Crammed into the plane with hardly an inch of personal space, tears streamed down my cheeks. Heading to a new continent, I knew I should be happy, excited, and eager for this new adventure. But the feelings were mixed and a bitterness rested on my tongue.
I never wanted to go to Africa alone.
I booked the ticket 9 months ago to go see my best friend in Cape Town. I would stay with her and we would travel together—that was the plan. But people and life are unpredictable and a few months later she told me she was moving to another country to be with a boy and wouldn’t be there when I arrived.
Shocked, angry, and hurt, I pondered what to do. I was scheduled to arrive the week before Christmas; did I really want to be alone in Africa on Christmas? Of course not. Meanwhile, my relationship with the guy I’d met in Thailand was developing and I agreed to come live with his family in New Zealand for a while. I postponed my ticket to Africa by a few months and we decided he would join me on the trip.
Then his father suddenly died on the day I arrived, and chaos ensued (read the whole story here). A month later I found myself living in Queenstown, still alone in a foreign country on Christmas, but with the exciting plans of a few more months of living in New Zealand and then traveling to Africa with the man I loved.
But everything slid out of control from there.
Desperate for a place to live, I moved in with a middle aged Korean couple that turned out to be absolute lunatics. They had all kinds of militant rules and I spent my days walking on eggshells in fear they would blow up at me. One Sunday morning the man dragged me out of bed and, while I stood in the kitchen in my bathrobe with sleepy eyes, berated me over a smudge on a single water glass that I apparently hadn’t properly washed.
He set up a security camera more to spy on me than for any kind of potential burglars, and then falsely accused me of tampering with it. The harassment reached a point where I didn’t feel safe at home, so I spent a week homeless, sleeping on others’ floors, couches, and garages. Eventually I was able to find a new place to live but even after I’d left the angry barrage of messages continued. I’m not going to lie, though… I scrubbed some dirt off the floor with his toothbrush on the last day. Sometimes maturity is beyond me.
Meanwhile, I had started a new job that also proved to be a nightmare. The management sucked my soul dry and while I worked 50 hour weeks with barely a break on most days, I was still made to feel like a lazy and incompetent worker. I went home physically and emotionally exhausted every day, and for the majority of two months all I did was work, sleep, and cry. There was no love lost on the day I left that job.
In the last week of my job, my grandma died. Then it turned out I had a hookworm parasite. Sometimes I would stare at the sky and ask what else could possibly go wrong—was I also going to be abducted by aliens and used for extra terrestrial research? My life was becoming a sad country song. But I should’ve known it could still get worse.
At last, my stressful job ended, I was living in a new house with my boyfriend, and I even got rid of the parasite. I had 6 weeks of easy living and travel around New Zealand planned before our flight to Africa. Things were starting to look up.
But then, two days later, I got the email from his ex-girlfriend and all of his lies caught up with him. In a heartbeat my reality changed.
To be honest, I already knew a lot of what she told me. I had managed to gloss over the truth and convince myself that I believed his lies, though deep down I’d always known I didn’t. It’s strange how the heart can blind us. But some new information ripped the rose colored glasses from my eyes and proved a tipping point. I couldn’t continue with this anymore—I could no longer pretend it was what I so badly wanted it to be.
I changed my ticket to South Africa (for the fourth time) and left three weeks later.
Over the months since she had canceled our plans, I had been grappling with my anger and disappointment with my friend. I struggled with how I should feel, and what the appropriate response would be. Was it right to be angry? Or should I understand and simply bless her decision to choose someone else over me?
One day I was on the phone with a close friend back home and I realized that we, too, had had a falling out years ago—also because of a man. It had taken time but we’d worked through it and I was grateful to still call her my friend. I realized in that moment the importance of forgiveness and that sometimes you can’t hold it against someone for following their heart, however flawed their methods.
Ironically, my friend messaged me a few days later and told me she wouldn’t be going away after all. We reconnected in Cape Town and as I write this we are staying together in a house overlooking a beautiful river and enjoying wine soaked days in the sun. I’ve been grateful to have her, not least of all because coming alone to a foreign country while dealing with the emotional fallout of a breakup is no small feat.
To be honest, I was absolutely terrified to come to Africa alone. Each person I spoke to about it warned me at length about the dangers I would face. But worse than the crime, I feared returning to the single life and having to rely only on myself again while traveling. After everything that’s happened in the last few months, I doubted my emotional ability to tackle traveling in a dangerous new country with heartache weighing me down.
It was tempting to call it quits, to throw in the towel and buy a ticket home. My family would have rejoiced and no one would have held it against me. But I knew I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I gave up. I had embarked on a journey with a goal to see it through to the end, and I wasn’t ready to let a little breakup get in the way of it.
The real reason I am traveling through Africa alone is not because a friend cancelled our plans or because a man broke my heart—to say that would be giving too much credit to others. I am traveling through Africa alone because it is something I wanted to do and I wasn’t willing to let the actions of others compromise my dream of traveling the world. I bought a ticket to Africa, damn it, and I wasn’t going to waste it.
The last six months have been wholly unpredictable but as terribly cliché as it sounds I’m only stronger for it. Tomorrow I leave for a 3-week overland safari trip through 4 countries in southern Africa. I’ll sleep in a tent, spend hours on end in a truck, and probably not bathe very often. I’ll sing all of the Lion King songs and play the Toto song on repeat. It will be the ultimate adventure, and it’s exactly what I need.