Tags Posts tagged with "Africa"


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Return to the Kasbah

My sojourn in a land of veils, desert nights, and hypnotic drumming rhythms ended when the US Sixth Fleet was ordered to steam toward Moroccan shores to evacuate military personnel and sensitive equipment from its naval communications station. Only two years earlier I had been whisked to that secret military base on the north tip of Africa. Our stay in that land scented with cumin and eucalyptus involved us in cold war cat and mouse games with Russia, miracle pregnancies, a cholera epidemic, and finally the military coup that hurried our return to the states.

Morocco was a land I entered cautiously from my first glimpse of its jade river snaking inward from the coast. If I experienced a slight shiver each time I looked down the road that disappeared into dense vegetation directly across from the entry to our base—the road that led to the reputed Soviet base—I had no real worries.  My red passport was my entry to everywhere I chose to go and my protection.

I quickly acclimated to the temperature fluctuations: from mornings requiring sweaters against the desert cold until a sizzling sun brought dizzying heat that felt poured out of an oven. Around four, the temperatures evaporated, heat disappearing as quickly as it arrived.

On Tuesday mornings at Sidi Yahia’s souk, I squatted beside dusty blankets piled with dates, kumquats, or cactus pears to bargain for my week’s produce. I learned the practicalities of the metric system—that a family of three doesn’t eat a kilo of radishes in seven days. It took hours to sanitize fruits and vegetables and sift the weevils out of all the flour and pasta products we wanted to eat. I juggled French and Arabic and learned the language of the belly dance.

Saturdays I wandered the Medina’s maze and negotiated the dirham quota for each embroidered djellaba, string of amber, or gold bracelet that would become my Arabic treasures. I learned the mysteries of knots tied into intricate mosaic carpets and sank my toes deep into their woolen surfaces. The brass and iron sellers jostled for my attention.

 “Madame, for you a good price, very good price.”

“Madame, Monsieur, entrer; je prépare du thé.”

I juggled the scalding glass and sipped their sweet mint tea. With the third refill they recognized me as more than a short-term tourist. For me, a semi-permanent resident, they made special bargains.  Still negotiating for babouches and caftans—future Christmas gifts—and rugs, took most of an afternoon as Khalid inched the price down only a few dirhams at a time each time I shrugged, “Bissef, it is too expensive.”

Fortunately for me, the village pasha chose another American wife to honor —not me—at his banquet by offering her the sheep eyeball. Knowing that refusing would have been a rude breech of etiquette she hesitated, then tossed the morsel into her mouth.

In spite of the tight security of our location, the months passed quietly. A cholera outbreak stopped thirty miles away.  When disgruntled militia attempted a coup against the King and my husband and I found ourselves facing rifles with fixed bayonets, I had already delivered my baby—uneventfully, without the special obstetrician I would have enjoyed Stateside. I left the country by plane, the Sixth Fleet not being necessary after the coup was stopped. An armed escort drove me and the baby to the airport. As our route took us through Rabat and past the palace, my driver engaged me in conversation. I missed the captured rebels lined against the palace wall, facing a firing squad.

Today that baby is a young woman who is insisting that I accompany her on a trip this fall to her birthplace. That trip will take courage. I will return to Morocco, to show my daughter the exotic land that she has known only through photographs and stories, the land she assumes I remember as clearly as a roadmap. We will travel from the white walls of Casablanca north to Rabat–perhaps past the same wall of the King’s palace where the captured rebels’ lives ended. I hope I can find my way through passages to an inner court where Moorish lanterns cast arabesque patterns across silk cushions, inviting us to a feast of tagine, chickens roasted with olives and lemon and peppery herbs. I want my daughter to watch dancers who might recall to her memories of her early steps that became belly dancing like her mother could never master. I’ll take her to Sidi Yahia’s Tuesday souk and hope my rusty Arabic is sufficient for buying figs or dates. No diplomat’s protection this trip; I’ll be on my own, a ten-day tourist.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Unknown Girl in an Unknown Place somewhere in Morocco

My travels have taken me far and wide.  I’ve been all over the world, from well-known and highly respectable places such as Rome, Italy to the not so clean and downright unsettling such as the grimy flavelas of Brazil.  I have learned much about others and myself in my experiences and I use my new found knowledge everyday to better my understandings of those around me.

            One of my favorite lessons was one I learned while visiting Marrakech, Morocco.  There I was standing in the middle of one of the worlds largest and most bustling markets all alone, looking like a stranger and feeling out of place.  I had originally planned to make a few purchases from the local people since I had heard that the products were each original and one of a kind.  What I had not expected was the local storeowners to take advantage of my innocence in knowledge of the area by forcing me to pay prices that were unquestionably too high.

In Marrakech when you wish to buy a product you have to “barter” for it.  This basically just means you have to settle on a price with the shop owner and then pay the discussed price upfront.

            Poor little me, in my inexperience with bargaining with strangers that were more than twice my age and very intimidating knew nothing of what these certain products should cost.  I basically agreed to any price without question.  I soon found out I was paying way too much as my wallet was feeling much lighter than I had originally intended.  I quickly made an internal pact with myself to not be such a pushover when buying my next item as my eye caught a beautiful handmade leather purse in the corner of the approaching shop.

            I could feel the anxiety in my chest as I took a deep breath and mustered all the courage I could find inside.  I offered what I thought to be a fair price to the grisly man standing in front of the display.  He immediately shot back with a price more than 3 times what I had offered!  All while holding my gaze with deeply piercing eyes.

            My hands were shaking slightly and I knew he could tell that I wasn’t very good at this bartering thing.  I really wanted that purse and I was not about to back down.  The voice in my head was screaming at me to respond before I gave away my fear.  That when the bravery kicked it.  It was if it had been hiding under the surface of my chest just waiting for the right time to show itself.  I took another deep breath and restated my original price with confidence paying no attention to the shaking in my hands as I stared straight back into his suddenly less intimidating eyes.

            This seemed to catch him off guard as he quickly wiped his brow and took a second to think of a proper price to shoot back.  I couldn’t believe that I had been so firm in my response!  That purse would be mine and I had no doubt in my mind that I would be paying the price I wanted this time.

            He looked over me carefully and hurriedly stated a price still much to high.  The courage was overtaking me at this point.  Once again I stated my same price and started to back away as though I was going to find a better shop to spend my money.  That seemed to get him.  He quickly reached in my direction and stopped me from leaving as he hesitantly agreed to the price I had previously decided on.

            I did it! I could believe it!  I was now officially a “barterer.” Little ole’ me, a small girl from a small Texas town was making bargaining decisions with a man who could easily overtake me.  I was so proud of myself and for the rest of the day I refused to back down on my prices and got almost everything else for half the price as my first purchases.

            I proved to myself that I was courageous and could do anything I set my mind to.  I still use this important lesson when dealing with people who are willingly taking advantage of me and remind myself internally “I am strong and I will not let myself be pushed down by people who think they can control my actions.

            Now I have a drawer full of handmade original trinkets from Morocco and my favorite purchase, the purse, is hanging on a hook in my room to remind me of the moment I felt the bravery and courage that was inside of me all along.  I will never forget that feeling for as long as I live.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Mountain gorilla baby eyes

With barely a sound the 160 kilo/ 350 pound gorilla walked right in front of me on the jungle hill side. Mountain gorillas only exist in high terrains of south western Uganda and neighboring Congo and Rwanda. For some, having the opportunity to hike to a family of mountain gorillas is the trip of a life time. I was pinching myself that here I was standing next to more than a dozen gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Africa.

gorilla head

Mountain gorillas were hunted almost to extinction and are a critically endangered species. Within Volcanoes National Park there are eighteen different groups of gorillas.

baby eating celery

Eight are observed solely by researchers and ten of the groups are the groups visitors are allowed to be guided to. We were assigned to be led by our guide Eugene to the Umubano group which had thirteen members.

baby eyes

Gorillas are considered babies from ages zero to three, juvenile from ages three to six, adult ages six to eight and after age eight females are mature enough to start reproducing. Gestation period is for nine months and female gorillas will usually have about six babies in their lifetime.

silver back

Around age twelve the black back of a male mountain gorilla will turn silver, giving them the revered title as now being a silver back.

hand gripping

For diet, gorillas are vegetarian consuming around 2000 different species of plants. An adult will eat about 30 kilos of vegetation a day and they get all their water needs from the plants they eat. Gorillas make a new nest for themselves to sleep in every day, usually on the ground and will start constructing it around 5 pm or so.

side profile

With their immense strength, visitors are often nervous to be in the jungle with these wild animals. Rest assured, the gorillas usually want nothing to do with you. They are too preoccupied with feeding, socializing and taking care of their babies. You are with guides, guards and trackers the entire time who are familiar with all of the gorillas. As long as you do what you guide tells you to do and do not use flash, (which applies for almost all wildlife photography in Africa) you will have an amazing time.

momma eyes

I couldn’t imagine having gone to Africa without having had the experience observing mountain gorillas. Looking at the faces and reactions of people when they come back from sharing the space with these gentle giants, they are impacted. Viewing wild gorillas changes you. Eugene, our guide thanked us all for coming and  told us how much our park fees are instrumental in helping the gorilla population increase. The park can pay for gorilla doctors and if an animal does get sick, usually the medicine cost a minimum of $1000.

chin up

If you want to help conserve mountain gorillas – go see them for yourself. In Rwanda it appeared that the park fees were being put to good use as poaching was down and gorilla numbers have increased from 500 to 900.

baby going for ride

With these fees the park can continue employing rangers who patrol and monitor for poachers. Among our group, some people had chosen to hire a porter (someone who will carry your bag) for the day. Eugene did not say whom specifically, but some of the porters who were hired used to be poachers in the park. Now instead of killing gorillas, they were earning an income from tourists coming to see the gorillas in a safe environment. Learning that around us were would be poachers that were now accepted and welcomed as porters, really drove home to me how impactful responsible tourism combined with effective leadership and park management can be. Seeing how the park was being run gave me hope that the mountain gorillas may have a chance to keep striving in these jungle hillsides.

mom w baby

The opportunity to view gorillas in their home was a fairytale-like adventure. Hopefully the conservation effort will continue to move forward in such a way that gorillas never become animals the next generation can only read about in a fairy tale book, but hike to for themselves and view these animals striving in their home as the magnificent creatures they are.

*     *    *

For more information:

 Volcanoes National Park

We stayed at a church mission called Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima. It was very nice, clean and well located.

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I remember the first time I boarded a plane and travelled to a different country. There is nothing quite like the thrill of going to a place you have never been to before. It was in 2009 for a week long school outing to the wonderful Réunion Island. As soon as we arrived I could feel the island humidity engulf and welcome me. It felt strange and I loved the strangeness of it. As Bill Bryson wrote in Neither Here Nor There “I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city”.

And that was when the travel bug bit me. Like many others I immediately made a bucket list of destinations I wish to see. Over the years my knowledge of the world has expanded quite significantly thanks to numerous travel magazines, blogs and websites. This has also led to a proportional increase in the number of items of my bucket list.

My desire to travel has led me to diagnose myself as a sufferer of wanderlust. Wanderlust is often defined as a strong urge or desire to travel. It is difficult to explain that sensation to people that have never experienced it before. John Green captured the essence of wanderlust in his novel Paper Towns with the following:

“I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met”.

How do you cure a case of wanderlust? I am not sure you can. I have come to the conclusion that the best way to ease the ache for travel is to give in to it. Last year I spent most of my savings to go to Europe. It was a 21-day Contiki tour. For three weeks I spent a large amount of time with two friends and a bunch of strangers. This trip enabled me to place ticks next to quite a few of my bucket list items. The Eiffel Tower, Coloseum, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Berlin Wall and a gondola ride in Venice.

In June and July this year wanderlust tugged at me again and I travelled to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana with a missionary/outreach group. And yes, I did get to place a tick next to Victoria Falls on my bucket list. Just like the Europe trip, the accommodation was simple and a lot of time was spent in transport. But the group was smaller and more time was spent taking in the culture and nature of the surroundings.

When I go through my photos I tend to skip past the ones of me and the bucket list items. I linger at the photos with the people in it. The strangers that became family. In the end it’s the people that make the stories – not the destination. The memory of walking in Rome when a flash of rain made our entire group look like we just came out a shower still puts a smile on my face. It makes the tossing of a coin into the Trevi Fountain seem insignificant.
The next evening a group of us (only girls) were lost at 23h00 and couldn’t find the camp site outside Rome. On the way two young (and attractive) men zoomed past us on a Vespa and shouted something along the lines of “Ciao belle”. This was accompanied by the romantic blow of a kiss. Eventually we found the camp site. We were physically drained and with blisters on our feet, we all fell asleep with a smiles on our faces.

My brother back-packed alone through Vietnam and the first story he related back to me involved him playing a drinking game with about 20 other strangers on a boat. He doesn’t remember their names but he remembers the moment and the joy he shared with them. These experiences add meaning to Rule #32 from the move Zombieland: “Enjoy the little things”.

One of the beauties of travel is to share moments with strangers. You don’t know them and they don’t know you. This affords you the opportunity to reinvent yourself. But you don’t. You are exactly who you are supposed to be in the company of these strangers. This is why travel helps you to discover yourself. Even though you can pretend to be someone else you always end up being your true self. This novelty is independent of destination and available to all that are willing leave behind the comforts and familiarity of home.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Embracing the Madness in Morocco

by Andrea Duty


Sometime between being caked with black soap and having my boobs scrubbed with what I can only assume was steel wool, I got the giggles. I should have clued in to the oddities to come within the hammam when I was handed a white paper thong upon entrance, but I didn’t. Now, there I was, sliding around on a hot marble slab while some woman hosed me down and repeatedly ordered me to flip over, as if she were basting a rotisserie chicken. I was eventually – mercifully – swaddled in cocoon of towels, ushered to a pile of floor cushions, and fed an endless supply of warm, mint tea. In the end, I felt much the same way as I did during the rest of my stay in Marrakech, which is to say: confused, mildly abused, yet exhilarated nonetheless.

For the uninitiated such as myself, Marrakech can swallow you whole. If London is an anthill of organized layers and regimented routines, Marrakech is the feeding frenzy atop a pile of picnic leftovers. It’s raw, chaotic, colorful, and, at times, jarring.

But sometimes chaos is what we need, isn’t it? To be tossed into mayhem; thrown back to that place where we see everything anew again, as through a child’s eyes. It’s only when we are placed into the unfamiliar that our senses are sent into overdrive, forcing us to live in the present moment.

And to walk through the streets of Marrakech is to have the present moment unceremoniously shoved in your face. Fumes float from the tanner, a metal worker hammers, neon dye drips from wool strung above. Donkeys drag, motorcycles rev, verbena hangs brittle in the sun. A thick snake sways languid to a tune. Cool orange juice to squelch the heat. Hello/Hola/Bonjour, Madam! Special price just for you! Come inside, just to look! Snails for one durham! Scarfs! Soap! Spices! Three men pull a lamb from a pit, steamed and salted. The street is sweet with cumin. A stop for tea. The call to prayer. Five times a day all is dropped. Five times a day, the movement, the melody, the madness is put on pause. Five times a day, there is space to draw a deep breath and take it all in.

The whirling chaos of the Red City often left me frazzled (and once drove me to tears), but it also gave me the cultural slap in the face I so love to experience and am finding increasingly difficult to find. Most of my travels have been to sanitized, Western countries and it seems I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel so utterly out of place, what it’s like to have expectations shattered in the best way possible.

I thought I was traveling to Morocco for warm weather and a tagine or two, but what I got was a glimpse into another world and a reminder of how grateful I am for destinations that challenge my comfort, my routine and my ideas of what travel is meant to be. Marrakech taught me to embrace discomfort and vulnerability and, yes, even white paper thongs, because it’s in these states that we learn to challenge ourselves and in doing so, broaden our ideas of the world and the lives lived within it.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Sitting in a small circle around the fire that evening, darkness fell all around us. Beyond the glow of the fire, the endless sand dunes that extended outward in every direction fell asleep in the alluring shadows of the night. Above us, the scintillating stars in the infinite sky twinkled with divine secrets to which we were not privy. Someone pointed out Mars in the starlight, while another, the Milky Way. We see what our eyes allow us to see; in the middle of the Sahara, your imagination takes rein and you find your wildest dreams taking flight.

Four snowy-white cats with features resembling that of leopards encircled us. I wondered if they were residents of the desert or nomads at heart, with an insatiable bout of wanderlust, not unlike myself. In the distance, the camels were sound asleep. I smiled at the thought of my intrepid camel with the jagged half-ear, who had hours before ventured into the heart of the Sahara with me at sunset. There are countless ways in which the losses in our lives manifest themselves.

Yet, there are also joys. For instance, the joy of hearing your sentiments being shared aloud by a Dominican traveler named Miguel, who had, at the sight of the sun setting over the undulating mountains of golden sand, exclaimed profusely in Spanish: “Gracias, muchas gracias, God, for creating this beauty, and for allowing me to be part of this beauty!”

Most of all, it is for me the joy of meeting like-minded wanderers on the road, with whom your paths cross ever so briefly, and yet, have the power to leave an indelible mark in the geography of your heart. In the desert, I met one such inspiring woman who caused me to tear while listening to her story by the fire. Her name was Alejandra Cardenas.

A single, immigrant mother who had painstakingly brought up her daughter to have had her heart broken when her child left home at the age of 20, Alejandra decided that she had to, for the first time, live not for others but for herself. She has had a trying life, but her lifelong dream was to travel the world. To embark on this journey, she sold all her material possessions, abandoned all forms of convention, and kept her zeal and courage shining in the paths she has chosen to walk, touching the lives of those she has met, mine included.

Despite having suffered humiliations, one of which included having to literally stand up by and for herself while ignoring the leering faces of unkind teenagers when she slipped and fell in a youth hostel in Italy, Alejandra remains stoic in the pursuit of her dream. She shared her uplifting stories from the road thus far, and the exotic destinations she planned to go after leaving Morocco: Kenya, Egypt, and subsequently, wherever else her heart led her.

Her face lit not only by the light of the fire, she effused: “Mija, I urge you to go travel. Travel as far and as widely as you can. Do it when you are young. When you reach my age, you’ll realize how the muscles start to ache and the bones, they hurt from walking too much. Travel is the best education anyone could ever have. You learn so much about people, about different cultures, about yourself. This is something no one and no university can ever teach you.” Smiling to herself, she said in a whisper: “And I want to do that now, to travel the world. Just imagine all the stories I can tell my grandchildren one day.”

That night, with neither electricity nor a proper toilet, I lay awake on the sand-crusted floorboard of my tent as the faces of all the individuals I have met in Morocco, who have each moved me so deeply in their own ways, floated in my mind. As the stifling heat gave way to the frigid cold, I drifted off to an intermittent sleep, wondering what new adventures and people awaited me when I awoke.

About the Author: Agnes Chew is a writer, traveler, and musician at heart, with an insatiable curiosity for life. Enamored with the notion of getting lost in places beautiful and hitherto unknown, she has no intention of removing the rose-tinted glasses everyone tells her have been left on for far too long.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

My bones creaked and my body yelped in pain as I rolled over and reached for my phone, but instead of the ghostly display satisfying my desire to know the exact hour at all times of day and night, I found only an inanimate piece of plastic. I then remembered, with the aid of the scratchy grass mat under me, that I was in Champiti, a rural village in central Malawi with no electricity, running water, or internet. I struggled to my feet, shrugged on a t-shirt and wandered outside. For everyone else it didn’t matter what the time was, the sun was rising so the day was beginning.

I stretched out the unfamiliar aches of sleeping on the floor and breathed in the untainted morning air. Gone was the frenetic hustle and bustle of the capital, the thick flavour of exhaust fumes, rotten produce, body odour and dried fish; the discordant melody of car horns, tinny music and people shouting their wares. Looking out I saw only a beautiful sunrise with rays piercing a growing cloud of dust as a little boy swept the dry ground, and heard only birds and the crackle of fire as breakfast was made. Now I felt free!

Most people travelling to Malawi head for the capital city, the magnificent Lake or a National Park, moving round in a gaggle of tourists pursued ceaselessly by locals wanting to sell their goods, or be your ‘best friend’. But most Malawians live a rural existence and it is here you experience the peace of simple living.

After breakfast we head out on the orange dirt paths through the village and into the hills. Unaccustomed to walking barefoot the small stones pinch, but the opportunity to really feel the earth makes me smile on through the pain and try to act like I am the same as my local friends. As we head up the Dzonzi peak the vista opens out and we can see small villages encased in rolling hills. Velvet monkeys crash through the trees and the tall grass pulsates with insects. We stop next to a pile of sticks and my friend Chisale explains that by adding a stick to this cairn you ensure that you will be fed on your return to the village. Not wanting to go hungry I eagerly throw on three. As we climb higher the lush vegetation makes the air cooler and the act of breathing feels like a detox. An overhanging rock crests the peak providing the perfect viewing platform. From here, looking out, the world seems at rest. It is strange to think that by removing yourself from ground level and being elevated to look down, the hive of activity that is life for humans and nature alike is concealed and replaced by a pace of movement more akin to a wind through the trees.

For me this is real relaxation, cut off from phones and social media, watching monkeys and birds in the trees, and listlessly wandering barefoot through the bush, now I feel like I’ve seen the real Malawi.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

I’m sure my parents won’t like to hear this but taking risks is part of experiencing the world. To quote a favorite movie of mine, “A life lived in fear, is a life half-lived.” I keep reminding myself of this when I question putting aside my anxieties and having faith that something will work out well, versus playing it safe and missing out on an experience. Certainly a healthy dose of caution is advised, especially when traveling in a third-world country and in situations regarding drinking water and wildlife, but in order to truly capture an experience, sometimes you need to check your fear with your luggage.

Last year when I quit my job, subleased my apartment, and bought a one way ticket to Africa, I didn’t think of it as brave, as many people remarked, but necessary for me to broaden my horizons. The alternative to embarking on a trip by myself for several months with a loose itinerary was not going. And that would have only led to regret. So I let go of my inhibitions, and found myself in situations that I would never be in at home, because I allowed myself the freedom to trust to create a deeper experience.

What I quickly learned was that mustering the courage to step outside of my comfort zone gave me access to so much more than just seeing the sights. And what others perceived as bravery, I felt more deeply as a privilege – to have the means to visit other countries and spend time with locals.

Brave was the craftsman in Malawi who followed me home, even after I repeatedly said no to his heavy salesmanship, because he hadn’t eaten. What was a couple dollars to me was his sustenance for another day. I think of his tenacity every day back at home when wasting food or being gluttonous.

Brave was the Tanzanian woman who handed her baby to me on a crowded local bus. Her trust of a stranger allowed me to momentarily feel a part of the culture where community is so important. I am reminded of her welcoming gesture when in public settings where heads are buried in electronics, oblivious to the person next to them.

Brave was the taxi driver in Zimbabwe who was so proud of his country and concerned with an outsider’s impression, that in his own words, he took a risk in implying dissatisfaction with the current government by speaking fondly of how his country used to be. His tentative answers to my questions reminded me of the freedoms many Americans take for granted.

I find travel to be an invaluable education in that it allows me to learn about myself and my life in comparison to other cultures. The slight glimpse into daily life that each of these new friends provided me, reminded of the liberties we are afforded in the US. It took little courage to uproot my life and spend a few months learning about the wider world, knowing I could return to the security and comforts of the US. In contrast, the people I met who shared their time with me, were the brave ones – finding freedom despite adversity.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

It is the beginning of summer and I am at the mall buying shorts. I’ve been here for all of five minutes, and already I can feel a headache starting between my temples. The sales rep comes over.
“Are you finding everything alright today?”
I look at him and then at the selection before me and then back at him. I need a pair of shorts and I don’t really care which ones I end up with, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to make a decision. Every time I land on a pair, I think of all of the other things that I could do with that money.
“I’m fine, thanks.”
I don’t know why, but at that moment I am reminded of a trip I took to Zambia years ago. I was eleven and it was my first big trip out of the country without my parents. We spent two weeks in the bush working with local students and helping to paint a school. The last day we went to an open-air market in Livingston.
The market was set up in a field in the middle of the city. Thatch huts and colorful streamers. Local craftsmen had come from all over the country to sell their wares. An old man with white hair was playing the drums near the entrance and women walked by in the colors and patterns of Africa.
“Aha, my friend. Come in to my shop.”
“You are my good friend, I will make you special deal.”
“Please, please, come into my shop.”
It would be tempting to say that if I were older and wiser I would not have fallen for the shopkeepers’ raps. Certainly if I’d been as I am now in the mall in summer with the various demands of money pressing against my temples, I would have resisted. But in that moment in Zambia I was butter in the hawkers’ hands.
In the first shop I went into, I bought a little stone carving of a leopard standing on its forelimbs. I also bought a stone hippo and a pair of wooden salad tongs. The white teeth of the salesman grinned and flashed in his black face as I pressed dollar after dollar into his palms.
In the next shop I bought a pair of stone zebras lying on their sides. More money. I unfolded the bills without thinking and handed them over. They were the greenest things in that dry, dusty marketplace.
So it went in shop after shop. Lions, giraffes, wildebeests, I added them to my collection until all of the money I had brought with me was gone. I thought I was finished after that, but the savvy merchants weren’t done with me.
“My friend, my good friend. I want you to have this bowl so you can be happy. What have you got in your backpack?”
And so it began again. My shorts, my shirts, my socks, my pants. One by one they came out, traded for pieces of Africa in stone and wood. I didn’t think about it. There was no voice in the back of my head saying, ‘You’ll need these clothes later. Think about the future. Another stone giraffe? Be reasonable.’ I was acting on impulse and it felt great.
Back in the mall in America with a selection of shorts before me, I find myself wishing I could channel some of that careless younger self. My headache is growing louder and I can see the sales rep watching me. I pick a pair at random. Sixty dollars. That’s a weeks worth of food or my phone bill or a couple oil changes.
“Are you sure I can’t help you, sir?”
“What? No, I’m fine.”
“I’ll be right over there if you need me.”
Eventually I select a pair of shorts. I bring them up to the counter and pay for them, but there is no pleasure in the act. As I am walking out of the store, my shopping bag feels heavy with the opportunity cost of the clothes that I have purchased. I think back to that day in Africa.
I walked out of the market tired and sweaty. My bag was heavy with rocks that crunched and knocked against each other. I had traded away all but the shirt on my back and had no clothes to swaddle them in. Despite my burden, I felt light and free. I watched the sun disappear over an orange horizon. Baobab trees were silhouettes in the distance and I could still faintly hear the sound of drums.
I was young then, young and stupid. But I was also free, and happy, and living in the moment. I think there are a lot of things my older, wiser self could learn from that.

About the Author: SC Slater never forgave his parents for naming him SC. After a brief and unsuccessful career as a roofer in Charleston, Slater turned to writing as the only other occupation in which his given name would not appear entirely ridiculous.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

I could not believe my eyes. There i was, amongst dignitaries from all works of life.
I must have been the youngest in the bus. I was not sure how how i found myself there, but i knew that was where i belonged.
Omotola Jalade had sat behind me, and Chimamanda Adichie, in front of me.
I sat in awe, gazing at the sun set from behind an acacia tree.
It seemed surreal, because i had only seen sun sets and acacia trees in pictures and movies. Never had i thought that i would gaze upon such a scenery in real life.
Africa was beautiful that evening, the skys reflected shades of orange, pink and gold.
Throughout the whole tour, i knew that my spirit had been set free. It was no longer with me in the bus, but was soaring.
Trees lined up the streets of Enugu as our bus drove past them. The beautiful black children of the streets ran after our bus, excitedly screaming ‘Oyinbo people,’ which means ‘white people,’ in the Igbo language. They children had mistaken us for Americans, probably because our complexions were light, but we were all Africans. The voices of the children made my heart tingle with an unexplainable excitement.
I saw the little girls, playing the game of ‘ten-ten,’ in which they moved their feet in different directions until one of the players could predict the next direction of the others feet. The young women strapped their Children to their backs with pieces of lappas.
Soon, the driver branched into another street with potholes all over. It was a bumpy ride, but i couldn’t feel it. My mind was caught up in a group of youngsters, singing and dancing to their own beats.
My body was eager to jump out of the bus to join in their gyration. I wish i had done that.
They all seemed so happy, so nonchalant about life. Even when the bus had driven past them, i looked back with keen interest. Soon, i found myself humming the same tune i had heard them sing. It was incredible how i remembered the lyrics, which went thus:
Anyi nwe freedom!
Freedom bu nke anyi,
Anyi ga agbara egwu!
Anyi ga agbara egwu!
Maka freedom bu nke mua!

It means ‘we have freedom, freedom is ours, we will dance because freedom is ours.
The song made me feel free. Soon others in the bus joined in. It was as though the spirit of freedom was encompassing the bus eas each one joined in the singing
That was a tour i would never forget in Nigeria. It madr an imprint in my heart.
The beauty of Africa.

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