It was an amazing two years. In fact, the best two years of my life.
And while it was my decision to leave, I still yern for the way I felt when I was there. Some days it takes all my strength to stop from running back into his hot, sub-Saharan embrace.
But I know that things are different now. I am not the same person I was when Senegal and I first got together. And now I need to move on with my life. To meet new places and experience new things. That’s why I’ve decided to take a chance with you, Korea.
I’m not making any promises. The outlook for rebound relationships usually isn’t great. And as far as commitment goes, Senegal was my first real long-term relationship. You see, I’m usually more inclined to short-term flings. A semester with London in college, 10 day trist with Mali, a one night stand with Munich.
But just because you are the rebound doesn’t mean that I’m not open to the possibility of our relationship becoming more.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll fall in love with the rebound… with you. I’m willing to take a chance on us. Are you?
So, my (real-life, non-internet) friend, and fellow blogger, Elizabeth over a One Day I’ll Fly Away, nominated me to participate in the easyJet Holidays Inspiration Initiative. The goal of the initiative is for bloggers to share who, what, where and when inspired them to travel. All the participants who follow the contest rules will have a chance to win an iPad2 and a 5 star holiday.
Of course, you need to be a UK citizen to win the prize… and I am not a UK citizen (at least not yet–Kit Harington I’m lookin at YOU). But I decided to write an entry anyways. You know, for shits and giggles. And I was bored at the coffee shop. And I was feeling introspective.
Who? The people who doubted me.
I grew up in a small town where anyone stood out or wanted a better life was labeled a “snob” or “showoff”. Faced with constant distain from my peers and many teachers (I had one high school teacher who routinely made me sit in the hallway because I made the other students in his class feel “stupid”) I left my high school when I was 16 and enrolled in a community college in the city. I also started working a part-time job. At the community college I was able to take classes on art history, European literature, foreign languages and world architecture. I had professors who challenged me and who thought that my independence and curiosity were an asset not “snobbish”.
With this sudden change, I started to think that maybe I wasn’t a shoe. Maybe I was a hat. Confused? Let Rachel explain:
With my new-found perspective and emerging self-confidence I convinced a friend to spend the summer after we graduated high school backpacking through Europe. This idea really ruffled a lot of feathers. I had people attack me and insist I was a rich entitled bitch. I was told that there was no way I could do it. I would come back broke or even worse my parents would have to bail me out. But I proved them wrong.
I still hear their voices in the back of my head. For better or worse on really rough days it keeps me going. I’m not rich. I’m not a snob. I’m not a showoff. I just refuse to ever again think less of myself just because I want to be something different.
What? A copy of Europe Through the Backdoor.
It was an old copy of Rick Steve’s Europe Through the Backdoor that first planted the seed that I might be able to travel.
I spotted it on the shelves of the library while I was doing research for an art history project on Caravaggio. Say whatever you want about Rick Steves, but that Khaki-wearing-middle-aged-PBS-personality makes independent travel seem easy and affordable for the average American. Picking up that book gave me the final push I needed to realize my dream of backpacking through Europe.
When? September 8th 2006, 4 hours outside Cairo, Egypt.
While my first trip to Europe was eye opening and inspiring, the next summer I decided to use what was left of my savings to travel to the Middle East. Alone. When the entire region was engulfed in multiple wars. This trip was my most empowering–it also ranks up there among the stupidest things I’ve ever done.
As the heading makes obvious, I can even pinpoint the exact moment when everything changed. I was on a local bus heading to the Sinai in Egypt. No one on the bus spoke any English. I had no idea if I was even on the right bus or where I was supposed to get off (we eventually hit the Suez Canal so I figured that we were heading the right direction). I was terrified. I eventually decided to get off the bus. I spent about 15 minutes confused and scared on the side of the road before I was offered a ride by a group of Bedouins on the back of a truck filled with goats. They took me to the nearest tourist town and dropped me off at a hotel (I can only imagine what was running through their minds—they must have thought I was crazy).
I knew I loved traveling, but it was during this particular journey that something different began to take root. I realized that this was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing–learning new languages, exploring new cultures and scaring myself shitless in foreign countries. I’ve done a pretty good job of doing exactly that.
Where? Anywhere really.
A great lesson I learned during my Peace Corps service that every place has value and potential, from the halls of the Louvre to a dusty African village. Where I am isn’t nearly as important as what happens once I am there.
And that’s the essence of real adventure, right? It’s about experiences. The world can surprise you with beauty, love and whimsy, you just have to be willing to get yourself to a place where you can see it…
how about you?
Whatever you are passionate about, be it traveling, playing the guitar or drinking cheap wine, what inspires you?
Tell me in the comments or leave me a link to one of your own travel inspiration posts.
As my Peace Corps service came to a close I faced one of those inevitable forks in the road. Do I pack my bags and escape once again? Or do I return to America and settle down?
Faced with a really important choice I balked at the pressure of actually making a decision. You see, I’m not great at making decisions. Or actually that’s not true, I am great at making decisions, just not at making good decisions. But you already knew that…
With the hangover of adventure still lingering from 2 years in the Peace Corps, I ignored my instincts and decided to try and stay in the USA. Work a 9-5 job. Lease an apartment. Drink at trendy Thursday night happy hours. Apply to grad school. Go on bad first dates. It seemed like this is what I was supposed to be doing, and for a short time I convinced myself that I was making the right choice. I had my adventure. I lived my dream. Now it was time to settle down.
I convinced myself during months of self-examination alone in my hut in Senegal that my constant need to abandon what was comfortable and familiar was a personal flaw.
I reasoned that adventurous people live exciting and inspiring lives regardless of their location. And if I couldn’t find a way to live a exciting and inspiring life in the US than maybe the problem was with me, and not necessarily the location…
But I was wrong. So, so wrong.
Maybe if I had been offered an amazing job things would have turned out differently. Or maybe if I was living in the city, surrounded by young and talented people, would feel more inclined to stay. But I wasn’t and I’m not. I need to stop chasing what I know in my heart is a fraudulent dream.
For me, right now in this moment, settling down means settling. In my heart I know that the only way I feel truly alive is through travel and exploration–and a settled life for me is a life half-lived.
There are still new borders to be crossed, foreign tongues to be spoken, picture perfect moments to capture, roads uncharted, and words unwritten.
Good decisions, poor decisions; it doesn’t matter. Because you don’t choose a life, you live one. So I am going to keep living mine. A new chapter, a blank page, and a lot more (mis)adventures.