Life musings


Since my return to the States, dozens of people have said to me, “I wish I could do what you did.”

I usually tell them: “You can. Why don’t you?”

The answer is always the same. “I can’t leave my job” or “I don’t have the money” or “I have too many responsibilities.”

The truth is, you can skirt around nearly all of these obstacles if you really want to see the world.

Sometimes we get so sucked into the rat race that we forget who’s making decisions in our lives: we are. We take on all those responsibilities, and we can shed them if we want to.

I know what you’re thinking. “It’s not so easy. I have a mortgage payment!”

Of course it’s not easy. Dropping everything to travel requires a change of mindset, and a few sacrifices.

You’ve gotta think outside the box. Do you really need that apartment or house? You think you do, but you probably don’t. This is one of the easiest excuses to fix. Give it up or sell it, and get a new one when you come back. Maybe after you see how other people live, you’ll have a different idea of what you want anyhow.

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Monday, Dec. 22
On my way home

When I started this journey, I purposely planned nothing for my return.

I left my job. I moved out of my apartment. I got rid of everything, including my beloved piano, that had the potential to tie me down. I created an entirely blank slate for myself, not knowing where I’d live, how I’d make money, what I would do with my days when I got back.

Of course, it would have been nearly impossible to secure a job ahead of time in the field of journalism, but I had another reason for avoiding that: I wanted to be free after my travels to do whatever I wanted, no roadblocks, even the kind that can give peace of mind.

I thought travel, free time and introspection might change my next step. Perhaps I’d want to stay in one of the countries I visited, take a job with a non-profit or extend my trip. Delve into something different.

Instead, it made my vision even clearer, put a spotlight on my desire to continue working as a reporter, despite a journalism job market that looks grim at best and a newspaper industry that’s even shakier than when I left.

After the many job cuts at newspapers across the country, I would venture to say it’s even a bit irresponsible of me to return to journalism, when I could stake out a better-paying job I’m sure still will be around in the next few years.

But I’m going to take that risk. I’ll look for a reporting position, either somewhere in Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C. — close to my family on the East Coast — or move back to Houston, a city I’ve craved during the last six months, and hope my editors missed me as much as I missed them.

The job hunt is going to have to wait a while, though. First I plan to work on a writing project, a conglomeration of my travel experiences, tying together stories I blogged about with those that are still in my notebook, waiting to be told. (There’s more, you say? Oh, yes. Just you wait.) In my wildest dream — one I’m almost afraid to write here for fear I’ll jinx it — I’ll publish a travel memoir.

Even if that doesn’t work out, I’ve gotten out of this trip what I had hoped. I feel satisfied, learned, reinvigorated, ready to get back to the grind of the life I was lucky enough to be born into. Ready to get back home!

“Yes, we’ll dance
Dance our way through our lives.”
— Pat Green

Sunday, Dec. 21
Leaving Tana, Madagascar

Today I begin the trip home!

That’s right; I’ve caught up on the blog, so you’re reading this in real time. Today, Sunday, marks the beginning of my two-day journey back to the States.

I inched my way to Madagascar, but I’m heading home in one swoop, which makes me realize just how far away the country really is from America.

My first flight is to Johannesburg, where I’ll have an overnight layover. It’s not until Monday afternoon that I’ll board a red-eye that will take me to Washington, D.C., by way of Dakar — a 19-hour flight.

Tuesday morning I’ll arrive in D.C., hopefully just in time to catch my last flight, a short one, to Albany.

How do I feel? Excited! Very excited to see my family and friends, to spend Christmas at home, to begin the next leg of life. But I’m sad, too, that this trip has come to an end.

The last time I returned home from Africa, after a college semester in Cameroon, the luxury of life in the States hit me like a slap in the face. I was happy to return to that luxury, of course, particularly American food in all its variety, but other aspects made me feel uncomfortable.

One of my first tasks that spring was to buy a new pair of running shoes, since I had left my previous pair in Cameroon. But when I stood before the zillions of pairs that were available in just one store, I became totally overwhelmed. It wasn’t just the choice — in Africa, you take what you can get — but I found it difficult to imagine spending $80 on a pair of sneakers when that much money could have helped clothe, feed and send to school children in my village family.

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Tuesday, Nov. 25
Mahajanga, Madagascar

I feel different. High. Happy. Content.

After nearly five months of travel, I’ve hit my stride. You know how one week of vacation isn’t enough, how by the time you reach the last day, you’ve just started to relax? I’ve jumped that hurdle, finally able to let my mind go free, float from town to town.

Months ago, I worried about what I’d do when I arrived home, where I’d live, how I’d find a job. Now, with just a month before I return to the States, I still ponder how it will all work out, but without the anxiety, even though my plans are no clearer. Instead of worry, I feel excitement.

I have so much to look forward to. There’s the obvious, seeing my family in time for Christmas. But I’m also psyched about the unknowns, where the next year will take me. Something tells me I’m riding a wave into the prime of my life, that great things are in store. As Joel Osteen of Houston’s Lakewood Church says — and yes, I’m a pious fan — “The best things in life are out in front of us!”

Until now, I’ve always looked ahead to my next planned task, working for another accomplishment. High school so I could attend a good college. College so I could make something of myself. Journalism school so I could get a job. A job to gain experience and make money to travel. And now I’m at the end of that line, the end of the vision, living the travel dream. And afterwards? A blank slate, for the first time in my life. Freedom! I tell myself the same words I used to repeat to my college roommates, when they fretted over what to do after graduation: I can do anything I want!

It’s true now in my head more than ever before. After seeing how some people in Africa lack opportunity, be it because of a lack of money or knowledge, or a mindset that keeps them from moving ahead, I want even more to take advantage of my education, enjoy my family, live as fully as the cliche.

Of course, I’m not always smiling. Long-term travel, particularly in developing countries, comes with its difficulties, enough lows to rival the highs. My mood is constantly in flux, sometimes dependent solely on how much breathing room I have in a bush taxi. And this trip hasn’t been particularly good to my body: my stomach often sends me running to the bathroom, my knee is constantly swollen and I’ve become a flabby version of my runner self.

But the journey been good to my soul, a part of me that doesn’t always get priority at home. My soul has grown, flourished and now hit equilibrium. Zen.

I imagine that those of you who bothered to read until the end of this rambling bit of optimism fall into two camps, the first of which is filled with the lucky people who can relate to such a spiritual feeling (including my two ever-optimistic, wander-worthy friends who have supported me on this exploration; you know who you are).

The others think I’m on drugs. But nope, I’m just high on travel, high on learning, high on living.

Monday, Sept. 1
Dixcove, Ghana

Hurricane Gustav is supposed to be hitting the Gulf Coast today.

I have no idea whether it’s on course, creating serious damage or turning out to be a dud. Instead of following the storm moment by moment like I would be from Houston, I’m on a rainy beach in Ghana, a bus taxi ride or two away from an Internet connection, surrounded by people who haven’t even heard of Gustav.

I hate knowing I’m missing a storm I could be covering! And for that, I’ve come to see Gustav as a blessing: I’ve realized, in the last day or so, just how important it is for me to find a reporting job when I return to the States.

During the last two months, I’ve pondered whether I might be satisfied with another writing-related career, one with more job security and better pay. It’s a question I think a lot of journalists have asked themselves lately as newsroom jobs are cut, wages are frozen and industry morale takes one hit after another.

Since finding a newspaper job on the East Coast after this trip is likely to be difficult, I figure if I am ever to make a change, now would be the time.

But Gustav made it pretty clear that ain’t gonna happen. I don’t want to read the newspaper and wish I had covered the story on the front page.

Once a journalist, always a journalist.