a life of my own.

freedom, life, solotravel, spirit, travel, wholeness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I was miserable and empty.

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

I am different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally.

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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.

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. 

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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nneka in nyc.

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A heavy heart with almost deadened hope wasn’t the only baggage I boarded a nearly full eight-hour Megabus trip to New York with a month ago. Weeks prior to booking my ticket online and packing for my first trip outside of the DMV area since I’d arrived there two months ago, a friend invited me to a brunch amongst other women writers and bloggers. I heartily agreed and was somewhat excited to attend the function, but I didn’t let on to her or myself just how anxious I was for both the brunch and the prospect of being back in a city that both intimidated and frustrated me.

In 2013, I had visited the city that never sleeps twice, once to visit with a friend originally from Atlanta and a second time to get in quality one-on-one time with one of my sisters and a cousin before I jetted off to Madrid. Each time, I couldn’t reconcile the pantings of insecurity, panic and stress surrounding being in a city which was so fast-paced from what I was used to. And I genuinely saw no beauty in a city littered with trash, animated people and pronounced accents and rats the size of domestic cats either strolling the night streets in the ominous shadows or peeking up from the subway tracks, annoyed the subway riders were acting as spectators to their everyday life.

I remember feeling out of place no matter where I went. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the subway transit. I remember leaving each trip knowing the city was a nice place to visit, for a few days, but not somewhere to spend a prolonged period of time, let alone to live.

Knowing intimately these feelings which were strongly attached to NYC, it explained my hesitation to be fully excited about another trip there, especially since I knew I’d have no supervision or a hand to guide me around the city this time. I’d be alone— completely alone, to fend for myself and to navigate the bustling streets steadily teeming with either the quickened strides of NYCers, their voices which carried with enthusiasm or the yellow cabbies aggressively swerving or stopping to pick up their latest customers.

And there was reverse culture shock, the ongoing process of repatriation, which was also humming in the background. I carried that with me on the bus trip— sitting next to a curly-head younger girl who curled up in a ball, her back touching my thighs and her behind every now and then nudging me in the knee — a deep-seated sense of grief and loss. My grief and loss seemed to grow as the days egged on, instead of lessening or subsiding in intensity. Living in Maryland and exploring DC felt futile, forced, disingenuous and certainly wasn’t this new adventure which was exciting.

I felt like a fraud each time I hopped on the Metro or the bus in Maryland or DC. I tried to pretend I was a fiery ball of enthusiasm and sparkles and optimism and courage. But the truth was I felt dead and empty on the inside. I felt lonely, misunderstood, stuck in-between, desperately trying to make sense of the transition I found myself slugged in the middle of. Job leads continued to run dry. Attempts to freelance continually were dead-ends. My sense of purpose felt continually morose and full of melancholy.

I kept hearing no — from prospective employers, from family members to emphasize and listen to the complex feelings I was harboring and trying to process, from not feeling outside of myself and like my efforts even had any sense of purpose. I kept hearing no from people and sources and circumstances outside of myself, so naturally, I took that to mean the Universe and the Holy Spirit were saying no. Perhaps no meant to re-evaluate, to think deeply upon whether my decision to come back Stateside had been an honest and methodical decision, to contemplate why I was here and what I was supposed to do in the meantime until my life was rooted in sense and order, instead of confusion, doubt and frustration.

No had become my mantra. No had become the answer to every attempt to become social, to meet new people, to make new, lasting connections, to not succumb to what felt like depression but was instead the most intense bout of grief and loss I had felt in my entire life. When had I become that person, that woman, who had started telling herself no, instead of yes, instead of belief, instead of hope, instead of faith?

But NYC, oh New York City. I gathered my baggage, including my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual baggage and dragged it behind me at the conclusion of a seven-hour bus ride. I trotted through throngs of people, danced around hot dog stands alluring my nostrils and found the subway. I loaded my Metro card and made it to my sister’s vacant apartment who had graciously agreed to let me stay in her absence. My body was drowning in a pool of sweat once I made it there and my calve muscles felt like apple butter, but I had made it.

And through the next two days, I continued to make it. I continued to find my way around. I found the suffocating feelings of isolation and loneliness and despair sliding away from my consciousness and skittering away from its residence in my spirit. It was as if coming to the city I had been so afraid of, the city which terrified me, the city which I had thought was nemesis, had invigorated me. It had reminded me of all the growth, the tears, the difficulty, the fucked situations I had endured in the year since my past visit. It reminded me that yes, I was currently suffering and struggling and felt there was only so much I could further endure, but the period I was entrenched in had purpose. My pain, my discomfort had a purpose. All the no’s I had been hearing had a purpose and a place.

And it reminded me while in Madrid I had these same feelings. How this journey, in some ways, had felt harder, impossible and indefensible, but yet it was the same. It was so the same. I had walked this path before and while that path had been trodden with hard answers and truths, the path had throttled me forward, pushed me further into myself, emphasizing how it had always been a journey of one, a journey of self, a journey towards miracles.

My tendency as both an expat and now as a former expat has been to blame those people and situations and circumstances for not understanding, for not being supportive, for not providing the help and love and compassion I needed. My tendency has been to look outside of myself for consolation, for validation, for truth, for reassurance, to escape an unfathomable amount of insecurity. But this journey I’ve been on the past year, this journey was a solo journey, it was a trip for one. The lessons were for me to grasp and learn and internalize and grow from — alone.

I returned from that trip from NYC renewed. My alone time since then has had a different flavor. I’ve started teaching English again for a small language academy in Virginia, four times a week. I’ve made a few new friends. I joined a writing critique group. I got a Washington, DC library card. I spend less and less time feeling sorry for myself and stuck in the throes of sadness. And although I still have many questions, many wonders, many doubts, many fears, although my life still feels like it is in limbo and rife with chaos and uncertainty, I’m finding it easier, day-by-day, moment-by-moment to attempt detaching from any outcomes, to surrendering to the Universe and the Spirit. I’m finding trust and peace and unbridled hope to be more and more to be a logical intention to steadily make.

I know there are miracles left to be unfolded here, right where I am, and I know, now, that these miracles could only be imparted to me in the space where I’m resting in my solitude.

No more fighting the focus on me, my life, my spirit, my spiritual work, my spiritual practice, I’m being called to, here, in this moment, any more.

wasteland of worry (in washington, dc).

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In my new room, a room easily four times the size of my former room in Madrid, my wake-up time is no later than 6 a.m., 7:05 a.m. if I’m lucky. Each morning, the sun plays peek-a-boo through the plastic blinds sheltering the huge window facing out into the parking lot of the apartment complex I now call home. 

It’s bare bones here, which is why I wake up every morning deathly early, much to my dismay, due to my window sans curtains. And each morning, for the past six weeks, I’ve awakened in tune with the first chirps from the birds, crust still lingering in my eyes, a familiar grogginess settling over my spirit. 

It’s too early. It’s just too early for this shit. 

If I sit up in the queen size bed, much roomier and comfier than the elongated twin sized dorm-style bed I used to sleep in, I see my suitcases, the only belongings I have to my name, lining the wall, as taxis would line the street outside of a bustling and busy airport. My clothes and shoes jut out of the suitcases, since I only have five hangers and no dresser. There’s a makeshift plastic container, the colors of Halloween, with wheels on it I’m using as a nightstand. My bras, underwear, jewelry collection and crumpled receipts lay in tribute in no particular method of organization throughout. 

And although I no longer feel like I’m here on an extended vacation, the best way I can articulate how my first few weeks in Maryland, just outside of DC, felt, I still don’t feel like I’m really…here. I feel like I’m just passing by. Just wasting time until I pass along to the next destination. Waiting to go back “home.” But only, I don’t really know where home is anymore. That definition is in a state of flux and upheaval. 

But every morning, when I wake up at 6 a.m., annoyed and frustrated that I’m up too early yet again, it becomes more real. The reality sinks in a little more each morning. 

I’m consumed with grief. All the things I lost. All the things I told myself to give up to be happier. I fought so hard to make it in Madrid. To be my own woman. To stand up on my own two feet. To hustle to make ends meet. To survive. I made that city, my experience, my own. In many ways, the complicated feelings I have for Madrid are because I found that I really did have the will the survive, to surmount struggle, to try to make it even if I was standing alone. Even if I had no one to lean on. 

I’ve traded the knowing, the longing for more, the deep-seated assurance that I was doing something wrong, going down the wrong path, dedicating myself to being wholly unhappy and unsatisfied for not knowing anything at all. For not having answers. For being chronically unsure. For feeling caught in the crosshairs of confusion. 

I’ve traded the aching of missing my family and friends and other people I adore for being near them, for being able to smell their scents, lavish in their hugs, but feeling thousands of miles of away, mentally  and emotionally. For not being able to coherently communicate this sense of isolation, wrapping my mind around explaining just how changed I feel without coming off as sounding haughty or condescending. For longing to leave just as badly. For wanting to be far away again, because it feels more comfortable, and feeling terribly ravaged with guilt for even thinking or feeling this way. 

I’ve traded my independence, my space—physically, emotionally and mentally—for being constantly bombarded with proximity to nearly everything I had finally become okay with being far away from. For having to humble myself to ask for nearly everything I need—food, money to be social, somewhere to sleep, somewhere to be able to turn a key into a doorknob. For feeling completely dependent on someone outside of myself for the simplest of things and detesting that I have to rely on the dependence, for now, to survive, to get back on my feet. 

I’ve traded genuine and lasting bonds with women who truly understood me, during a time in my life when I struggled and quite possibly the most vulnerable, a time when I shouldn’t have been open to letting others in, for more loneliness than me, an introvert who relishes in alone time, is comfortable with. For a lack of a social life in all totality. For wanting to be more social but feeling insecure because I’m not sure all that I’m feeling, all the complexities that repatriating can entail, will be understood. For looking at the lack of money I have and immediately feeling discouraged to do more than just hang around my dwelling. For turning down invites pretending I’m busy or not feeling well or stressed but instead I just don’t feel like I measure up, don’t feel like I’ll much to say or that I’ll be at all interesting. Not when I’m consumed with grief. And worry.

How does one cope with knowing they’ve made the right decision whilst juggling the nagging feeling of worry? Of not being sure that things will work out? Of watching money dwindle from the already scant bank account and consumed with how to add more to the account rather than continuing to deplete what little reserve I had? Of coping with leaving behind a life of travel and adventure and constant adjustment in a foreign land? 

I don’t know. 

But if I really did know, then perhaps I wouldn’t have even written…this. 

oasis in oporto.

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Flickers in my mind of my two grey Liz Claiborne suitcases, freckled with black cheetah spots stashed in a corner, of what used to be the beloved Spanish flat I shared with two Colombian roommates, crossed my mind over and over again. I thought about how there were a few things I needed to stash inside of either suitcase and my stuffed zebra striped carry-on I swiped from my mama during Christmas break to bring back shoes, dresses and other clothing because the majority of my clothes were too big.

I thought about how nervous I was about the new roommate moving into my old room. She gave me a weird vibe. She’d been uncommunicative, and I was afraid she’s screw me (or both me and my old roommates) over in terms of rent and the deposit.

I thought about how my Spanish journey was really coming to a close in a matter of days. No more strolling on the sprawling streets in awe of the beautiful buildings and the lull of Spanish I barely understood breezing past my ear. No more being able to grab a fresh baguette for 35 cents after work to go with a heaping bowl of pasta I prepared over the tiny stove in my kitchen. No more mousing over beautiful produce I could grab, as much as my two arms could carry, and paying no more than 3 Euros for it…and it lasting for two weeks. No more 1 Euro cafe con leches as I dashed to the Metro late and needing a quick pick me up because I stayed up late Skyping and Facetiming people from back home.

No more feeling inferior because I was a Black woman and being stared at everywhere. No more having to explain myself, how I look, my name and everything about me because I was a woman of color at every juncture. No more feeling like I couldn’t breathe. No more waiting for a spare minute, second, moment to exhale and let it all out. No more fighting (and pretending) to prove Madrid, as a city, in totality, wasn’t a good fit for me.

But then as I got ceremoniously swept away in the cataclysmic sea of thoughts which tend to rattle in my brain when I’m unsettled. When I’m unsure. When I’m scared. When I’m fearful. When the unknown is creeping around the corner and I don’t know what the hell to expect.

I paused.

I paused and became present. This wasn’t the time for me to overly analytical, making myself sick with all the different iterations of angles and possibilities and crevices and possibilities.

I was here, in Oporto. I was here, sitting on a concrete wall with my back resting on a vibrant yellow house, a man working carefully and quietly just around my neck, dusting and squeaking to clean the antiquated window which looked as if time and consequence had dirtied it and prevented a reflection from gleaming through.

And to my right, the Douro River glittered underneath the overcast sky. The tops of buildings and homes and stack houses and wineries and boats and people walking and sidewalks. And I quit thinking. And my chest started to slow heave, in and out, in and out, just as a needle and thread would slowly weave through soft fabric between the hands of a seamstress creating a new garment or finessing her craft.

And precipitation fell from my tender eyes. My raw eyes. The eyes which were bloodshot red if you dared to look closely into them without trepidation. The eyes which hadn’t seen a good night of sleep in more than a month. The eyes which had seen three new countries and four new cities in only three weeks. The eyes which ached to see American soil yet hated to admit it. Hated to be that girl, that American. That person who put their home country above all the ones they had seen and witnessed and grown enamored with after being there for a short time.

I wasn’t staring at a new landscape before me. I wasn’t that crazy girl sitting on a concrete wall amazed at what was before her and trying to ignore the hoards of noisy children outfitted in fluorescent hats on a field trip who were screaming and skittering and carrying about. I was looking at my future. I was staring into the threshold of a new beginning. The rest of my life. And I was crying because I could tell, despite the fear, the hesitation, the many questions, the process that repatriation could bring that I was doing okay. I was getting there. I was headed in the right direction, and it was more, it felt more, it seemed more, it appeared more, than I could have dreamt for myself.

I thought about how in the past I was so afraid to think that my thoughts, my feelings, my words meant something. It was far more comfortable for me to hide beneath the shadows of others, to hide in their thoughts, feelings and words. To convince myself theirs were more important, more worthy, more principled.

But I do matter. I matter. I always mattered. My thoughts always mattered. My feelings always mattered. My words always mattered.

And I was always enough. Just me.

I was always.

I was always enough.

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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more in milan.

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Sweaty armpits, visibly dry skin on my legs and calves, a flushed face full of tears and hands shaking with rage.

I was willing myself to walk, each painstaking step, as the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, came into view on my left side. And as much as I wanted to marvel and admire such a beautiful structure, my view of the castle was obstructed with tears which fluttered freely from my eyes and my experience of taking it all in was ruined with the rage I couldn’t shake.

“Please take me to get my things,” I asked, calmly, for probably the tenth time in the past few minutes. When my Couchsurfing host ignored my plea and carelessly continued to rattle off random information about the castle’s history, my rage and panic and hysteria only festered and grew into something big. A big ball, a ball of fury, something which I knew could soon unravel and mount into something messy, frightful, dangerous and unsafe.

“Please…take…me…to…get…my…things,” I repeated this time, with my teeth clenched. When he continued to talk, ignoring my frustration, I flung myself into full conniption mode.

“I’M GOING TO CALL THE POLICE! TAKE ME TO GET MY THINGS! I DON’T WANT TO GO INTO THE CASTLE!”

At this point, onlookers were staring, wondering who this crazed American girl, screaming in English, was. Why she was disturbing the otherwise tranquil mood surrounding the castle. Why I was disturbing the peace with my antics.

But none of them knew what I had endured for the past five hours. I had arrived at Malpensa airport after a 6:25 a.m. flight. I had slept for a total of an hour and half the night before, because I had to get up and take two buses to get to the airport. I had trekked to the city center on another bus once I was in Milan, a bus ride which took 1 hour and 15 minutes, because of traffic, instead of the 50 minutes I was told. I’d waited for two hours soaking up free Wi-Fi while stuffing my face with pizza margherita, a prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula sandwich on focaccia and apple pie while I sipped my first authentic cappuccino.

I was exhausted. And for some deluded reason, I assumed once I’d arrived in Milan and was with my Couchsurfing host, they’d understand that and would let me shower and nap in peace, then take me out for aperitivo in the late evening.

But once I arrived to my couch surfing host’s house, which smelled of musk, dingy, week-old socks, filth and shisha, I knew I’d picked the wrong adventure for my first trip to Italy. Minutes after dropping my bag, I was told to walk with him to a nearby McDonald’s where we picked up four other people from Poland. They came back to the flat with us and also dropped off their things.

We were all rushed to be ready to go, impatiently so. And once we were out the door, the host began talking his shoddy English, which mostly sounded like incoherent mumbling. Most of the time while he talked, I just nodded and smiled. I had no clue what he was saying nor did I care.

We went to the famed Fashion District, then to Plazza Duomo to see the cathedral so massive and beautiful it didn’t look real. We hurriedly sped through these places and countless others, while the host corralled us through at his speed, ignoring we might want to stop and look a little longer, take photos, grab a drink or a snack. Whenever I suggested stopping to do anything off his pre-set itinerary, he vetoed it with a suggestion of his own. It felt like I was on a high school field trip with my chaperone instead of on a weekend jaunt to one of the cities I was crossing off my bucket list.

About four hours in, after walking non-stop at the pace of someone else, not being able to voice my opinions, not being able to leisurely take everything in, I gambled and started searching for somewhere to stay for the weekend on AirBnB. And then the other four people ditched me to do their own thing while leaving me with my lackluster host, and I ended up screaming at him in public because I was delirious, exhausted, hysterical and annoyed with both myself and him for testing and pushing my own limits.

And limits, boundaries, expecting more, expecting less, all these concepts are things I suppose I’ve been subconsciously learning about all my life, although within the past year as I’ve started to come into my own and disassociate from my identity which was constructed for me (versus me constructing it myself), it’s become especially prominent and pressing.

I knew before even confirming my first (and last) Couchsurfing experience it wasn’t really something I wanted to do, but after desperately searching for someone to stay within my budget and finding everywhere feasible booked, I succeeded to my desperation and chose the Free.99 route. It cost me my comfort, the freedom of exploring a new city on my own, doing things at my own pace, steering away from a set plan and instead roaming and being open to what pops up, what comes up, what might seem appealing and rolling with it.

Just as damaging as pushing the limits, your boundaries, the level of comfort you dare not press past, can be, I believe there is delicate balance between what you may think are really your boundaries and personal comfort (and guarding these while listening to your intuition) and what is instead masquerading as fear, fear of the unknown.

I’ve found, repeatedly whenever I thought clinging to my familiarities was the safer or the more “rational” choice, I’ve been astounded by the Universe’s response when I acted in courage whilst trembling in fear. In these cases, choosing the safe option was just an illusion. I was just scared. Scared to fail. Scared to have to deal with the repercussions, the fallback, what people would say when and if I did fail. How I would feel about myself having attempted and not succeeded.

Before I moved abroad, I battled many, many, many doubts and even after I moved, I’ve steadily battled whether or not packing up and relocating my life was a good decision. Each time I got deep in that rabbit hole, the Universe showed me a reminder. Or something amazing happens to alter my perspective, something incredibly beautiful, something beyond what I could have ever imagined. And in those moments, I wonder why I have been rewarded with such a beautiful life.

I had a moment like this as I looked down from my hotel room in Milan late at night, after the wretched couchsurfing experience earlier that day. The streets were dark and the only light bouncing down on the streets below were from antiquated lamps lining every block. There was a soft whisper of a car or two whizzing by, but for the most part it was really quiet. And still. I had to remind myself I was in Italy. How years ago being there, in that moment, was only a mere thought, and how miraculously it had become reality, my reality.

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The Duomo, Milan’s renowned cathedral.

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The Galleria, located in close proximity to the Duomo, adjacent to Plazza Duomo.

Only it wasn’t a miracle. And it should’ve never been something deemed impossible or unreachable. Each of us, it is my belief, are destined to walk a certain path in our lives, before who we are and who we become is even a thought. We might grow up in an environment where we’re not encouraged to dream, to hope, to reach for something larger than ourselves. We internalize this thought process and it follows us into adulthood.

But sometimes, quite often, the Universe has a way of catching up to us, of redirecting us back on track for our life journey. That’s what has happened for me anyway, since I began this expat journey. When I first received my passport five years ago, the flame was ignited for me to be a citizen of the world, but somewhere within me, I know that flame was just waiting for the optimum moment to be set ablaze. I was never meant to stay put in one place forever. I was meant to see the world, moments at a time, and share my insights, my lessons, my struggles, my suffering, my enlightenment as I did, while growing and helping others to grow, too.

This life I am living was meant for me. And your life that you are living, beyond the throes of the 9-to-5 hustle, beyond just living to pay your bills, beyond doing everything right to make everyone but you happy, is yours. It is yours and you only get one. So live it. Without restraint. Without regrets. Without looking back.

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