Category Archives: An Author Abroad (Travel)

Our Trip to Portugal: Part Two

Here’s the details from the other half of our trip…

Airbnb

Ever since I decided to travel for myself, I have stayed (or tried to) in AirBnbs. If you’ve never used it, give it a try. You can opt to stay in a house, a spare room, or a shared room depending on your budget. It is the perfect way to travel on a budget because you can get a great little home for half the price of a hotel (at times). And it makes for a unique experience, where you feel like a local rather than a tourist using a hotel.

Our AirBnb was a studio “apartment” with its own mini dining table, mini sofa, microwave, hob, kettle, double bed, sink, big bathroom, small cable tv, amazing entrance with stairs and a mini garden, and it even came was a three-legged dog that we named Champion (this is from a tv show called Parks and Recreation, go watch it; my brother’s girlfriend mentioned it and it just stuck for the whole trip!)

We loved it. It was close to the beach, about a 10-minute drive, and so we ended up going to Praia da Faro 4 times. It had cafes and shops close-by, too. The best thing was that it was close to the airport, so when we had to wake up at 5am, we didn’t have far to go in the Uber to catch our flight.

I am so grateful to Julio, our host, as he suggested we visit Sagres, which is right at the end of the South of Portugal. I had planned for us to drive to Albufeira and Lagos,  but I didn’t think Sagres was close enough to Faro. It was Julio who said it would be worth the 2-hour drive, and so we did it. And he was so right. We saw sights like no other…

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Nature

Aside from the food, or perhaps alongside the food, the best thing was the nature we saw. I read a quote recently that said, “Everyone should have themselves regularly overwhelmed by nature.” I feel that it was so apt that I read this whilst we were away, because I was incredibly overwhelmed by what I saw.

I am a very emotional person. I love and hate this about myself. But it was only a good thing that I was emotion when myself and Patrick got out of our car, wrapped up in jackets and jeans, and then ascended the hill to find the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life. Sagres, where we were, is called “The End of the World” which is so appropriately named. I felt like I was looking at the end of the world, over the cliffside, and staring out at the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. Seeing the edges of the cliffside, cut by the waves that weren’t vicious, but instead glorious.

I haven’t travelled far. I haven’t seen much. There are so many times that I have felt like the world is against me, and that it is ugly, and that it is unfair. But that view proved me ever so wrong. It showed me that my problems are so, so small. That I am capable of so much more than I realise. And that the world can never, ever be truly ugly. The sea may be cutting those rocks, but in doing so, it is creating something so wonderful. If nature can be that beautiful, how can the cuts from my life be seen as ugly?

Thank you, nature, for showing me that when I truly needed it.

Then Lagos gave us the opportunity to explore and sit amongst the rock formations, looking over the edge at the ocean, the boats, the waves washing over the rocks, and the cloudless sky above. It was…ineffable.

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Communication

We learned a few Portuguese phrases before our trip. These were “hello”, “do you speak English?”, and “thank you”. The whole trip, we said hello and thank you, of course. But we hadn’t yet used our key phrase, “do you speak English?” And so, I made it my duty to do so. When we were ordering our lunch at McDonald’s, I went up to the counter and ever so bravely and fluidly said “Voce fala Ingles?” I felt like a rockstar, I’m not going to lie! The young man smiled and said that he did speak a little bit (which I understood because it kind of sounded like Pequeno which is “a little” in Spanish, which I learned in my GCSEs!)

I loved that throughout the whole trip, I found myself saying “that word’s like such-and-such in Spanish.” My 16-year-old self was coming out, remembering the language I used to love learning. I received a B grade for Spanish in my GCSEs, and apparently, a lot of the words had stuck with me, even if I didn’t realise it. Thank you, Portugal, for reminding me that I love foreign languages. I really hope I can kick myself into gear and start learning more languages and brush-up on the Spanish, French, and Japanese that I already know parts of.

Sightseeing

Of course, no trip abroad is complete without sightseeing. We spend some time on the beach, chilling and reading and having a tussle. We parasailed and went on a boat to see the coastline caves and the vastness of the ocean. But we also had to look around at the monuments, the culture, and the town.

We were staying in Faro, and so we looked around their Old Town. This didn’t take long, as there’s not much to see really. We loved the rickety old trains, the marina, the pastel coloured buildings, the graffiti, the statues, and the cathedral. It was awesome to eat whilst we looked over at the ocean, watching boats bob atop the gentle waves. In Lagos, we looked around their town a bit, too. It was amazing to just wonder and accidentally find hidden gems like cacti, palm trees (huge and miniature), dogs and cats, dirt paths leading to the water’s edge, and gelato shops.

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All in all, Portugal was just what I needed, right when I needed it. I got to relax under the sun, sand in-between my toes and tickling my back. I got to read without feeling like I was getting a quick chapter in before bed or before starting my work. I just got to read unapologetically, with no time limit. I got to not only see the ocean, not only put a foot in the ocean, not only brave the waves of the ocean on a bobbing sickly boat, but also see the ocean from 80m in the sky on the parasailing! That’s pretty incredible.

I got to eat, and eat well. I got to sing along to the radio on the best road-trip-like journeys I’ve ever been on. And most of all, I got to do it all with my best friend. We changed and grew and experienced it all together, which is all I ever want for us. There is no one else I would have wanted to scream with in the air in the parachute or marvel at the rock formations that were Google-picture-worthy.

Thank you for the trip of a lifetime, and here’s to many more!

Our Trip to Portugal: Part One

We have just come back from Portugal, and I for one had a great time – to say the least. It was the best holiday I’ve ever been on, full of so much than the basics. It wasn’t just chillin’ on the beach. It wasn’t just sightseeing. It wasn’t all adrenaline and thrill-seeking, either. It was a beautiful blend of them all in one amazing 5-day treat.

I’m going to segment the trip into sections that best describe what happened. So, let’s begin…

Fears

Oh, there were so many fears. Firstly, there was the night before we left. My sister had not long left for Thailand to travel alone for a month. I was scared for her and missed her already, and so it had brought on my anxiety. I was feeling overwhelmed by everything that was going on, and it made me afraid to go on the trip.

There was nothing scary about it, because I’d planned it out and knew there would be food that I liked and I knew where the Airbnb was, so I had nothing to fear. Yet my mind was doing overtime, and my body was alight with anxiety.

During the flight I was okay-ish, and when we arrived – thankfully – I felt excited. We collected our hire car and we were a-go. I felt good. It was only now and then that I worried again, like when we first ate.

Before every meal, I got a little worried – naturally, as a socially anxious person who has trouble with public eating. The next time I got dreadfully anxious was on the first night. Well, I’m not sure I was anxious but I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep again and had to keep going to the bathroom. It set me back and was unnerving.

But I was good again in the daytime, and ate so well, and had so much fun. The only other times I got scared was the night before the boat trip and then the night before going home, too.

I don’t do boats, like not at all. And so naturally, I was incredibly terrified to go on one for 2 whole hours. And our flight was leaving at 7:30am and so we had to leave the Airbnb at 5:15am and the early rise worried me in case we missed it.

But we didn’t.

I had fears, but none of them changed the trip or made me opt out of anything. I let them be, felt the fear, and did what I wanted to do anyway. So, go me.

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Driving

Patrick, my partner, was the driver for the trip. And he was amazing. Truly faultless (don’t tell him I said that). They drive on the right-hand side, and the steering wheel is on the left, so he had to get used to that. But there was no getting used to it for him, he took to it right away like a pro.

Driving in Portugal, well the Algarve, is definitely a must. We were able to visit 4 cities in our 5 days because of it. This was Faro (where we landed and stayed), Sagres, Lagos, and Albufeira. The driving gave us the opportunity to do this, and made the trip truly worthwhile.

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Adrenaline

The highlight of the trip was also a terrifying element of the trip. We went parasailing. Now, this was incredible. I’ve always been intrigued by certain extreme sports or thrill-inducing activities, but I haven’t had the chance to try them out and I’ve not had much nerve, either. But when I saw that it was a possibility with the same company that we were using to go on the boat to see the caves on the coast and the dolphins, I saw it as a sign. “Siana, it’s time you did something awesome…” And I listened, despite being afraid.

I like that good-afraid feeling. The feeling of being scared to do something, but knowing that the something you’re about to do is going to be great. I for one want more of those feelings in my life, and I’m so glad that Portugal provided several of those feelings. The parasailing, the boat and caves, the driving around, the cliffside sights, and the food.

The views when parasailing was breathtaking and it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime sight. I know my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles, didn’t get to see what I saw. They’re travelled a little, but not as much as I plan to. I’m able to see the world, unlike them, and so it is my duty to see it. And be changed by every moment of it.

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Culture

We found it odd that there were so many stray dogs and cats. Even dogs that did have owners were walking in and out of their gates just like our cats do! It was weird but cool at the same time. I also liked that in the shops, they have open dog food bags where you can scoop-up a Tupperware tub of dog food and feed the stray dogs. So cool!

There was a sea of white buildings everywhere, too, that acted like a blank canvas for the many graffiti artists in Algarve. Our buildings in the UK are so different and distinct that you can tell a shop from a house and so on. But not in Portugal. We had to really look to find shops or restaurants. Everything blended into one another which was nice for the scenery, but annoying when you were hungry!

The people of Portugal were all lovely. The service was immense for the most part. Even when we used Uber on the last day after we’d given the car back, we realised that Uber is way better in Portugal than in the UK. Everyone was lovely. The drivers asked if the temperature was OK for us; they offered us sweets. And the best part was…we had our first female driver! How great is that?!

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Food

The best thing about the trip was the food – hands down. As you know, I haven’t always had a great relationship with food. I’ve always been a “fussy eater” and I’ve been socially anxious in restaurants since I was a teen.

But not this time.

No. I ate so much good food on the trip, not ordering the safe thing on the menu and eating it all with ease in public. And every day, we tried fish. This is huge as we’re new to fish. And I even ate a fish with it’s head on! It felt immense. It was euphoric! It was truly life-changing for me. I’m so proud of myself, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come…

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Stay tuned for part two where I talk more about what we did and what we saw…

“How Africa Changed Me” – Chapter 4

Chapter 4

I Can’t Do This

It was so funny when amidst the sea of Zimbabweans flooding toward me, I saw Patrick’s nan (so named Gogo, meaning grandmother in Shona) rushing with open arms, saying “Siana, I love you!” She by-passed her own daughter and grandchildren in order to embrace me! How great is that! She suddenly remembered that she doesn’t know much English, though, before drifting off away from me. Ah well, I got the best greeting so I still win.

We unpacked the car and even though my heart was violently trying to break free from my chest like something from the Alien movie, I went inside the house. The journey there had been fine compared to arriving. The journey is simply a means to an end. There’s still the unknown and anticipation and perhaps even excitement, for normal people anyway. But the arrival is all too…final. “I’m here. I now know what I’m in for and…I feel unsettled.” Was I disappointed? Shocked? Anxious as per usual for no real reason.

The word I settled on in the end was ‘overwhelmed’.

Overwhelmed by the thirty-plus members of Patrick’s family squished into the living room.

Overwhelmed by the smell of food being cooked that I was afraid to eat as a socially anxious, “fussy” eater who was used to British food.

Overwhelmed by the longest journey of my life that I had just endured with little to no rest.

Overwhelmed by the multitude of thoughts swarming my head.

The number of introductions we had to do.

The loud sound of people talking over one another drumming in my ears.

The look of the house that was to be my home.

The idea of sharing a room with Patrick’s nan and sister but not him.

The language I did not know.

The knowledge that this discomfort was going to last two weeks, and I had no control over my situation at all…

Maybe you’re normal and you’re thinking, “Whoa, buddy, chill. You’re in Africa, just enjoy it.” Well if you’re that person, then shut up. I can’t think that way, OK? I just have a literal inability to do so. If you’re abnormal, like me, then hopefully you’re nodding your head and feeling my pain. It’s the latter kind of person who will benefit most from this book, by the way, because if you think like me, you’ll feel like me and hopefully my experiences will touch and inspire you in the same way that they did me.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I didn’t sit there screaming and crying and ignoring people – I was respectful enough to do that in private. Instead, I smiled and hugged people and tried to remember their names, whilst suppressing the need to throw up from anxiety-overload.

There’s something you should understand about Zimbabweans – they don’t go by their birth names if they have children. Instead, they are called Baba Such-and-Such or Amai Such-and-Such, which translates to Father INSERT FIRST BORN’S NAME HERE and Mother INSERT FIRST BORN’S NAME HERE. So, Patrick’s mom is called Amai Patrick and his dad is Baba Patrick. The uncle that we were living with was called Baba Precious because his eldest child was his daughter, Precious.

At first it was very confusing, but then I realised it kind of helped me to know who was tied to who and how. I sort of wished I knew their real names as well, though, because it proved difficult to find them on Facebook afterwards. Shame. When we first arrived, everyone was stuffed into the living room and Patrick’s mom introduced EVERYONE and how they were related. Funny, I was introduced as Patrick’s “friend”. Yeah, 3 years of being just “close friends”, sure…

I was literally falling asleep from exhaustion as Baba Precious then went on and on about sleeping arrangements and…something else. I couldn’t concentrate properly, though; I’m sorry, Baba Precious. It was too much after everything that was going on inside of my head. I just kept thinking, ‘can we talk about this later?’

At the first chance I got, I slipped into the back room to figure out how to contact my mom. Yes, I hadn’t spoken to her or even breathed yet. Oh, and did I mention that we were told there was Wi-Fi…but there was NOT!

World ended.

Lives lost.

Total anarchy and annihilation.

This was definitely the shock of a lifetime for Diana, Patrick’s sister, but all I worried about was having no easy, free way to contact my mom and my family like I’d thought. I had assured all of them that there was Wi-Fi, so I’d be able to message them on WhatsApp whenever I was home – but suddenly it felt as if my leg had been cut off. Patrick’s mom said they’d get Wi-Fi tomorrow and I said I needed to tell my mom that I was safe and they were like “oh yeah” as if it wasn’t a big deal. After a lot of fuss and distractions that did not help to calm me at all, I ended up borrowing one of his cousin’s phones to call my mom on WhatsApp using her data.

The call didn’t work several times and I was on the brink of tears. How could the universe do this to me? I just needed my mom, was that so much to ask for? Finally, I heard my mom’s voice. It’d only been a day and a bit, but already I missed her so much. It seems we take our mothers for granted more than we realise. When they’re no longer easily accessible, we can crumble – no matter our age.

And crumble I did.

Piece by piece, I feel apart in that small back room in South Africa, worrying my boyfriend so much that he grabbed hold of me in an attempt at savouring my broken exterior. I tried not to, I swear. Of course, I didn’t want to worry my mom when we both knew full-well that there was nothing she could do to “save me.” It’s crazy but somehow, I wanted her to say that it was OK to do what I was thinking of doing.

Go home.

I know you’re screaming at the page, incredulous that I’d even consider running home after I’d gone all that way. Or maybe you’re like me and you completely understand my thinking.

However, my mom did not allow me to come home. She did say these things, though:

That she should have warned me about the conditions and she was so sorry.

That I needed to breathe and recognise that it was just “arrival panic.”

That I had Patrick and so I’d be OK.

That I could go to a hotel if I needed to.

And that I needed to do at least a week, otherwise I’d hate myself.

Little did she know that I hated myself already. Deeply. I didn’t tell her this, though; instead I said:

What was I thinking?

I was so stupid to come here.

Why did I come here?

I’ve tried so goddamn hard so why do I still have to feel this way?

I hate this.

I’m not cut out for this.

I’m overwhelmed. It’s too much.

I can’t do this…

Now, before you judge me or stop reading because you hate whiny, foolish narrators – let me refer you back to the start of the book. I said I was:

  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • Introverted
  • A loser
  • In my early twenties

And so in case you didn’t know, that means:

  • I lack confidence in myself
  • I have a darkened view of myself and the world
  • I feel like a misfit
  • I hate social situations
  • I do not thrive in social situations
  • I am so used to failure that I feel it’s imminent
  • I lack life experience

This isn’t my excuse for all my whining, instead an explanation – yes, they’re different. And I truly believe that a lot of people reading this are the same as me, and therefore it’d be an injustice to pretend that the events of that moment had gone any other way.

So yes, I broke down because a lot of who I am caused me to panic in that situation. Funny, though, I did stay. I cried and still shook when I hung up that phone but I stayed. I didn’t retreat to any of the “safety” ideas that my mom proposed or my mind conjured up, instead I stayed. It was still hard and I kept counting down the days until I would return home (at first) but I stayed.

I stayed. I stayed.

It turns out I could do this. Despite my list of personal inabilities… I freakin’ did it.

“How Africa Changed Me” – Chapter 3

Chapter 3

We Arrive

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need someone. For some reason, in our society it’s a crime to admit you’re human and that you feel things. But yeah, I needed my boyfriend at that moment. Would I have gotten on the plane if he wasn’t there? I can’t know the answer to that. I’d like to think I would, but only god (or whoever) knows that for sure. I needed him, though, and I will forever be grateful for the support he gave me – and still does give me to this day.

MINI RANT ALERT!

I hate society for boxing so many of us up to the point of social isolation, depression, anxiety, inner conflict, and even suicide. Don’t you understand that by telling boys and men that they can’t express their emotions, you are causing them to either seek comfort in other ways – anger, alcoholism, aggression and violence, reckless sex, drugs etc. – or to suppress heavy emotions to the point of a breakdown and even suicide? Society has blood on its hands because I truly believe that if we were more inclusive, honest and real in all forms, then so many people could be spared their suffering. Don’t refuse to progress and stop being so closed-minded, society – yes, I mean you.

Rant over.

I could pretend that getting on the plane meant the hardest part was over – like my mom had promised – but no. In this book, I’ve vowed to be honest and real so I shan’t pretend. No, I sat in my seat in the biggest plane I’d ever seen and cried, even with flight attendants and other passengers giving me the stink-eye – “crazy person alert.” As we took off, I gripped my boyfriend and the armrest like my life depended on it, which it did. My boyfriend instructed me to breathe in and out slowly, and bless his heart, he tried to distract me by listing the in-flight films to no avail. His mom kept asking if I was OK and I didn’t have the strength to lie when it was clear that I wasn’t.

Every now and then, I was OK, though. I managed to slow my heart rate to less than a billion beats per minute enough to laugh, watch a bit of a film, or think about food. I say think about food because I didn’t get around to the actual eating it part. When they came round with dinner, which was a shitty tray of chicken and rice or beef and mash, I panicked. I picked at the sweet mash but every mouthful felt so warm against my empty, unsettled belly that I gagged and gave up.

I pocketed the bread roll, though, in case my appetite returned – it did not.

Through the total of 12 hours on planes and 2 hours in cars, I ate half a bread roll, 2 spoonful’s of mash potato, a small piece of chocolate, and some shared crisps. It was safe to say I hadn’t looked after myself but anyone with anxiety will know that it can be so difficult to eat or function at all when you’re feeling high levels of anxiety. Plus, it’s scientifically proven so…yeah.

Rwanda airport was an interesting place. I got through just fine but Diana and Patrick’s dad’s passports were questioned because they still had Zimbabwean ones, whilst Patrick and his mother had British ones. The airport was tiny so as soon as you got off the plane, you found yourself at security. There were a little waiting area and a few gift shops but no food or beverage stalls – unless that beverage was tax-free alcohol. We made the mistake of going through security and waiting in the small space on the other side far too early. We were waiting in that tiny, packed space for ages, and when we needed the toilet, we had to go back through security! Are you frickin’ kidding me?

The second plane wasn’t as long as the first; it was only for 4 hours and I was so weak from not eating that I slept on and off through it. We arrived in Johannesburg midday, where Patrick’s mom’s brother met us. He brought this Jeep-like, big car that was barely holding together, great… I smiled and pretended I wasn’t deathly aware of being thousands of miles away from home as we stuffed our luggage – remember we had 6 suitcases – into the back of the car.

Patrick’s uncle couldn’t see out the back window and apparently, using your tablet or speaking on the phone whilst speeding was a totally fine thing to do – not from where I was sitting, which was wedged in the middle of Patrick and Diana with no seatbelt on and bags all around me. It was the start of my discomfort, which I didn’t realise would carry across the rest of the trip. It also highlighted the start of another problem that would continue across the trip – I didn’t know nearly enough Shona.

In case you don’t know, Shona is one of the prominent languages spoken in Zimbabwe – no they do not speak African in Africa, silly. Since all of my boyfriend’s family were from Zimbabwe, and I was staying with them for 2 weeks, it probably wasn’t a great idea to know a total of 5 phrases in Shona. Yeah, good one, Siana. The drive was about 2 hours long, as I said before, and all it did was put off the inevitable for a while longer – which I was grateful for, really. However, we finally reached his uncle’s house and oh god…

Oh god.

Oh god.

As we were pulling up to his house, we drove through a neighbourhood filled with those tin-like, little shacks that you see on TV as the “slums” or “ghetto” in places like Africa. I knew I wouldn’t be living in luxury but a shed-like shack? I didn’t think I had the discipline. Experience or not, I just couldn’t do it.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to. It seems his uncle’s house was 1 of 2 houses in the area that was an actual house. Real walls, more than one room and no fire outside. I was glad we lived in that neighbourhood, though. A lot of people could benefit from seeing what we did – not on TV, but in real life. It opens your eyes and by god does it inflate your gratitude. It’s not that I’ve ever been much of an ungrateful person anyway, it’s just that there’s nothing like seeing and experiencing what I did to finally give you a real appreciation for what you have compared. My eyes are truly open.

Anyway, we pulled up to the house and the first thing I noticed was the dog. Yes, the big dog. Erm, why did no one warn me about the big dog? I’m not scared of dogs, except you know those rabid ones with big teeth, but a heads-up would have been nice. Like you tell people that kind thing, right? It didn’t take long for me to realise why the dog didn’t seem like something worth warning us about, though. Because he barely moved.

The reason for this was simple – well “obvious” to my mom and uncle, who had grown up with Jamaican parents – the dog was only fed once a day and lived exclusively outside. To us UK, privileged folk, this was outrageous. “You mean a dog can survive without being fed 3 to 4 times a day, trashing the house, jumping up terrified house guests, getting treats and toys, and going on amazing walks to the park where we throw balls and Frisbees that it’ll inevitably chew up or lose so that we have to get another one? Whaaat?”

The dog was called Spike and he mostly sought shade throughout the day, was annoyed by the kids, and barked at strangers passing by the front garden. For some reason, I found him to be a sweet dog and he provided me with some comfort during my time there, even though I was too much of a snob to actually touch him. What a bitch? I’m sorry, Spike.

The second thing I noticed was the swarm of excitable Africans buzzing out of the house towards the car. Literally, there was so many of them. Did I mention my social anxiety? I did, right? What the hell? Back off, people. But no, they did not back off…not for two whole weeks.

“How Africa Changed Me” – Chapter 2

*This is chapter 2 of the series of posts called “How Africa Changed Me”, a book about my experiences for 2 weeks in South Africa.*

Chapter 2

My Chest is on Fire

I’ll try to be less morbid from now on – I’m lying – as the story starts. I had known about the Africa trip for about 7 months before we went. At the time, I was working part time in a store, so I was grateful for the decent amount of time I was given to save up. Making less than £500 a month kind of makes it hard to just buy a ticket to Africa, never mind survive there for 14 days.

During the build up to go, I was given a lot of mixed information:

“It’ll be winter there, but it’ll feel like our summers here in UK.”

“It won’t be that bad.”

“Don’t worry about Shona or religion, you’re overthinking.”

“You’ll like the food.”

“You’ll only need £200.”

Most of these things turned out to be the wrong advice. I guess one of the first lessons I learned in Africa was not to listen to other people when they say “don’t worry”. I’ll worry all I like, sir, because it’s frickin’ warranted.

Anyway, despite the struggles, I managed to buy the £500 ticket, give towards our accommodation, and pack our suitcase. Myself, my boyfriend, his younger sister and his mom were taking the train to London Gatwick airport, while his dad drove down with his friend and our suitcases – because we had 6 of those bad boys, plus hand luggage. I was grateful for this because there was no way my anxiety would have stayed semi-in-check if we had to lug them on two trains and a tube on the way down there.

My mom dropped us at the train station, but perhaps she shouldn’t have. It was so hard to say goodbye. My dad died when I was a kid and my mom has always felt like a best friend. It was only for 2 weeks, I know, but it felt like such a long time to be away from my bestie – and so many miles away, too. And what would happen when the inevitable anxiety attacks came and my mom wasn’t there to help me? It was sweet, though, apparently my mom gave Patrick some tips on how to calm me down. Even when she’s not around, she still protects me.

There’s a picture on my phone that I still stare at sometimes. In it, I’m stood there crying in my mother’s arms at the train station before we left. I look at the picture and I still remember exactly how I felt in that moment. I was terrified. Perfectly petrified. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I didn’t think I could handle it. In fact, I knew I couldn’t handle it. You may think it’s dramatic and crazy because it was only two weeks and I was with my boyfriend and I was going travelling like I always wanted…how could that be so terrifying? Well, I can’t explain it. Anxiety or me or what, I don’t know. All I know is that the picture still has the ability to make my chest feel tight and my eyes teary because I feel how that girl felt, and I feel angry that she felt it. That I felt it. Because you’re kind of right – it was an unnecessary fear. A fear that could have, and almost did, prevent me from going. The fear could have taken that chance of an amazing, eye-opening trip away from me.

And it makes me so sad to know that there are so many others like me out there who won’t go on trips because their heads tell them that they can’t do something that they are perfectly capable of doing – and doing well. What a f*cking joke?

We arrived in good time but his dad was running quite late. Hungry and tired already, we felt irritated waiting around because there’s only so many airport selfies a person can take. Finally, his dad came, we checked-in with a girl who barely understood what she was doing, and through security it was. For some probably crazy reason, getting through security at an airport is the least scary, anxiety-inducing part for me – my head works in mysterious ways. Patrick’s sister on the other hand, had some funny security experiences during our travels. At Gatwick, the metal detector went off as she went through and she threw her hands in the air, shouting “I didn’t do anything!” It was frickin’ hilarious and naturally, myself and my boyfriend didn’t let it go all trip.

“Who took the last sweet?”

“Well, we all know Diana didn’t do it!”

This was the last moment that I felt semi-calm. From then on, the fire of anxiety only grew bigger in my chest.

You know how people say all you need to do is take a deep breath and you’ll be fine? Yeah, well, that doesn’t really work. It may calm you for a second, but as soon as you think of the impending doom around the corner, the fire ignites again. Once the loudspeaker announced our flight and said we could begin boarding, I started to shake, I turned pale and I cried. I cried frantically, like a child who had lost her mother – which I suppose wasn’t far from the truth. I texted all my family saying goodbye, unsure of when I’d next speak to them, and stood up. I thought those anxiety drops that I’d taken were supposed to calm me down but pft, that didn’t work – or perhaps they did, because I got on the plane…

Tears streaming down my face, breathing about a trillion times a minute and clutching my boyfriend’s hand so tight that it looked like I’d float off if I didn’t, but I boarded that god damn plane for the 8-hour flight. And I’m fricking proud of myself because it’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done. To hear the terrifying, anxious thoughts; to feel the fear suppressing and suffocating you, but to take that step anyway – now that’s a real hero.

“How Africa Changed Me” – Chapter 1

*This is chapter 1 of the series of posts called “How Africa Changed Me”, a book about my experiences for 2 weeks in South Africa.*

Chapter 1

Before Africa

I’ve allowed myself only a chapter to quickly tell you about myself. But as I’m writing this, I realise that it is an entirely impossible task because how am I meant to tell you about twenty years of life in only a few pages? And how do I convey it in such a way that you will truly understand who I am and why Africa was such a meaningful and challenging trip for me?

Sugar, I didn’t think this through… Abort!

Maybe I could sum myself up in five “simple” words – introverted, creative, unlucky, anxious, and loser. No, not loser in a cry-me-a-river, feel-sorry-for-me kind of way. Loser in the “I lose a lot” kind of way. I’m a literal loser. So, perhaps I could drop all the other words and sum myself up in just that one word, to save time and all that.

Why, you ask? (OK, you didn’t ask but I’ll tell you anyway).

I’m a loser because I did a year at university before dropping out, whilst my friends continued and got their degrees.

I’m a loser because I’ve self-published three books that no one reads and I don’t have any idea how to market them.

I’m a loser because I have these illnesses called depression and anxiety, each taking it in turns to mess with my life.

I’m a loser because I’ve worked jobs since leaving university that hurt my soul and stomp on my creativity.

I’m a loser because my best friends are my boyfriend, my siblings and my mom. Oh, and my cat. (Yes, I’m kind of a cat lady – except I get laid regularly).

I’m a loser because I doubt myself…every-damn-day.

Boo hoo, right? It could be worse. At least I have a good, loving boyfriend who’s suffered through my bull for three years. At least I’ve not got cancer, or malaria (well, I’ve not gone to Africa just yet), or irritable bowel syndrome, or ginger hair. I’m not ugly or stupid or poor. I should count my blessings.

I tried that once, the whole being a grateful and spiritual and level-headed person thing – but it turns out that my head is all too busy and messed up for that.

Am I painting a decent picture of myself? I’m guessing not so much. But that’s the point. You need to understand that I am not OK. I am not together. I am not strong or a natural-born hero. So, if that’s what you want from this book, you may be disappointed.

I’ve decided that I probably am starting this story all wrong. Instead of lying stark naked, displaying all my flaws, I should be like “so everyone, my name is Siana-Rose, but you can call me Siana, and I’m a budding author who hopes a scary but needed trip to Africa with her boyfriend’s family will give her the enlightenment and push she needs to become who she knows she can be.” Inspiration, intrigue, and all that jazz.

But if you’re reading this then I’m assuming you’re not a 10-year-old who believes everything in life is all rosy. At 10 years old, I was still a budding author but my stories weren’t as “deep” and had a bit too much imagination compared to reality, and often lacked an ending because I became too excited by a new idea to discipline myself to finish a story. So no, 10 years on from that I decided to tip the balance of the imagination to reality ratio, and write a no bullsh*t story for you – that has an ending, too. Lucky you.

I’m writing this because I feel I have to. It’s just leaking out of me. I have this…unique experience that I must share for a variety of reasons.

It’s inspiring.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s touching.

It’s real.

Maybe it won’t be any of those things for you – sorry if so. But the only way to find out is by reading it, right? So, stick around and find out how Africa changed me – this broken, messy want-to-be author who just needed something…anything to relight her spirit.

“How Africa Changed Me” – Intro Chapter

*This is the intro chapter of the series of posts called “How Africa Changed Me”, a book about my experiences for 2 weeks in South Africa.*

 

Intro – “Why Should You Read This Book?”

Because I want you to, OK? I need the money!

Nah, I’m only joking. I guess it is entirely up to you whether or not you choose to read this book. If you choose to follow and read it all, I appreciate the support and from the bottom of my heart, I truly hope that it helps you in some way or another. I wrote this book because I wanted it to reach someone out there who is (or was) just like me and needed some inspiration, and perhaps they themselves haven’t been to Africa but maybe reading about someone like them who has been could get them thinking.

That’s it! I want you to think!

No, not in an annoying way; I just want you to open up your mind, I guess. I want to teach you something without you feeling like you’re being taught anything at all. I want to speak to a friend about a deep experience of mine; it’s just that the “friend” I chose to speak to happens to be a worldwide audience. I don’t have many real friends, you see.

I was going to make this book a fiction because I wanted to protect people’s privacy and I felt like no one would want to read about lil ole me. But then I remembered that this is my story, not some made-up character’s story, and only I can tell it from my own soul in my own voice. That is the only way someone, anyone, could appreciate and connect with it. So here it is, win or lose.

People always talk about how travel is healthy and changes you and can do all of these wonderful things. I believed them but I didn’t realise how right it was until I first went to Budapest, Hungary by myself, and then again when I went to Africa. These trips were polar opposites. In Hungary, I was alone; I was there for 3 days total; I was in control of what I did and did not do; and I was completely alone. However, in Africa, I was there for 14 days; met a total of 46 people whilst I was out there; wasn’t in control of anything at all; and I was never, ever alone. Polar opposites but both ever so necessary and rewarding for who I was and where I was at that point in my life.

So, that’s why I’m writing about my trip to Africa. But why should you read about it? What good does it do you to read about a person you don’t know who did a thing you don’t really care about? Well, this book is for others like me. Maybe if I’d read a book like this some time ago it would have changed my perspective on my life – even a little bit.

This book will work best for the following kinds of people:

  • Lost people
  • Twenty-somethings
  • People with mental health difficulties
  • Sad people
  • Inexperienced people
  • Lacking people
  • Curious people

And yes, that’s because the aforementioned people are exactly like me.