There is not enough time to fully describe and make you understand how multifaceted my experience was in beautiful Africa. But I am going to try….
As a 25 year old woman who was born and raised in Europe I decided to go back home on my own accord. I never truly explored my background. Apart from having one Somali friend everyone else was non-Somali, at home I only spoke Dutch and English. But at 25 I needed a break, I needed a drastic change and thought to myself that this experience will not kill me so let’s go. I went and I can admit that I am happily surprised to what it did for me. Being outside of my comfort zone and truly pushing myself to become a part of Djibouti and its community is something of an accomplishment for me. The living conditions, the way of life, how people interact and think is very different to what I am used to. But that is what I wanted and what I loved.
Everyone that I came in contact knew before I had even opened up my mouth that I was from outside. I was forced to speak in Somali and make an actual effort to learn because English was not widely spoken in Djibouti so if I wanted to survive and actually have a life I had to work on my poor, poor language skills. At first I felt a bit out of place but after a couple of weeks my mouth just kept on picking up new words and I noticed that if I focus and use my ears I can learn new words. My Grandmother at one point genuinely thought that all of my life I was purposely not speaking my language but I genuinely could not speak it fluently. So when we finally had a proper conversation in Somali without using a family member to translate back and forth I felt more connected to her than ever before. People in Djibouti are all about making jokes and talking freely I on the other hand maybe just maybe am a bit uptight. I learnt quickly to take the joke, crack a jock myself and not take everything so literally. I loosened up and used my observation skills to know when people were trying my patience and when they were just teasing me. I always used to be the girl that took everything to heart, I thought that the words that come out of their mouths was their honesty, but sometimes just sometimes it was about connecting.
My everyday life, chores made me not only fit but I found a new form respect for myself. There was no sewage system and in the entire home there was only one tap. So if you wanted to have a shower you had to use the hose to fill up these huge plastic cans and if you wanted to throw away the dirty water you needed buckets to throw it outside on the street. Washing clothes had to be done by hand cause we did not own a wash machine so quickly my arms became stronger and my legs became more defined. You know that adrenaline rush that people keep talking about after they go to the gym well I got that whenever I did a house chore. My hands got rough and I really had to push myself physically to do these house chores. You had to use your entire body and washing your clothes at 8 am in the morning for 2 hours will test your patience. I remember the first time I had to wash my own clothes my cousin and my Aunt were teaching me how to do it and throughout the entire process I was laughing at myself. Cause my hands are genuinely weak and my Gran bless her her heart at one point told me to stop laughing and get on with it. She must have thought to herself how can a 25 year old not know how to hand wash clothes. But I do now!
I should write a book about my experiences because every experience I have had taught me different lessons. Overall travelling for me means opening yourself to new experiences that hopefully make you grow as a person. I am more connected to my African Heritage but more importantly it has helped me with becoming more patient, relaxed and hard working. It does not mean that I am going to adopt the entire life style to my every day life it just means that the positives will be a part of me and any negative that I encountered will be left on the shelf. Travelling back home for the first time was an experience that has as corny as it sounds opened up my big brown eyes. And I am loving what I am seeing.
We have all answered and even asked the question: ”Where are you really from?”. I knew where I was from in terms of my ethnicity and heritage but I had no Somali identity to speak of. When it came to my Somali culture I was clueless, speaking the language felt like a war in my mouth and having an emotional interest or feeling invested in my community (here in the West or the one in Africa) was non existent.
Two days after my 25th birthday I separated from London town and embarked on the most beautiful journey, love affair, fairy tale, story with Mama, yes Mama Africa. East Africa to be exact. You would think that an adult that has a degree in HUMAN GEOGRAPHY I would have at least Googled.. ANYTHING about what to expect in Mama Africa, right? No, not me. I did not research, present some questions to my family or even try and create a concrete plan about what I was going to do there. All I knew was that London town and I were not a good terms, the love was not there and I felt that London town (the place where there are endless opportunities) was not letting me grow. Yes, it does sound that this trip started off as a quarter life crisis/ melt down and that I was focused more on leaving than actually arriving somewhere else. In all honesty, I was ready to be in a place where everything was new and different. East Africa did that for me in ways that I did not think were possible.
During my visit in Djibouti I met the most incredible children and it also made it very clear that children they just want you to acknowledge them as the incredible individuals that they are.
We all know children love to play games outside and just be happy. What you may not know is that in my neighborhood I am that big girl that will just jump in and play too. One afternoon, a couple of girls were playing volleyball, as I was walking past with my friend the ball went into my direction and I hit that ball back. To the point I kept playing with the other girls and even my friend kept saying that I need to stop cause people are watching. I stopped but then one of the girls got the ball did not say a word but gestured at me to join back in.. What did this 25 year old woman do? I joined back in for a couple of minutes then some random woman yelled: ”Don’t you have any shame? You are a grown woman stop playing sports?!”. That annoyed me so bad that I just gave her a look of : ”And you are?!”. After that whenever I saw the girls playing, the same girl would always wave and smile at me, the girl who wanted me to join back in.
Every lunch time, Zainab (9) would come over to my house to drop of lunch but today instead of running back to her house, she stood there watching my cousin and I playing football. At one point I kicked the ball to her and the most beautiful grin just covered her entire face and she shot it back. We kicked the ball for a bit and after a few minutes she went on her way. From that point on I adopted her.. emotionally. After I left Djibouti she visited my cousin and asked if I truly had gone. My cousin told me that Zainab was a bit upset and told her that I was the person that showed her the most kindness. Zainab is one extraordinary child and I pray that one day I will return back to Djibouti and see her happy and well.
Yes, I am a grown woman but I feel like a child and I am not embarrassed to play outside with you or even ask you how your day is going. All I know is that children want to be acknowledged and mostly through the little things that will only cost you a few minutes. These amazing individuals in return share their joy with you.
.. and I think I am staying minimal. When I left for Mama Africa.. I went on the biggest detox ever and threw out about 75 per cent of my possessions and it felt right.
Yes, I did leave for Mama Africa and I knew that I was going to come back but I still decided to throw it all out and just start over. I was taking one suitcase, another suitcase was staying with the clothes I actually love and want to wear. Cause let me tell you something I own clothes that I have no use for or are just unflattering so keeping them made no sense. Yes I donated the clothes and took my one suitcase and left.
When I got to Djibouti I had a suitcase filled with the basics. With me I brought undergarments, a bathing suit, one abaya (which is a full length outer garment) , toiletries, shorts, 4 shirts, 2 leggings, a towel and a couple of hijabs. The idea was to be as simple as possible and to buy my everyday clothes in Djibouti. I bought baatis (long dresses with beautiful prints) and shalmats (large scarfs). At first I struggled wearing the shalmats properly and I was always a little bit jealous of the women who just wore them without any effort. During my entire trip I did not had the need to buy souvenirs, instead I went on the biggest adventure of my life.
Will I keep living this minimal lifestyle now that I am back? I like to say yes, I hope so. During those four months living out of one half empty suitcase, taught me that I don’t need a lot of stuff. I will however always need more of good people, positive vibes, laughter and sincerity. I will never be minimal about that part of my life.