Amy Roberts: Feeling at home half a world away
I’m not sure the decision was a conscious one, it sort of evolved organically. Decades ago, long before text messages could instantly inform you of a change of plans, I spent over an hour in a bookstore waiting for a friend I was due to meet. She was stuck at work and had no way to let me know.
Unaware of her situation, I passed the time browsing through the international travel section on the second floor of a now-closed Barnes and Noble. I remember picking up Frommer’s and the Lonely Planet guides, flipping through their pages, and yearning to see these places for myself. One day.
At the time, I was still in college. I assumed I’d follow a traditional path — I’d finish school, get a job, followed by a husband and some kids. We’d be the family to rebel against places like Disneyland and Carnival Cruises. Those places that filled the Frommer’s pages — with pictures of mountain gorillas and women weaving colorful baskets as their children happily danced to music played through the horn of an impala — that’s where we’d go.
A year or two after graduating, I started fantasizing about those books in the international travel section, devoting far more time to them than I ever did to the idea of a husband and kids. By then I was working in a newsroom, longing to become a travel correspondent. Mostly I was assigned to covering murders and other hard news.
After a particularly awful day, one where I was congratulated for my breaking news coverage — which happened to include the death of a five-year old — I called a travel agent and simply said, “Get me to Africa.” I remembered reading about Tanzania at a book store and suggested that might be a good place when she asked me to narrow it down by at least 1,000 miles.
Undoubtedly, that serendipitous call became a serendipitous trip that changed my life — birthing my wanderlust. Twenty years later, my passport looks like a tattooed circus lady.
One new adventure after the next — I have always enjoyed that part the most. Finding a new destination to explore, people to meet, and cultures to submerge myself in, then returning home to plan the next trip, without so much as a glance back towards the last. I’m the travel equivalent of a one-night stand.
But Africa has always been my beacon, drawing me back in spite of my roaming heart. It’s where I go when I need to recalibrate my soul, when I need to be reminded of what really matters. It’s like precise night-vision binoculars that allow me to see through all the crap I get so easily caught up in.
People are often curious, sometimes wary, when I excitedly yap about returning.
“Aren’t you afraid? It’s dangerous there,” they say. And I wonder if they remember Sandy Hook or a nightclub in Orlando or a concert in Vegas.
“It’s riddled with disease,” they’ll tell me. And I question how many people they know with cancer or diabetes or high blood pressure.
“You can’t drink the water there,” they’ll offer.
“Flint, Michigan,” I reply.
Finally, when they suggest Africa is corrupt and filled with unrest and disorder, I mutter something about Washington, D.C.
I’ve been there the past three weeks, seeing in color once again. I spent most of my time at the Okanvango Guiding School’s Kwapa Camp, located deep in the wilds of Botswana. I went to take a class and learn more about the safari industry. Instead, I learned more about myself.
While it’s true I often don’t want to leave a place, the sentiment has always been rooted in awe and inspiration, not a dread of returning home. This time though, that wasn’t the case. I wanted to stay because I was surrounded by compassionate people, whose kindness and knowledge and excitement was contagious. I wanted to stay because I didn’t want to care about the President’s latest tweet and because I didn’t want to return to a country where someone will read this and call me unpatriotic, then suggest a moderate form of torture to teach me a lesson. I didn’t want to leave because I didn’t want to return to a nation and a president I felt the need to apologize for time and time again.
As I sit in an airport halfway across the globe, slowly making my way back to America, I am already planning my next trip back to the continent I love, realizing I feel more at home there than I do in my own country.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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