I’ve been feeling very directionless lately. After a long weekend in Minnesota with my family, I got back to Atlanta. I dreamt about my old job that first night. It makes sense, given that the apartment I live in is also where I worked, where I spent 11 weeks indoors during the pandemic, not leaving once, drowning myself in my job. On my flight back to America, I had created a vision of all of the things I wanted to do while I was back home, of the things I wanted to write, the tasks I needed to accomplish, of the new lifestyle I was going to create. But within 48 hours, I was stuck. I had fallen back into some old habits that I thought I had rid myself of. It’s strange, I could sit at a local café anywhere in the world, like I am now, and just write, and write, and write. I could come up with and execute on so many ideas, yet in the comfort of my very expensive apartment, I was at a standstill. I don’t know what this means, or what to do with it, but I recognize it and it gives me something to ponder.
I’m at a point where I feel very lost, wondering what I am trying to accomplish with this journey that has taken so many different shapes over a very short period of time. I see friends, family, and colleagues who seem to know exactly what they want out of life, and they are going after it…and getting it. How can someone be so confident in their life choices and know that at the end of their life they will have done everything they wanted to? I envy you all, and that’s a feeling I’m not used to.
I spent a solid two days putting together the next jaunt of my journey. My passport was almost full and I didn’t want to travel over one of the oceans, so I chose a few places left in South America and the Caribbean. It was a last-minute trip that I somehow cobbled together. This would be a distraction, if nothing else, and I am hopeful that some time by the water will help to clear my head.
I booked all of my airline tickets and hotels. And then I started reading about safety and things to do…
Suriname itself is relatively safe…during daylight hours. I was on the one daily flight from America and it landed at midnight. I had arranged for a private driver – Randall – and was escorted out of the airport by the only woman working at the airport. I was grateful for her. She stood with me in the dark parking lot while Randall pulled up the car, holding firmly onto my wheelchair handle, and smiling as we parted ways. I was back to being the only blonde, blue-eyed female, not to mention wheelchair-user, and I reminded myself that I was an easy target. All of that being said, I reminded myself of the incredibly kind people I’ve met all over the world, and that there are more good than bad. And that was exactly how Suriname turned out to be.
Randall and I chatted for the hour-long drive to my hotel, in the middle of the night, on a small backroad in Suriname. He was and is a wonderful man. We talked about his son, and living in Suriname, and his travels. It wasn’t even 20 minutes into our drive that I heard the words so many people have uttered, “Someday I want to come to America…”
Suriname is a small country, mostly covered in rainforest. It’s a former Dutch colony so the people speak Dutch and English. The buildings are a unique architecture of Dutch and South American, and Paramaribo, the biggest city, can be walked across in less than an hour. The people are mostly of African, Indian, and Indonesian descent, a remnant of days before slavery was abolished. This was not the South America I was expecting but I was glad I was there.
The hotel I was staying at had an outdoor flight of stairs to get to the lobby, and no elevator. I knew this when I booked it, and figured I could climb up the stairs if needed, but also know that people all over the world are so grateful to be able to help. The story was no different here, and Randall helped me and my wheelchair up the stairs. I checked in and climbed another two flights of stairs to my room, and when I woke up a few hours later, I couldn’t remember where I was. It was the first time this had happened on my journey, but I felt safe, and rolled over for a few more hours of shuteye.
The next morning, I was late for breakfast and asked if I could just get a coffee. Rochelle, who I came to adore, insisted on making me a breakfast sandwich. We chatted for quite some time before I ventured out into the city. I saw all of the sites, strolled along the sidewalks taking pictures, was stopped a few times by locals to ask where I was from, what I was doing, and so on. Around mid-afternoon, it hit me. I was no longer feeling directionless. The ‘distraction’ I was seeking was right there, it was working. I was back on my high. Now I’m not suggesting that this is a good thing; I can’t continue to run away to faraway lands when I’m confused, but at that moment, I was in my element. Everything was perfect, so I just enjoyed it for what it was worth.
During my time in Atlanta, Tony and I were chatting about my journey. He is my biggest supporter and I am grateful every day to have a partner who allows me to – wants me to – be the best person I can, to grow in ways that I need to have a complete life. So many people have told me that what I am doing takes a lot of bravery. I asked him if thought the same, and he said, “Yes, it takes courage to do what you are doing.” I was lying on the couch, and without even thinking, spat out the words, “What? Living?”
I arrived at the Suriname airport at 5:30 am, before they opened and in the pitch black of the night. I asked the security guard if I could sit by his booth until the airport personnel arrived, and he was so kind to let me stay near him. This was not the international airport that I arrived into, but rather a local airport where smaller planes came in and out. I boarded the tiny plane that would take me to Guyana, and as I took off with 10 other passengers and one pilot, scared out of my mind – both for the flight and the country I was going to, learning only after I made my arrangements how unsafe it can be – I kept telling myself, “This is living. You are living right now.” Ironically, reminding myself that this was living put my mind at ease, and I drifted off to sleep on that short flight.
Like so many things, the media can really get the best of you. After I had booked all of my flights, I started reading about Guyana. If you do a quick Google search on the safety of Guyana, there will be page after page telling you of horror stories around armed robberies, homicides, sexual assault. There isn’t a government in the world that recommends tourists visit Guyana. And I was going alone, as a disabled female. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I had visions of men stealing my backpack, taking my wheelchair from me and leaving me stranded on the side of a street. I was prepared to move a dresser in my hotel room to block the door, so the bad guys wouldn’t find me in the middle of the night.
And then I met Jamal Thomas. Jamal is the gentleman I had hired to take me around for the day. As soon as we met and shook hands, I knew everything was going to be fine. Like everywhere else, there are more good than bad people. Jamal had a very nice car, with tinted windows (I’m assuming for good reason), and he was a burly man. I felt safe and put all of my trust, my entire life, into his hands.
We drove all around the city, stopping at markets and museums, driving past ‘red zones,’ which are areas he knew were unsafe for a foreigner, although he did mention that he would occasionally bring tourists to those areas if they really wanted to. At the end of our tour, he knew I wouldn’t have a chance to try the local food at my hotel, so he insisted on bringing me to a tiny, local restaurant and had lunch with me. He dropped me off at my hotel and insisted on bringing me to the airport the next morning, knowing that I would be more comfortable getting into the car of someone I already knew. I was and am grateful for Jamal, for reminding me of the kind people in this world, and for taking care of me, even at 5 am when I needed to get to the airport before the sun rose.
I am again reminded of the media, of the horror that they sell. It’s incredibly unfair to ruin the stigma of a country based on the few times something horrible has happened. That being said, I know that fear is what ultimately keeps us safe. So, as I planned this trip into Guyana, filled with fear, I am grateful that I had it. If I didn’t, I would have ventured off on my own, totally ignorant, and likely gotten into some trouble. Guyana is the poorest country in South America, and it’s evident everywhere. They border Venezuela and some of the troubles there are bleeding over. There is a lot of gang activity and the movement of drugs is a real problem. To add to it, the Guyanese discovered oil off of their coast in 2015. Like most other places with recent oil discoveries, the sudden potential of wealth creates problems. Guyana has the fastest growing economy in the world, and that is a lot to manage.
Oh, and my hotel was completely safe. There was a security checkpoint with a metal detector at the front door and armed security outside of the hotel itself. It turns out I didn’t need to move a dresser to block my door. I felt completely safe with the chain and deadbolt.
Ironically, just a few days before I left for South America, there was a shooting two blocks from my home in Atlanta. It made the front page of CNN and our neighborhood was on lockdown while they searched for the shooter. I have to wonder why we feel safer in our home countries, when really, bad things are happening everywhere.
I was about to reach a milestone in my journey, truly something I had always dreamed of, but never quite knew with certainty whether it would actually happen. I was going to my 100th country! The flight to Trinidad and Tobago was short and seamless. I met my tour guide – Jenelle – at the airport. We stopped by a hotel to pick up two additional tourists and were on our way. I really wanted to see some of the countryside in Trinidad, so I found a tour that did a quick drive through of the city and then drove through the mountain and to a beach. It was exactly what you would expect – roadside stands with snow cones, fish sandwiches by the beach, amazing greenery lining the hilly roads, and so on.
By now, you all know that my favorite part of traveling is the people. On this tour with me I met two amazing young men – Romy and Paul. Romy was originally from Cameroon and Paul from Nigeria. They were living in Houston and Calgary, respectively. I was so fascinated by their stories, of their bravery for leaving their home comforts for a ‘better’ life. I listened intently as they talked about eating mangos fresh from the trees, of the overcrowded buses, of life in Africa. They admired me for my journey and I admired them 100 times more for theirs. We had a lot of fun, driving through the island with the windows open, stopping for drinks, getting to know each other. We exchanged numbers and pictures, and I hope to meet them someday again. It was a fantastic, beautiful, relaxing day. It was everything I needed to celebrate my 100th country, and much of that goes to the amazing people I was with!
A few days before I left for South America, Tony insisted I come with him to meet his new hairdresser. She was from Jordan and he knew I would connect with her instantly. In all honesty, I thought he was crazy. I don’t just connect with people. I need a deep story, something meaningful to grasp onto, but I appeased him and ventured along. It took all of two minutes before Lana and I were talking, nonstop, about Jordan and her bravery to come to America nine years prior. Her story is fascinating, and as I walked to the Atlanta Beltline after meeting her, I couldn’t help but notice how I lit up so quickly after talking with her.
My current state of directionless is hard, and I really have absolutely no idea where I’m going right now, but I am energized and full of admiration when I hear people’s stories from places in the world that are so much different than my own. I want to give my heart and soul to every single one who has fought through the fear and challenge to give themselves a better life. I think there’s something there, something about my future wrapped up in all of those stories, telling me that I can fulfill a longing deep inside.
Feeling lost is incredibly uncomfortable. I am very uneasy right now. I remind myself that growth is uncomfortable, and to just feel it. But this is one of the toughest places I’ve been – emotionally – on this journey. What am I going to do with my life? I have so much opportunity, a real chance to redefine my path. And I’m more confused now than ever…
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