I’d like to begin this post with a quote I recently stumbled upon from Anthony Bourdain, an American author and renowned international chef:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts; it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you – it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you…Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
I would be lying if I told you that this past week here in Burkina Faso has been a magical walk in the park. The least I can say is that it has been an emotional roller coaster. There have been many low points – most of which I’ve yet to overcome. I’ve returned home each night, plagued with uncertainties and anxieties, to find myself desperately longing for – surprisingly – the comfort of home.
I was never quite sure of what to expect here. But it certainly wasn’t huge waves of homesickness and moments of regretting I ever got on the plane in the first place.
I think too often, we are obsessive about portraying a positive image of ourselves. Social media is entirely a platform to show off to each other the brilliant moments of our life, and this definitely applies to travel experiences. We see the beautiful in the world, (as we should!), but rarely do we consider the challenges that go along with getting to those beautiful moments. Travelling has become a very romantic idea, and while it is absolutely my favourite thing to do, any traveller will know that there’s more to it than that. So, I suppose, the reason I’m writing this first and foremost is because writing about things – particularly hard things – is how I find clarity amidst the mumbo jumbo of the tangled emotions in my head; and the reason I’m sharing it, is simply to introduce some honesty into the mix.
The truth is, travelling is hard. It is full of challenges and obstacles, losses and failures. It tests your patience, your stamina and your strength. Travelling alone is even harder, as you have little to no support system, no one to bounce ideas off of, to make plans with, no one with whom to laugh about getting on the bus going in completely the wrong direction.
For me, as I struggle each day to recover my French language skills while simultaneously trying to adapt them to a very new and foreign Burkinabé accent, I am constantly out of the loop and second-guessing everything. Did I understand that correctly? Did I use the right verb there? The right pronoun? Did I get the meeting time right?
The first few days here, I felt like I was sinking. I turned from person to person, following their voice but not their sentiment. Picking out words and hoping to form a general idea. I have become very apt at translating body language and using contexts to piece together the daily puzzles in conversation I must solve.
This language/accent barrier, though day by day it is chipped away at, brings on a horde of new questions: How will I make friends? How will I do the work I’m here to do? How do I navigate this vastly different city on my own?
This, on top of some bigger questions that are definitely out of my hands, and brought about by the sheer disorganization of the organization I am here with – Ironic, I know – but the details of which I won’t bore you with now.
Alas, I am, and will likely continue to experience discomfort, pain and perhaps even heartbreak, although that could be melodramatic. But at the end of the day, it’s the tough journeys like these that generate the most impact. While I’m not yet confident with my existence here in this new place, I will continue to exist. The important part to remember is that it’s okay to struggle.
As a self-titled “experienced traveller,” I’ve taken this hardship to heart, questioning myself constantly. It has definitely been a blow to my confidence as a traveller, and my ability to adapt. But, just because this has been my most challenging journey yet, doesn’t mean that I won’t persevere and come through on the other end with more confidence than ever before.
The hope for now is to learn and grow and love, and hopefully, either through my work with this NGO or otherwise, to take something with me, and to leave some good behind, as Anthony Bourdain said. Here, it is particularly easy to put my struggle of being out of my comfort zone into perspective while poverty and suffering lurks around every corner.
If there’s anything I’ve learned this first week, it’s that it’s okay to be uncomfortable, to be afraid, and to doubt yourself. Not everyone can remain positive at all times – it’s just not really humanly possible. With time, I’m certain things will improve, and I’m eager to share those experiences with you as well. But for now, just accepting my uncertainties for what they are is enough.