“Y esto no es casualidad.”
– Sensualidad, Bad Bunny, J Balvin & Prince Royce
Given the opportunity, I must confess that it is not a physical place or a geographical location I would escape to, but rather a state of mind — that is, to be alone and on my own. This can be done from anywhere in the world, but nothing makes you feel more alone than undertaking a journey into the unknown, with no other familiar soul for company.
The last time I’d embarked on a solo expedition was last summer to Rwanda and Uganda, where I had the most incredible time after having thrown all my initial fears and reservations out the window. I climbed a volcano, canoed halfway across a lake to the island of my destination, and roamed Kigali on the back of motorcyles — in such close physical proximity to strange men too, which, considering my female, Muslim, and hijabi status, even compounded the feeling of scandal associated with such an act.
I remember taking a moto taxi from a crafts market to a mosque in the neighborhood of Nyamirambo one afternoon in Kigali. I had incidentally arrived just after the afternoon (asr) prayers had ended, and the (predominantly male) congregation was dispersing. I still recall the look of reserved shock, curiosity, and amusement on the men’s faces as they saw me get off the motorcycle, give the driver a big smile as I paid him, and unashamedly walk towards the women’s entrance.
I became good friends with a Senegalese tailor I also met in Nyamirambo, who specialized in the making of bazins. I spent quite some time in his shop reminiscing about West Africa and his motherland in particular, which I’d had the fortune of visiting when we lived in Guinea a few years back. We discussed the ongoing Kenyan elections at that time. I was very impressed to hear that he had been trading in East Africa for more than twenty years, and had immersed himself quite comfortably into local life there. Indeed, the first greeting he directed to me when I entered the shop was “Habari?”, which means “How are you?” in Kiswahili — the lingua franca of this part of Africa.
I’ve missed these little mischiefs I would always be up to when I travel alone. I enjoy the thrill of walking down the street unaccompanied; to feel all the twenty kilos of the weight I am carrying on my shoulder, because it teaches me the meaning of (self-) reliance and resilience. I love the surprise waiting to be uncovered in every encounter, to feel gratitude for the kindness of random strangers without even knowing to whom this gratitude should be directed. I relish in this total freedom and autonomy to do as I please, from the moment I wake up to when I lay my head down to sleep at night after a whole day of absorbing all things novel. All my social responsibilities are suspended for the time being, which leaves me with much room for exploring the world both external and internal to me.
Places to me are as much a product of our mind and how we process our surroundings as they are the physical aspects of our environment. And this is why I feel, at times like these when even my beloved Cambridge starts to feel stifling, it is perhaps quite possible to escape to somewhere I’d rather be, without even leaving my seat…