I’m Never Leaving Africa!

It’s mid-April and I’ve published exactly two blog posts in 2018. That’s including this one.

You know what the worst part is? One of my New Year’s resolutions was to become a more active blogger, to share my tips and stories with you in this longer format. Instead I have 151 article drafts and guilt sitting on my shoulders, enjoying the piggy back ride.

There’s a good reason for my absence though. As you’ll know if you follow me on Instagram and Facebook, I’ve been travelling around Africa since the beginning of the year. But my trip was more than a happy-g0-lucky backpacking adventure. I came out here as part of the #Faces2Hearts project organised by the European Union.

It’s a wonderful initiative, focused on sharing the stories of local people and how their lives are changing thanks to EU support. My time with Faces2Hearts was life-changing, and I say that without cringing. I’ve grown so much as a person and I owe it all to the people I met along the way.

From female entrepreneurs who aren’t afraid to shake up social norms to hardworking school children, from men who are fighting to protect their communities to village leaders eager to embrace change, every single one of them left a deep imprint on my soul. In the mountains of Ethiopia, forests of Uganda, beaches of Tanzania and lakes of Malawi, the journey into the locals’ hearts made mine grow at least twofold. If you haven’t yet check out this blog where I shared all my stories.

Exploring the colourful labyrinth that is Mercato in Addis Ababa.

But now the time has come for me to get back to what I do best and that’s running my own business! One of the biggest perks of being Girl vs Globe is my ability to work from anywhere in the world. I’ve known that ever since I turned this little corner of the Internet into a full-time job but never quite took advantage of it.

Sure, I’ve lived in four different cities since graduating university in the summer of 2015. But they weren’t exactly offbeat choices – London, Manchester, Glasgow, Vienna. I liked each of them in its own right but never felt properly relaxed. There was always a deadline hovering over my head like a poisonous cloud. I couldn’t go a single day without feeling miserable because I failed to live up to my self-imposed idea of who I should be.

Despite not working a traditional job I was trapped within that familiar old cycle. I wanted to advance, to make more money, to be more respected by my peers. I craved the same outdated version of success everyone else does. My job title made me sound more enlightened than my friends in the rat race but I really wasn’t.

Back home in England, sipping on a £4 Insta-worthy latte.

As you’ve no doubt guessed from the title of this post, my journey around Africa didn’t come to an end when my time in the Faces2Hearts project did. No ma’am. I was supposed to leave Malawi on March 21 but it’s been nearly a month and I’m still here.

Looking from the outside in it barely sounds surprising. “A travel blogger decided to take some time out to travel? Wow Marge, pass the popcorn.” I get it, sarcastic inner voice. The truth is that the decision shocked me more than anyone.

I’m not an impulsive person. Dropping everything to travel without an end date, to explore remote villages where I’m forced to disconnect from the Internet is very unlike me. It limits my ability to make money, meet clients and liaise with brands. It limits my ability to work – something we workaholics generally find hard to swallow.

But you know what? I’m finally realising that taking time away from being “productive” and working nonstop is one of the smartest things a person can do. Backpacking around Malawi has been one of the best and most liberating decisions I’ve ever made. Ever.

It’s allowed me to truly take a step back and hit the reset button on my life. I’ve finally made time to reflect and ask myself all the tough questions I shied away from for years. At the risk of sounding like a cliché backpacker, I know I’ll look back in five years and be grateful I awarded myself this opportunity at the tender age of 24. Choosing the right path before I hit my thirties and embark on grand new adventures like starting a family is more important than I can even comprehend.

Doing a bit of grocery shopping at the Bwaise slum in Kampala, Uganda.

I’m turning a quarter of a century old this October. Although I’m still very young that is a long way to have spent on this planet. I’ve celebrated 24 birthdays, travelled to 42 countries and eaten more than 26,280 meals. It’s far from nothing. So I think it’s high time I tried to get to the bottom of a question that is both simple and incredibly difficult. Who do I want to be?

I know travel and writing will play a big role in my future. But there are a lot of things I could do that include both. To better understand which lifestyle would suit me best I first need to get to know myself. Because you know what? I really don’t seem to know myself that well.

It turns out travelling just for the sake of travelling doesn’t fulfil me. It turns out making money just for the sake of making money doesn’t fulfil me either. In short, it turns out I’m a pretty hard woman to please and I’m slowly realising that’s a good thing.

Not being content with settling for “just ok” has forced me to make a lot of difficult decisions, but all of them have led me exactly where I am. I’m an independent self-employed woman with a prestigious political science degree and the ability to speak five languages. But more importantly, for the first time ever, I feel like I’m more than that.

In meeting all these wonderful people during my time in Africa I’ve found something within myself. It isn’t something I learned through schooling or earned by working hard. It’s something I’ve had all along, completely independent of any achievements. It’s something every single one of us has within their grasp.

Exploring the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

I’m still trying to find the right word for it but it lies on the crossroads between kindness, consideration and patience. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve not always been the nicest person to be around. Stress, self-imposed or external, can make me into someone I’m not particularly proud of. But I’m beginning to find myself working through problems without that dark and bitter energy that used to accompany them. Because dark and bitter may sound delicious, but energy isn’t chocolate.

It’s been a subtle shift, one I thought would go unnoticed by the world around me. But you know what? The change in how others treat me has been more dramatic than any I’d ever noticed before. People go out of their way to get to know me. They approach me and strike up conversation, curious to learn more about who I am. Whenever I speak they really listen.

This is partly because I’m in Malawi, one of the friendliest countries in the world. But it’s more than that and I’m excited to spend the rest of my life honing in on what it is. Maybe it’s the smile painted into the creases of my face. Maybe it’s my newfound confidence. Maybe it’s the feeling of calm that meeting incredible people all over Africa has brought into my heart.

I will eventually leave Africa of course, in ten days in fact. But I’m beginning to understand one simple fact – that Africa will never leave me. It’s part of who I am now.

Have you ever had a realisation like this during your travels? Is there a particular experience that helped you get to know yourself better than ever before?

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