Sunday, February 4, 2018

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical?

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical? These are the two questions I am asking myself the most. 

I have spent the last four plus months traveling around Asian and African countries. I reunited with over 22 different people in these locations, having first met all of them outside of the United States. Each place I stayed, from hostels to host families to friends houses became a piece of comfort at varying levels. Space to call my own, for a night, a week or a month. 

Massachusetts is home. Ghana is home. Thailand is home. Kenya is home. 

The other countries I traveled to, whether for the 1st time or having visited before, were not home - but adventure and experience. Grateful for the experience, but ever pondering my place as a traveler, role as a tourist, ethics of travel and my own whiteness and privilege (especially as it relates to travel) I found myself questioning the entire trip - while also deeply enjoying it. What does it mean that I am able to travel? How can I be an ethical traveler? Is travel ethical? What can I learn? How can I use what I have learned to empower others? Can I empower others? I have many questions and they never stop. 

Home, as I’ve decided for myself, is wherever my heart is, wherever I’ve spent significant time and developed relationships. Yet, I will always understand and feel more comfortable in Massachusetts. Even if I do not want that to be the case. 

I am writing this from a mentors home in South Florida. Betwixt and between a home I know and don’t know I am reflecting on these four months. What I’ve learned, where I’ve been, where I want to go next. Concord and Somerville feel far away, but being in the United States feels familiar and strange all at once. 

Grocery stores and malls loom, and I have not been brave enough to enter one yet. The consumer culture overwhelming, but being observed as the foreigner that I was is no longer my daily experience.   I could be from here. I fit in here. 

Yet, Ghana feels like home. More so than Thailand or Kenya. It was the first country I experienced outside of the USA. For nearly 6 months, at 18 years old, Ghana became the only other home I knew. It will never be completely comfortable, but I have a deep connection to the Labadi town. The music on the streets, bright colors, spicy food, friendships I’ve built, and the general low-key nature of a culture not so focused on individualism and achievement: I love it all.  Ghana was where I learned I could be myself, be accepted and grow. It is where I spent every summer of my college years.

Right after graduation, in 2013, I told my best friend in Ghana, Joeshmail Sowah that I would return to Ghana for her wedding. We were both 22 then, she had been with her boyfriend Fred since she was 16. I planned this trip to be in Ghana for her wedding to Fred. Absolutely beautiful and magical, being a bridesmaid for their wedding is my most treasured memory from this trip. 

Laughter: was the theme of my 5 weeks in Ghana. Reconnecting with Joeshmail and Fred, and at least a dozen other friends, neighbors and old students. Laughter and dancing. I learn so much from my friendships with people experiencing a different lifestyle and feel grateful for the love and lessons they bring to me. What a gift to maintain these long-distance friendships on such a deep emotional level. Time is an interesting thing. There are the friendships that time transcends, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been the connection stays strong. Those friendships that withstand the test of time are the most special to me. 

My community in Ghana is large and varied. From students I’ve known since they were four years old, who used to climb onto my lap and now are nearly as tall as me, to teachers I’ve shared lessons and meals with, to neighbors near my house, to my closest friends who I stay in close contact with while in the US - there were dozens of people to greet, dance with, and enjoy meals with during my five week visit.

And so because of all this Ghana is home: because it is where my heart is. Familiar winding roads, old shops, favorite spots and a home with an adopted brother and sister that always welcome me in with open arms. Grateful and lucky. It is a home where I will still always question my role there and whether or not I should be there, questioning my position of privilege and impact, but it is a home all the same. I always gain so much more than I am ever able to give. 

I will be in a new home in Florida for the next few weeks while I apply for jobs and spend time with my goddaughter and best friend (her mother). Soon, back to Somerville where I will redefine home for myself. Reconnecting with friends and creating community again. 

I look forward to seeing lots of you again and telling you more stories about the adventures, and of course hearing how you are too. 

With love & gratitude,

Wedding photo shoot 

Formal engagement photo shoot
My neighborhood in Ghana
Aburi Gardens
Makola Market

First Dance

Stunning bridesmaids dresses :) 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Acquiesce to Discomfort

Travel, although glamorous on social media, entails many days and nights of less than sexy scenery, poor hygiene, and general discomfort. Learning to unlearn what I knew about my ‘needs’ became second nature as I learned to adjust to the different cultures and amenities (or lack thereof) I was faced with. 

Acquiesce to discomfort, I would often remind myself. 

From less than ideal “bathrooms” to all sorts of transportation methods that try your patience: you get used to it. You’re sweating profusely with your legs sticking to the seat, or you’re shivering and trying desperately to get warm, or your crammed into seats while your arms stick to the person next to you... Travel discomfort (for me) occurs mostly in the physical aspect of transporting. Whether it is the 12-hour open-window bus through the hot belly of Southern India or the 5-hours of bumper to bumper traffic with no breeze in Sri Lanka or the 16-hour overnight buses with frigid air conditioning and loud snoring - one simply must acquiesce and let it go. Put on a smile (and some headphones) and let the time pass and ignore the physical discomfort. 

When you lean into it, you can even have fun. While back in India, after a travel snafu of a wrongly booked ticket (through an agent) we ended up 4 hours outside of where we needed to be - after a 10 hour overnight train. It was 6:30am and we needed to make our way then to the local bus station to reach our final destination. Sleepy-eyed and underslept we found our way. Sitting down with our heavy bags, we played Rummy, ate bananas and waited. The bus was hot and uncomfortable and took 5.5 hours.  There were rarely any foreigners on this local route and we were the only ones who rode it from Hubbli all the way to Hospette. Because of this, we saw lots of groups on their commute to school and work. School children were fascinated, waving, laughing, and asking us questions. Elders smiled and teenagers asked where we were going. What had begun as a bummer for missing part of a day turned into a fun experience, as well as seeing a part of India we never would have seen otherwise. 

For the last week of Sri Lanka, in early December,  after bouncing around for many weeks all over Asia, staying no where for more than a few nights, we decided to settle in Mirissa Beach for a week to soak up some rays and enjoy the beautiful beaches. Having not succumbed to the insane-ness of tourist beaches elsewhere, we were left alone on Mirissa beach. There were few people in the water and no one trying to sell us anything while we lounged. Far less crowded than any beach I’d been to, and absolutely gorgeous. 

For a day trip off the sand, we decided to take a local bus to find a nearby tea plantation. The bus stopped for approximately 30 seconds, and as I was stepping onto the first step the bus took off. Going nearly 70 mph on small streets, Anna and I struggled to stay standing as we held onto the poles above us and braced ourselves for the impact of bumps and halts. Terrifying, and exhilarating, we eventually got seats when the bus emptied out and could feel our heart rate slow down again. 

My final trek from Sri Lanka back to Ghana took a total of 52 hours. It was a true test of my own travel advice to others in acquiescing to the discomfort and exhaustion of the travel time. Arriving in Ghana, my dear friend, and the groom in the wedding, was standing there on the asphalt in his airport security vest. It was a warm welcome home indeed as he skirted me through security and immigration quickly and back into my first alternative home of Accra. 

My next blog will explore my five weeks in Ghana, in my 7th trip there and return to what will always be another home to me. Blogging has taken a backseat as I explore other avenues of cathartic writing. 

1. Hampi, India (where we ended up after the travel snafu)

2. Anna and I, atop Sigiriya Rock in Northern Sri Lanka
3. A Day trip to Galle, exploring the old forts and walled in city (Sri Lanka)

4. Another climb photo from Sigiriya Rock, beautiful views of the vistas 

Until next time,

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical?

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical? These are the two questions I am asking myself the most.  I have spent the last four plu...