I can’t honestly explain what makes me want to travel. Where my itchy feet come from I don’t know. I like to think I am part of a great epic of black women moving by force, by choice, but moving nevertheless. I sometimes think it is the Brit in me. Raised as I was at the latter end of the times when it was still okay to idolise the great explorers of the nineteenth century. To think of them as great rather than the imperialist baddies they were.
While the conscious black person in me always knew how morally repugnant it was, the Brit in me imagined myself with that beige hat on head, and cutlass in hand, big grin on my face as I carve out a new route through some hitherto ‘undiscovered’ place obscured by trees. It’s such a familiar recurring image that I smile as I write it.
I’m smiling because I’ve been able to write what I’ve never been able to articulate. The need to see new things, the craving to understand the world. It’s the black person in me, paradoxically, who knows that if I really want to know, I have to ask the people.
It’s for that reason I lamented not speaking better Spanish when I was in Cuba. People spoke so freely and openly about how they felt about their country, its ‘controversial’ leadership (isn’t a revolution by definition controversial?), and their place and families within it. I’ve always believed in hearing people’s stories first hand. How better to do it than to go to the country have a look, see what I think I see, and then ask a bunch of friendly locals if my observations are correct? It won’t produce an exhaustively correct history, but it’s better than relying solely on the BBC and the Lonely Planet for information.
Back when I was really determined to hear the people’s stories from them, I’d read the local newspaper, watch the local news, and try and read fiction by local authors. At some point, as I got older I think, I got a bit lazy. I still try and catch the local news when I’m someplace new, but I don’t follow it properly like I used to…
But what is it in me that makes me need to hit the road?
I just skyped my best friend in the whole world. An hour later I’m in a funk. Not choked up like I’m going to cry, but overwhelmed with sadness that I’m not gonna go to a play with her anytime soon. We’re not going to watch a film or talk or lecture together, listen and/or contribute to the Q & A and then bitch about it afterwards. The Q & A, not the initial thing. We do life together. Why would I suddenly decide to drop out of it?
Well, part of it I guess is that I felt like I had to. I was in London, had been working there for 5 years. Had built up a little CV, was arguably on rung 2 of the career ladder and with a new job I would have been well on my way. But some way, somehow, I was over it. On my way to what exactly? I had my favourite restaurants, and bars, and hang outs. I had a bunch of good friends, a large loving family, I had a good job which I was bored of but nevertheless paid the bills. And somehow, I wanted a change. I yearned to talk about something other than the recession. I was desperate to pray about something other than marriages and jobs. I wanted to taste the air in my lungs, I wanted to live.
I think I felt busy but like life was a bit meaningless. I saw an advert on the overground for Frankie Boyle‘s book ‘Work! Consume! Die!’ and it seemed so accurate; everyone I knew seemed to have signed up for that. Time with friends and family was good but small blips in the ocean of the hours I was breathing. I wanted more out of life than a mortgage, partner, and nice car. I needed more to feel like life was worth living. I wanted my senses to be stimulated, my brain muscles to get proper exercise, I needed to feel like I was able to do something and then do it.
Does that make sense? I felt like my life was not reflecting the abundant life God had called me for. There were no challenges for me to rise to, no heights to reach for. Just a mundane existence, day in, day out. Yes I hated my job by the end, but it was more than that. I was tired of London. Not in the tired of life sense, not that I’d seen absolutely everything. The great thing about London is that there’s always more to do, always more happening that you can do, always more amazing stuff coming soon.
But I felt like I had a grip on the city. I understood it, I knew what it was about. I loved it. But I wanted to feel that way about someplace else. It’s not a permanent move I was looking for, you understand. Just a move. Just something to get my heart racing again, a new place to discover, new things to see. And that feeling of the need to get out overrode massively the fact that there were a lot of people I would miss. Like my very first heroine, Ariel, I wanted more.