s scary because it’s outside of your comfort zone and realm of things you’re used to doing. Honestly, I can’t tell you from personal experience that you won’t feel that fear when you get ready to take that first solo adventure. But what I can say is letting fear paralyze you and keep you from embarking on what will ultimately be a transformative experience is how fear wins. It’s how fear becomes bigger than you. Does fear really deserve that much passionate, unrelenting, high strung dedication?

5.  Solo travel will change your life. Completely.

How could I know that traveling to Madrid, alone, four years ago would completely turn my life upside down, in a good way? Exactly a year after that amazing trip to Spain’s capital city, I moved there and called Madrid my home for nine months as I taught English. I’ve not been the same after living abroad for the time I did.

Saying solo travel will change your life isn’t a statement to be taken lightly. Your life will change. That is a promise. The question is, however, are you ready? Are you ready to shake up your life in all totality? Are you ready to be in touch with the grandest sense of personal freedom you’ve ever experienced? Are you ready to take the leap into the rest of your life?

Affirmations can be used for everything, including solo travel. Join the mailing list for Afros y Paella to get your solo travel affirmations andddddd updates about upcoming digital workbook Solo Sojourness: A Roadmap to Planning and Bravely Taking Your First Solo Adventure.  Click here to join. 

lovely leaving.

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As the overpowering scent of chlorine invaded my nasal passages, I held my breath and tiptoed through the locker room at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. My mother had enrolled me in my first, official swimming lessons and although I’d been “swimming” for years, she thought I could use special instruction from those who actually knew what they were doing— lifeguards.

That first summer, I had to be around eight or nine, started a yearly tradition of summers filled with quickly changing in the girls locker room with the slick, sticky and ancient tiled floors, holding my breath so the chlorine and bleach smells didn’t give me a headache, as they always did when I was submerged in the water, panting, blinking furiously and trying not to complain from the burning of my eyes. 

Many, many, many times, although I was being guided by my instructor, I felt out of control, powerless to the depths of the water. Often, even when my instructor explained to myself and my classmates what we’d be doing and demonstrated, it seemed so easy, but when I attempted it was a complete flop. My most vivid memory of such instance is when I was a teenager and almost finished with all the levels of swimming courses. This class was strictly on diving in the deep, twelve feet end. I scrapped my knees on the side of the pool several times, streams of amber trailing behind me as I attempted to touch the pool floor. 

This past weekend when I celebrated my 28th birthday in Palma de Mallorca and spent the bulk of my Saturday sunbathing and frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea at Cala Major beach, I had a deja vu moment. It was one of the few times I ventured out into the water alone and thought I had my footing, but the aggressive waves slapped me back. Once this made my bikini top fly completely off and I was rendered topless. Another time, I was pushed underwater, the salt water burning my pupils and stinging my nose, forcefully shoving frigid, salty water down my throat and causing me to scrape my left knee on a rock on the bottom of the sea. 

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But I fought and laughed through it. Eventually, I was panting and limping back to the shore, collapsed on my towel in the sand and napped for fifteen minutes, completely drained and exhausted. The waves had not certainly not killed or defeated me, but it had zapped me of any energy I had before. 

Which, ironically, is what I can say about my experience living as an expat in Madrid for the past eight months. There have been countless experiences where I was slapped around, forcefully shoved and left drained and depleted as a result of circumstance. Whether it was weathering delicate (and dysfunctional) roommate situations, withstanding teaching jobs which took everything out of me although I showed up everyday determined to make it work, losing friends from back home and realizing newfound friends I’d made here weren’t the best fit, coming into my own as an adult woman and standing on my own two feet. 

And although none of these things have defeated or killed me, they’ve shed so much clarity on life as I know it and the path I want the rest of my life to continue to take, beginning with leaving Madrid, ending this Spanish journey. In nine days.

To be fair, this wasn’t a decision I made with haste or without much deliberation. I knew at the end of February when I was asked whether or not I wanted to renew my current contract with the Spanish Ministry of Education teaching in a high school. I knew, rather, that I wanted to return home, to stop forcing myself to be someone I wasn’t or enjoy a job or country I’m not happy in. 

So, leaving, for me, is two-fold. 

I’ve spoken at great lengths about the racism I’ve been affronted with in Madrid, and it’d be wholly dishonest for me to say it wasn’t a huge factor and not wanting to continue to live here. I’ve expressed at many junctures the frustration of being both a Black American and Black African here. I’ve either received empathy from those who agree with the racist notions which abound in this country or those who are so engrossed in their privilege they don’t even notice it, let alone their participation in the perpetuation of systematic racism and hatred of people of color. 

Privilege is the main thing which irks me about all the micro aggressions and othering I know to be by-product of long-standing ignorance and racism, rather those who just don’t seem to get it, even other people of color, and tell me I should take the respectability route. Those who suggest to me I act as a bridge to cultural understanding and undertake the (unwanted) burden of shattering stereotypes and incorrect, negative cultural and racial assumptions. 

I’ve arrived at such a place of pride about Blackness and my Nigerian heritage, and no, my existence has never and will never be to be an ambassador or tolerant of the ignorance of others. I don’t have to be understanding of White privilege. I don’t have to be understanding of why people think the way they do about Black Americans and Black Africans and give them a pass. I won’t accept being told I’m “overly sensitive” or that I have a “chip on my shoulder” or I should “stop reading into every little thing.” I won’t be told just because I look different and have a different name to expect to be treated differently because of the curiosity of others and to be open to it. And I won’t. I simply won’t. 

 I’m not here to assuage guilt, make myself understood or to constantly explain myself, and I’d much rather not live in a country which I feel is committed to misunderstanding me and people like me.

On the flip side of the coin, my vocation is not to teach. This I know undoubtedly after trying (and failing) to transition to what I Initially thought would be a complete career change before moving. I’ve taught adults, I’ve taught children, I’ve taught really young children and I’ve taught teenagers in my short TEFL teaching stint. The lessons and insights I’ve gained about myself are truly endless, but one thing I know overall is writing is not something I can run away from. To run away from my vocation, my calling, my purpose is akin to running away from myself.

And yes, I can admit my move to Madrid was pre-meditated as an escape, a flee, running away as fast as I could. I ran away from a lot: the familiarity (as well as predictability and boringness) of home I had grown tired of, family issues, constant disappointment with friends, a pathetic (and nonexistent) love life, impending doom about the direction (and shape) my writing career was taking, exhaustion from being broke and my talents and passions not being valued and appreciated. 

I thought the magic solution would be to move thousands of miles away to start over from scratch. Of course I had goals. I wanted to finally become fluent in Spanish and relish in the Spanish culture and…la la la la la la. Instead, what I have found is that the things I ran from never disappeared but morphed into a new form. Because you can’t run away from yourself or your problems or your issues. You have to dig deep and conquer them, conquer your demons. 

After going through endless changes with teaching: being fired, dropping classes which weren’t a good fit for me, payment not being on time or the proper amount or not receiving it at all, dealing with shitty language academies who just deemed me yet another native English speaker and treated me with no decency or respect for my time and what I had to offer. 

I found myself after finally getting a coveted position with the Spanish Ministry of Education in a high school, where I was finally getting paid a steady, livable amount and working 16 hours a week in a rather lax working environment, that I was still not happy. 

My coworkers were everything I’d wanted in colleagues: genuine, kindhearted people. They respected me as native English speaker and treated me as such. They valued my knowledge and wisdom about the many idiosyncrasies of the spoken (and written) English language. There was an open door policy where I could express concerns or issues I had with certain classes or students. 

And yet…there was a gaping hole. A longing for more. A decided feeling there had to be more for me to look forward to, to be excited about. 

After a few weeks, mornings became a new routine of dread. I’d sleep later and later to avoid getting up and slugging through teaching classes I didn’t want to teach. Several times the teachers would forget to send the groups of students to me in the library where I held my English classes, and I’d be holed up in a room for hours at a time, with only the birds outside the windows bordering the room and the echo of my own voice to talk to. At the end of each day, I felt drained and dragged myself back to my flat, ate lunch and passed out for siesta. Rinse and repeat for the four days a week I worked. I was living for the weekend…again. This was exactly the kind of pattern and mentality I had wanted to escape in my old life. 

At the end of February when I was asked to renew, I knew the answer would be no, but yet I hesitated. How could I give up this Spanish journey so quickly? I’d told so many people I’d probably be here for years. What would people think if I packed up just shy of a year? They’d think I was failure. That I was rejoining the ranks of everyone else, caught up in the working grind. That’d I’d somehow been wrong about choosing to be an expat in the first place. 

But then I just said no. A still, sure, strong, no. I said no, and felt for the first time a months, a peace I had been longing for. I knew I could put an end to all the fighting, forcing myself to fit the mold of an English teacher when I knew my heart had never been in it, that I’d pursued it for the wrong reasons. And that all this time, the only thing which had given my transformation, this journey, any meaning in the first place were my words. 

My writing. 

I needed to tap into another part of me I hadn’t known existed to write honestly, vividly, vulnerably. Moving thousands of miles away had finally given me the courage to write from the heart.

In nine days, my Spanish journey may be ending, right at the nine-month mark, but this new direction is spiraling out into something uncharted, uncertain, unknown, yet incredibly beautiful. I will be moving to Washington, D.C., a city I fell in love with last summer weeks before I moved to Madrid. I knew it’d be on my short list of places to live in at some point after spending time there and things have worked out amazingly for me to live there post-Madrid. 

I am leaving. But it’s not the messy, storming out because I’m angry, leaving. It’s the walking towards hope, wonder and newer horizons. It’s clean slates. It’s creating an optimum life fit just for me. 

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spirit in sevilla.

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After a (quick) six-hour flight back from Atlanta to Madrid and a nearly hour trek from the airport back to my flat, I was locked out.

I called my landlord and struggled in a conversation to convey my frustration. I called two other numbers my flatmate had given me in case of instances like these, people who supposedly had extra keys, but neither people could help me. And my flatmate, was still on holiday for Christmas.

Finally two hours later, I managed to get into my flat. I threw my suitcase, carry on bag and purse on the living floor and stared around at the place I had desperately missed those past three weeks.

And cried. I cried for the place I used to call home not feeling the same. I cried for the man I loved who had abandoned me. I cried about it all.

LIttle did I know that feeling, that emotional response, would be the precursor for a month filled with other losses, both big and small, and the grief that often accompanies losing things.

Losing friends wounded me the deepest, I found. Although somewhere in my subconscious I knew my friendships with people back home would change because I was going to change, nothing can quite prepare you for when it happens. These were people who I had seen over the Christmas break, people who noted the distance and how different I had become and instead of acknowledging it and using it as a bridge to deepen our friendship on another level, used it as a beginning point of saying I was being “different” or “brand new” or “haughty.”

But these were also people who sold me before I left on how they would keep in touch and come visit me and be along for the ride for what was sure to be a difficult transition…and left me high and dry. These were people who I didn’t hear from for months after I’ve moved and didn’t understand how hurtful that can be and how you don’t do that to someone you call a friend.

And even in knowing this, I still beat myself up about it. I still blamed myself for basically being a victim of circumstance, of life shifting in different directions, of growing pains that make our heart, souls and spirits ache intensely.

It didn’t stop there though.

The icing on the shit cake the month of January was getting fired from a new full-time teaching job last Wednesday–after only starting the job three weeks prior. The reasons offered for my termination were shifty, shady and unsubstantial. I determined almost immediately when people have determined they don’t like some aspect of you, whether it be your personality, countenance or your appearance, they’ll create false platitudes to get rid of you. This, unfortunately, had been the case with me.

As much as I wanted to unfurl my aggression and my anger, I used the steam to book a trip to Sevilla, the south of Spain, that same evening—only two days before I would leave. I opted to travel by bus since taking a plane or train would be too expensive, given this was a last minute trip.

Within 24 hours, I’d found a central, yet affordable hotel and made a terse list of the sites I wanted to see while there. I mapped out everything on Google Maps to determine whether or not these sights were all within walking distance from everything (and from my hotel). Rather important because I didn’t want to spend money on using taxis as a means to get around.

The downside of bus travel, other than the obvious discomfort, is the length of travel time. I left Madrid early afternoon and didn’t get to Sevilla until 9 p.m. Because of this, I was so exhausted and could only muster up the strength to grab a quick dinner, drink some Cava and fall fast asleep.

The next morning, I mapped out my day to include visits to the Catedral de Sevilla, the Real Alcázar de Sevilla and La Giralda, all a ten-minute walk from my hotel in the bustling, trendy and hip Santa Cruz neighborhood, teeming with cute tapas bars.

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After paying my admission fee, I passed through the main area of the cathedral and almost instantaneously, my breathing slowed.

I peered up at this above me and could only muster “Wow” in a whisper to myself.

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This quickly became a spiritual epiphany for me, which might be cliche given that I was in a massive church, but hear me out on why this in particular was such a powerful moment.

I stand at almost six feet tall, at 5’10,” so there’s very little I find in my everyday life that is bigger than me. Most of time in my everyday life, I tower over everyone and everything. But being in that massive church where I was so small, a mere speck in the cathedral’s vast being, reminded me of God, his omnipotent nature, how He is so vast and widespread and how none of us mere humans can even begin to encapsulate him into a tiny, neat container that suits us.

This was quite a convoluted realization to stumble upon, being that in the given moment, religion and spirituality are a murky mess in my life. I was raised Christian, converted to Catholicism five years ago, but despite that, stopped self-identifying as a Christian mid-last year because I didn’t think it was an accurate depiction of where I was in terms of my spiritual life.

My spiritual life has been hanging on by a thread since last September. I felt abandoned and forgotten by almost everyone when I moved and I especially felt abandoned and forgotten by God. In my mind, there was no point in spending concentrated time praying to a God or attending mass when I didn’t even feel His presence.

It was so clear I was supposed to move here and living abroad was apart of my destiny, but why had I uprooted my life to navigate such difficulty? It didn’t make sense to me. I stopped praying. I stopped meditating. I was angered whenever people threw unhelpful platitudes about “trusting God” or “just pray about it” when doing both of those things hadn’t yielded me anything but the palpable feeling that I was indeed alone and dealing with everything alone.

But this weekend, I was reminded in spite of all the loss I experienced the first month of the year and how difficult it has been, that God has surrounded me by love. He has strategically allowed me cross paths with people and form genuine connections, because it was needed. It was needed for me to survive and thrive here. That is His gift to me. That is His mercy in action. By token, I know I’m a strong and brave woman, but there are sometimes where I feel like none of that and need the reassurance, encouragement and support of people who believe in me and love me.

There are some amazing new people, people I never expected to be in my corner, who are now by my side. But when you focus so much on the negative, it’s hard to see the joy, the positives, how despite deep suffering there are people rooting for you. People who need your suffering to have purpose and meaning more than you because their hope and faith hinges on it as well.

The love encircling me is what I will try to meditate on and pray about in the many, many moments of weakness and difficulty that will continually arise in this expat journey. Love is what I hope will keep me grounded, instead of defaulting to being negative and feeling defeated and depleted. And love, rather remembering the abundance of it I have in my life and where the source of it derides from, is the greatest gift of all the beautiful city of Sevilla could’ve given me in just two short days.

Give love. It always comes back to you.

spanish building

fearful courage.

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A brilliant blue sky, untouched by clouds and rain and instead buffered by a glittering sun bursting with light held me in a trance, a I stood on a balcony in Segovia, Spain, in September of last year.

I saw snow-capped mountains far-off in the distance and the roofs of terra cotta homes. I heard birds chirping a melody, and for once, I wasn’t annoyed at the sound.

Journeying to Spain fell onto my lap, as taking my first trip to Europe was nowhere on my radar, until Sucheta, the founder of Go Eat Give, sent out an email about a free trip to Spain. The “free” trip didn’t mean all I had to do was place my name on a list and be whisked on a private charter jet nearly 5,000 miles away from my hometown of Atlanta.

The catch was a noble one. In exchange for five nights in a fine hotel as well as meals and wine galore, I was asked to volunteer as apart of a program called VaughanTown. VaughanTown, the extension of Spanish telecommunications company VaughanSystems, plucks native English speakers and pairs them with Spanish business executives who are looking to better their English speaking skills.

I was under the impression from the description of how the program works before getting there that I’d be teaching, but in reality, the full extent of my teaching was having multiple conversations with the Spaniards throughout the day. Each conversation was guided by either specific subject matter or colloquiums we had to explain, which almost always were hilarious and rendered spirited conversation.

This experience was so fascinating to me, but as the days wore on, I craved solitude and ample time to reflect to how this country, these experiences and the trip was affecting me. Because of the rigorous, packed schedule, that only left spare moments, such as my balcony time, as the stolen seconds where I was lost in my thoughts.

I came to grips with what was happening, a slow but assured realization the two days I spent frolicking in Madrid before VaughanTown and the sole evening after before I flew back to Atlanta: this wouldn’t be my last go-round in Madrid but the first of many. I’d be back, and sooner than I’d thought and for longer than I’d ever dreamed.

I talked with Sucheta’s dear friend the night before leaving for VaughanTown over grilled vegetables, chicken wings and glasses of vino about her own journey to Madrid and how life had been since she packed up her life and moved to Madrid to teach English for the past two years.

As I listened to her talk, something stirred within me. I prodded and continued asking her questions and listening carefully and closely to her responses. When we went our separate ways that night, she added, an an aside, to look her up on Facebook once I was home to chat more about the program she went through.

I sat on her call to action for a month.

I went back to my old life, pretending that that trip, my first trip to Europe, the first time I’d traveled solo didn’t change me or rattle me or force me to seek a different pace of life.

But now I know why there was a hesitation. I was scared, frightened, terrified. I thought it was crazy that I was even considering picking up my life and relocating to the other side of the world knowing no one and inserting myself in an unfamiliar culture with a language I didn’t speak.

When I finally sent out the email, I was still consumed by fear. And the fear didn’t go away even as I went through a series of interviews and received my welcome letter to teach in the program.

The screams of inferiority, the constant taunting from my spirit and my conscience telling me I was out of my mind to be going through with his, only intensified with each progression, especially as I was stressed to the brim navigating the daunting visa process, with numerous dead-ends, confusion on requirements and hold-ups with delayed documents received in the mail.

On July 7, with almost no money in my bank account, I drove 10 hours for my visa appointment, scheduled for July 8, with the nearest consulate in Miami. I spent a grueling two hours, my body shaking and writhing with stress, as I waited to turn in sheets of paper that represented five months of struggle, stress and trepidation.

Eleven days later, I hurriedly opened the self-addressed priority USPS envelope I’d provided the consulate with, and my passport fell out, with a small piece of paper shoved inside of the pages. I stared in awe at my approved visa, completely stunned that I’d done it, that I’d made this happen and that I was indeed moving to Madrid.

You see, moving to Spain had long been a dream of mine, but I’d pushed it away and traded it in exchange for other more practical ones. For instance, when I graduated from undergrad, my dream was to get a full-time newspaper reporter job.Then my dream became getting a graduate degree to become a better writer and to explore what path writing would take me on in the future.

But these dreams, these goals that once seemed so important and the key to my happiness were no longer fruitful. They were just plain tired and unfulfilling. I had grown to hate my newspaper reporter job over the past few years, a job that was boring, routine, monotonous, consumed with micromanaging bosses, and to top it all off, I was only paid $10 per hour for all my hard work.

I was also tired of not being the woman who stood on her own, as I had never lived on my own after moving back home after college. I lived in the same room I spent cooped up in most of my childhood, getting by with only enough money to pay my car note, exorbitant amounts for gas since I lived so far away from said job and little extra for hair appointments, happy hours with friends and other outings for which money was required.

I was broke, unhappy and felt stuck. I’d tried to apply and search for other jobs, thinking more money was the change I needed, but after many applications and several interviews that never went anywhere, I knew this was much bigger than my bout with financial poverty—but more along the lines of emotional, mental, and spiritual poverty. I was poor in spirit all around.

Deciding to take this leap of faith and follow my heart was much more than traveling to to Spain and falling in love with every aspect of it. It was about taking a brave step in a new direction, standing on my own two feet and living my own separate adult existence, something I’d been needing to do since I finished college.

Along with the fear that has accompanied me along each step of this transition to the next phase of adulthood has been a silent, strong and assured sense that moving to Spain was something I was supposed to do. In each moment, this sense, this knowledge that this was apart of what the universe wanted me to experience, has helped me to override the fear and remove myself from a pattern of dysfunction and not reaching for more. This was made clear by the numerous people that were placed along my journey to help me and the obstacles that at first glance seemed impossible, but once I was closer upon them, they dismantled and disappeared before my eyes with a resolution.

I’ve never been more sure something has been meant for me, more than this move, in my short 27 years of life.

I’m one week away from starting this new chapter and often, quite often, I think back to the many emotions and thoughts that flooded my consciousness while standing out on that balcony, staring at the sky, enamored and in a daze. In a way, an innocent decision to volunteer and give of myself ended up pouring back into me and igniting a light that had long been extinguished.