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.

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coming home to myself.

inspiration, Joy, life, Uncategorized

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Everyone thought I was fucking crazy.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Now it’s my turn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that woman is me.

why i travel.

inspiration, life, travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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americanah in arlington.

Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

I chose Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

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

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

It’s personal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sense of awe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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wasteland of worry (in washington, dc).

Uncategorized

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. 

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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