Friday, June 26, 2015

Travelling solo

I just returned from a holiday travelling solo. It was an awesome experience to travel on my own without a partner or friends. Besides discovering more of the beauty of the African continent, embarking on this trip alone was a great adventure.

For the larger part of my trip, I had booked a tour on an overland truck joining a group of 17 people aged 18 to 77. I knew no one in the group. It was a little scary at first. The rest of the time I spent on my own. The trip exceeded my expectation in every  possible way.

The best thing on this trip was to just be me. No one knows you, how you 'normally' are, knows your preferences, baggage, history or moods. They know absolutely nothing about you and have to take you at face value. Every human encounter is new. I entered this trip leaving my insecurities and fears at home living every day to the fullest. It had an exhilarating effect to see how people perceived me and how easily they opened up. I rediscovered things about myself, my strength, my inner beauty and calmness. I had time and space to listen to my thoughts. There were no expectations. I could decide every moment what I wanted to do and what not. I did not have to please anyone, neither did I have to worry.

The power of a smile and laughter was another rediscovery for me. Smiling does not only make yourself happy, but it has an amazing effect on your environment. I had the privilege to wake up with a smile and go to bed with one on my face.

The time without the group was also interesting. There were moments when I wished I could have shared some thoughts, observations or chatted with someone. I have to admit that there was a little bit of chatting and social media interaction during those moments. But nevertheless, the time alone allowed my mind to become still. It was almost as if my mind was lying in a hammock and after swinging forth and back in silence for hours/days, it became calm and relaxed. New impressions would come and go, but my mind was just quiet. It was very different from my day to day life when 100 thoughts wonder through my head at the same time, when I have to care, think, plan, function and remember.

It was an experience - nothing one can have all the time. Meeting new people and spending ten days of vacation together offers the opportunity to only see the good and fun side of people. There is no need for depth, pain, hurt and the day-to-day struggles we face. All interactions are by choice. I do think it is a healing experience to float in this bubble of happiness and joy for a short while. I am taking a lot with from the past weeks. I will try and spend more time listening to myself and allowing myself just to be; to meet new people with an open mind; to smile more and to truly trust in the power that lies within me.

I'm deeply thankful for this experience.

I'm walking on the beach
surrounded by the sound of the ocean
only my footsteps in the sand
peaceful beauty
rejuvenating the soul
perfection of nature


(2009, poem written after my last trip on the continent)

Africa – Afrique
Dressed beautifully in bright, natural colours 
Diamonds and gold are your earthly jewellery;
Your people are your wealth.
Pearls and oyster shells of the sea are woven into your colourful dress.

Africa – Afrique
Your body shaped like a gazelle - strength of a lion - endurance of an elephant and speed of an eagle. Your skin shimmers in multiple tans. Your nature unifies serenity and wildness - cat and lioness.

Africa – Afrique

is your most common name but in hundreds of languages they sing your praises and lullabies. Wisdom is your birth name.

Africa – Afrique

When I look into your eyes - tears slide down your bronzed cheeks.
Your body scared – divided – cut in pieces.
Your open mouth a silent scream
Red marks – blood, rape, death all over you.

Africa – Afrique - rise - Africa – Afrique 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Time off

I have been granted a six-week sabbatical off from work. It is a strange feeling to have all this time ahead of me. I hope this break will be refreshing and an opportunity to switch off.

Fully disconnecting from work amplifies the role of work in one’s life. In any social setting, people make admiring comments about people that don’t have to work or that can take a break such as this one. I do of course agree that it is a great privilege to be able to take this time off. However, having this time off, it becomes clear that work fulfils a greater purpose in one's life than we would normally acknowledge in our day-to-day conversations. It gives structure and offers purpose. A job offers a space that makes you feel needed and wanted. Working also offers the opportunity to ‘give back’. Even though not every type of work is about a good cause but generally, one gives something of oneself at work. We normally try to ‘give our best’ and whatever our jobs may be, giving the best, means we are giving something. As much as a short break is always welcome, a longer break might cause the worry about one's purpose at the workplace. I do think it is a sobering exercise for me. At the workplace, every person is replaceable, and the world will not stop turning if I am not there. I think it is a key exercise for any professional to cut off 100% from work from time to time. It brings perspective.

Another interesting observation for me during the first few days is about time itself. I have all this time ahead of me, yet I am worried I will not have enough time. Enough time to relax and enough time to do all the things that I planned to do. Instead of just immersing myself into this beautiful time and taking every day as it comes, I worry. I want to exercise, read, write, research, meet people, get all my admin stuff out of the way and, of course, just relax and do nothing. The fear to not maximise the time I have off, takes away some of the beauty of just having time. However, now on day four, I am already easing into my time off.

I encourage anyone who has time off to ponder the following:
  • Press the reset button
  • Interrogate what is important in life
  • Check-in with your priorities
  • What are these things you ‘always wanted to do’ but never got around to?
  • What do you want to change in your day-to-day life?
  • Who are the special people in your life and how have you been relating to them lately? 

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