There is a terrible bug surrounding solo travel. As a matter of fact, travel in general. It’s name is fear. I’m a victim of it. You can drop me anywhere in Africa (well, save for the North), and I’ll be good. I know how to maneuver where I see people that look like me. However, I haven’t gathered sufficient courage to visit locations where it’s likely I won’t find a black person. It’s a work in progress.
At the risk of having this blog post sound like a bragging spree, here are 6 personal experiences from my travels to open your eyes to all the beautiful possibilities, despite the dread mainstream media will inflict upon you.
1. United States- The American police man
We are on a tour in the United States, hoping from State to State with family. My dad’s friend, a white American police man, invites us to lunch with his family. The hospitality was impeccable. The family had acres of compound space and delighted in showing us around, feeding us and entertaining us with stories. They even tried convincing us to sleep over, all 4 of us! Years later, my eyes would be open to police brutality, especially that, that’s meted on innocent black American youth. While I’m empathetic to the cause of ‘Black lives matter’, this was MY personal experience with an white American policeman.
2. Malawi- The kind tourist
It’s a beautiful starry night by the beautiful shores of L. Malawi. I’m on a phone call with my then partner, miles away. We have had a disagreement over the phone and I’m frustrated because the internet is weak, and communication broken. A stranger notices my distress and approaches. We get to talking and I let him know my frustrations with the internet. He happily offers to ‘hotspot’ his phone so I can share his internet and stays with me until I’m done. And after that, we hit the campsite bar for a few drinks. He’s been a friend to this day.
3. Diani- The Couchsurfing hosts
I’ve spoken about couchsurfing.com several times here; a platform for culture and travel enthusiasts to share their homes for free, with fellow travelers. I’ve had hosts in Kenya, Senegal and Rwanda, all of whom offered to show me around their towns for free! This is in addition to sharing their wonderful homes and cuisines. My Rwandese hosts took me out to a fine diner for dinner on my last evening and in Dakar, we hit the streets to sample night life. People are happy to show off their towns and favorite spots to tourists.
4. Zambia- Campsite at Chitimba
My two girlfriends and I got invited to an outdoor Zambian ‘Braai’ by some Zambians who had booked a spot at our campsite to barbecue and chill. This led to interesting conversations on cultural differences and some good exchange of music.
5. Hiking- Every single mountain!
Any hiker realizes that there is a point in every hike where the body feels like giving. These are the spots on a mountain where internal self-reflections revolve around ‘Why would I do this to myself’ or ‘Why am I even here’. Of course summit views and the invincible feeling one gets after challenging one’s body and mind, make up for all the trouble. However it is at the moments of despair that the spirit of the mountains shines through people. While ascending, every descending hiker will say a good word to you. “Keep going, you’re almost there!” “Good job guys, the summit is just here! (Even if ‘just here’ is quite relative. Could mean 3 hours away). My best experience was while hiking elephant hill, Aberdares. 5 hours in and my body was done. My right leg was in pain, my body was fatigued, yet I hadn’t reached the summit. I sat down in despair, to ponder on the frustration I would feel for weeks to come for not summitting. It would mean coming back to this mountain that had been rude to me, just to peak.
A perfect stranger found me seated on the ground in tears, held my hand and walked me up for about an hour until the summit. On our way up, we would come across a lady in a blue jacket, lying on the ground, done, surrounded in fog and barely visible, and I wished she’d had a stranger to hood her hand. I never got the name of the good samaritan, nor his contacts, but such experiences really renew my hope in the kindness of people.
6. Paris- The kind waitress!
We’re at an eatery in Paris. The waitress and I are struggling to communicate in my moderate french. ‘Frites’ means both fried and fries. I kept asking what exactly was being fried but the message couldn’t get across. Eventually, the waitress dashes to the kitchen, and returns with a potato chip and explains gladly that that is what she meant. The same kindness was extended whenever I’d want to take a picture at a busy street. I’d ask my photographer (who would be the closest friendly-looking person I saw) to pause so pedestrians could pass. The pedestrians would insist we go ahead with the shot. Then we’d insist they pass first and they would insist we finish and we’d end up taking the shot first. This happened all the time!
With the current pandemic, travel fears are probably valid. However, I wanted to have something positive to encourage wanderlust…and to have my last blog post, at least for some time to have positive vibes.
Until then, may adventure be with you.