I went back.

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….

Before
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.

My People
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.

Real work
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 tried
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.

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Lost girl went to Africa

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.

 

Food.. Glorious Food

Noop not a piece of poetry instead in this blog post I will be discussing how East Africa has changed many relationships in my life beginning with my relationship with FOOD.

Prior to this trip I always went for chocolate and carbs. On the other end of the spectrum I would avoid red meat because the texture and the taste never sat well with me. It did not matter how it was prepared. You could fry it, bake it, make it dance I still would say nah. All in all my diet needed to change where I was in control and not my messed up taste buds. Not going to lie it was an experience.. to say the least.

My lowest point was at this restaurant where I asked for a fish burger, the waiter came back with a tuna sandwich. A part of me wanted to speak to the waiter and sort it out but the other part of me did not have the energy so I ate that tuna sandwich.. it had mayonnaise which was the first processed thing that entered my body in three weeks.

That clean eating life style, became my actual life for four glorious months. Everything was made from scratch, I did not taste or even could find a single E-number and my body suffered. My body was making weird noises and the toilet and I.. well let’s say we had a thing going on.  My body was screaming for chocolate and for some reason I did not come across any chocolate in any of the shops. I did what I had to do. I took a screenshot of chocolate bars and showed it to one of the shop owners and he said: ”Yeah, we don’t sell any of that.”  See, I asked him and two other people and they all said the exact same thing.  I bit my lip and went home. My body kept crying, my brain kept dreaming of chocolate and after a while I was looking forward to my unprocessed, clean, mother nature’s, basic meals. Changed occurred apart from the obvious such as losing weight and having clear skin, mentally  I felt like an adult, a strong woman that did not crave chocolate no more. Weakness became my foe and powerful I became.

Visiting the market opened my eyes to how vegetables genuinely come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Those potatoes that you just bought they used to be covered in mud. One day I remember I had to make the  salad (by the way the dressing was just lime juice, it is so amazing) and I found myself trying to figure out what this weird long looking vegetable was suppose to be. At first I thought it must be a courgette that did not get enough sunlight but then I was told that it is a cucumber. This cucumber was not thin or perfectly straight or even green, but it was the juiciest cucumber ever. A fruit or a vegetable does not have to look perfect for it to taste good good. Yes, that is a life lesson, you’re welcome.

Coming back from my travels I wanted to have a chocolate bar. The reason why I wanted a chocolate bar was because finally I had access. How was my first chocolate bar?  Let’s just say the chocolate bar was not devoured in heavenly bliss. After I felt like my taste buds betrayed me I tried dark chocolate (70 per cent) and we got married.

The dreams I had about Nando’s, pizza, fried chicken.. (the list my friend is never ending) did not become a reality since I have come home. The urge, the need, the cravings are no more, 9/10 the main meal is enough and snacking has become a myth. However that does not mean that I will ever give up on my apple pie and vanilla ice cream.

Mama Africa and her children

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.

 

I went minimal

.. 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.