Africans Living Fully

By Fadila A Ahmad / 04 January 2020 /

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MY TOP 10 WORST TRAVEL MOMENTS OF 2019

Estimated reading time: 13 mins


You all see the beautiful and inspiring images about travelling the world, you see the gorgeous landscape, people, the food, you hear the sound of music, you hear all the captivating stories that make you want to book a trip immediately to create your own wonderful experiences and yes you definitely should! 


While holding onto that incredible feeling of novelty that your heart yearns for, have you ever wondered the part that doesn’t make it to the gram? The ugly, the uncomfortable, the frustrating, the annoying, the sad and the helpless encounters that could make you rethink what travelling is all about?

Last year 2019 I travelled across 15 countries (9 of which were new) and over 33 different cities across 4 continents. I have travelled alone most of the time and in groups thrice, I have stayed in a hostel, Fancy AirBnB, 5 Star hotels, crappy motels and have been hosted in the home of strangers I never knew earlier: I have travelled by land, by air and for the first time in my life by sea across the other side of the world. 

                                             

While travelling is incredible enriching it is important to note that that enrichment may not always be from a wonderful experience and its okay! So I am here to share with you the not so breathtaking stories ~ thus my Top 10 worst travel moments for 2019, not to deter you from travelling but to share with you the other side that doesn't seem so apparent. 


From the stories below, I hope that you find resilience, gain broader insight and learn some of the lessons I have learned so you can better be prepared for your experiences as well. So here we go: 

Mistakenly booking a Road Side Pimp Hotel In Memphis Tennessee

Last-minute decision when travelling on a budget can put you in some awkward position and that may hilariously and uncomfortable at the time, but the ability to keep your chin up and not let it ruin your excitement for what's ahead is a special talent!


So I was excited to be attending the Audacity festival for the first time last October, a gathering for the dopest travellers, travel influencer, enthusiast and travel-preneurs of colour in the US earlier this year in October and my girl Imahn hooked me up with a free flight (Thank you Imahn) from Miami to via Memphis which was transiting in New Jersey. 


When I got to New Jersey, the flight was overbooked and since I had a Standby ticket I had to wait for the next flight which was 7 hours later and I was told they are not sure if I can get on it or not so perhaps I may end up on the one after that which was the next morning.  


I was lucky to get on the next flight and I arrived in Memphis late at night with no booking; thanks to my procrastination tendency that told me to not worry I can always find a place when I am at the airport. Unfortunately, the odds were not on my side that day as Memphis was hosting several events that weekend and that meant all the good AirBnB and hotels I had bookmarked which were reasonably priced were fully booked. 


So I turned to bookings to find a place for my 1st two nights before I get an apartment for the rest of my stay. Got a $105 a night room that appeared to be crystal clean in a hotel that seems reasonably close to Beale Street! All good until I arrived, the hotel though not too far from Beale street was located on the highway and surrounded by uncompleted buildings, the room was so tardy, the shower was broken, pimps kept coming in and out; even though I complained and got my room changed couldn’t sleep being the neighbour next door was busy mo*ning and screening from the b**g; the worst thing was the next morning I found cockroaches by the side of my bed: Guess what that same morning 2 couples were fighting, one of them even got physical and had hit the lady he was with and the staff were holding him until the police arrived. The other ones seemed so high that they started to kiss and were going to make out in the parking lot. It was a mess!! I did not last another day there. 


Lesson learnt: Make your accommodation booking on time when travelling on a budget, especially in the US, where your Dollar has no value literally!!


But that didn’t stop my glow up in Memphis.. Check out my story on the experience on Instagram 

9. Mistakenly for the Hostel Housekeeper by a Guest  

                                                

So let us just say I can look messy sometimes when am home or in the room, with my full natural hair uncombed while wearing a maxi ¾ dress walking barefoot around. So this fateful afternoon in Brazil; I was making my bed and tidying up the dormitory room of 4 where I was staying when a guest ( new roommate) walked it with her bag-pack; looking tired from the trip and didn't understand why she was given her bedsheet and pillowcase at the reception. While I looked up and smiled at her; she just handed me the sheets and looked at her bed; I paused for a second and thought about what to do. 2 things came to mind gives her a mean look and tell her to do her bed herself and that I am not the maid her; or simply collect the sheets and make her bed and ask her if she needs anything else to make her stay more comfortable. 


So guess what! I collected the sheets, smiled at her again, said Bem-Vindo and made her bed. The moment I finished I grabbed my towel and went to shower, came back to the room, grabbed my computer and climbed my bed to continue my work; at this point, she had gone downstairs and was back in the room when she saw me on the bed and she froze! She then started to apologize profusely about her behaviour explaining she was so tired and hungry. 


I smiled at her again and said no worries you are welcome! And a moment of awkwardness followed. I didn’t see her after that afternoon and when I woke up the next morning she was gone. But she left me this note. Thank you for showing me humanity. Although sometimes we may per seemed disrespectful 

8. Over Packing and having to unpack at several airports: even though my scale at home says all good! Aghhh


This is on a lighter side and can be very annoying: I made a goal to travel lighter this year. And this means travelling with not more than 22kg instead of the typically 40+ kg two bags I use to always travel with in the past. 


Yes yes! I know 22kg is not that light; but it’s progressive for me, so I made a conscious effort to even get a scale and weight my bag at home before leaving. But for some funny reason, I have found myself severally at the airport being told my bags are overweight and I pay for excess or need to unpack even without adding any item into my luggage. 


This year I have unpacked in Miami, Chicago, Memphis, Washington DC, Kaduna and even in Recife in Brazil!


I got some packing cubes,  giving out my clothes on the road and other items but still get to be told overweight! Any help?

7. Not packing different Outfits for different occasions

Fancy Parties and dinner, beach days, hiking trips, day trips, theme parties among others are events that will likely happen on the road, especially when you travel non-stop for longer periods. 

A perfect depiction of my social awkwardness and misplace outfits are shown in some of these photos below. 


In the new year, I am packing light and functional outfit and getting creative with my styling. If you have any tips for me? Be sure to maybe get lucky to get a $100 hotel discount voucher from me or a cocktail as a bribe.. (don’t take my word too seriously)

6. Getting disrespected at a restaurant in Salvador, Bahia 

Sadly, microaggression is real, even among black and mixed raise communities. In Salvador Bahia last week I walked into a fancy restaurant after an afternoon under the hot sun exploring the old town by foot. Typically I sit to check the menu first before deciding to eat or not at any restaurants I go unless it is highly recommended.


So I went into this restaurant and all the waiters seem busy; as I was about grabbed a chair and sit; a lady a staff or the manager walked to me with a straight face and asked me rudely yes can I help you In Portuguese? I looked at her and replied in English yes can I not sit down and check the menu to decide if I want to eat here or not? And she replied in Portuguese saying something sarcastic like I don’t think you can afford to eat here! I stood up and left immediately after I looked at her and laughed! 


I choose where and to whom I give my energy to and I hope you do in your journeys. 

5. Getting ripped off by someone I knew

Travelling always will result in situations where people would want to take advantage of you; since there is a global notion that for you to be visiting or touring the world you must be rich (which is not true in many cases) 


Despite bearing this in mind, I often do not get offended so much when it is done by strangers and I get to see right through it before it happens. 


But when it is done by a colleague for a business associate with whom you have a cordial relationship with; it hit hard and in a way that makes you not only lose trust in that person but also question the presumed other encounters that involved money you may have had in the past; even when the


In July I was travelling from Swaziland to Mozambique; a day prior after visiting Shiselweni with a group of colleagues I was working with at the time as reps of global travel club; we got into a discussion which led to me sharing my travel plans and then I learnt he was also planning to drive to Mozambique the very day I had planned to. 


So instead of taking public transportation, I asked if I could join the ride and share the cost involved for the trip. He gladly accepted and the next day we meet up and hit the road, but before we started, got to the filling station to get gas and I paid half the bill. 


On our way, he then mentioned that we will be picking 2 of his friends who are also heading to Maputo and I was like cool; meanwhile we waited over an hour for them to arrive. 


When we got to the border, while I was waiting to process my visa; he came to me and asked me to contribute towards a vehicle tax that has been impounded on him to pay to cross the border. I gave the amount in question without even thinking even though it sounded exuberant; when I finished processing my visa; I walked to the vehicle tax office to meet up with him and see the progress of the paperwork only to see that the amount I paid was 3 times the actual cost of what we were required to pay taxes. 


All of a sudden, he started to startle and out of shame was ushering me out of the office saying we are done when he realized I saw the notice of payment. I did not ask for a refund or ever talked to him about it, but it was disappointing to experience that and I wonder why he did that. It makes no sense to try to cheat or exhort a person simply because they are travelling.


I could have paid the whole amount anyway if he had asked me to do so for one reason or the other. It is not the $ amount that I was irritated by it was the trust and respect I had for him. Honesty is a virtue indeed!


This experience was awkward and disheartening but it doesn't stop me from being fair, generous and trusting new people; all it does is to simply make me want to verify prices before splitting a bill in some cases. ( lol that doesn't include dinner with my homies ). 

4. Meeting a 13 years old Vulnerable Boy at the Hilacondji Border 

Earlier in January, I was in Accra - Ghana and a quick response came from an organization I wanted to provide my services to in Lagos, Nigeria, requesting to find out if I could make it to the meeting the next day at 4 pm since the MD whom we were waiting for his return to come back to the country would be in town for less than 12 hours. 

                                                              

I had no budget for a return flight so I decided to take the night bus to Lagos from Accra, we arrived the Lakondji border (between Togo and Benin) just around 3 am and as the normal procedure requires we had to disembark the car & walk to get screened by immigration on both sides of the border. The process was very quick that night as we had spent just under 30 mins to complete the procedure; I went back into our vehicle which was packed by the night market where sellers of different commodities and food were busy going about their business.


Every time I travel by land in West Africa, I am reminded of the earnest commitment and resilience of our people men, women and sometimes even children to make a better life for themselves and their families. 


As I sat in the car, a teenage boy about 13 years old approached us with his pack of sweets, biscuits and candies soliciting for a sale; he looked at us as say Oga, Madam buy something for the road or for the people at home!


Some of the other passengers were teasing him saying no sweat at night, while one other passenger bought a pack of biscuits, he smiled and looked at me, said nothing and stood by the window of the car, a moment of silence passed and all I could think about was my youngest brother who is just around the same age and who at that time of the night would be deep asleep and would wake up the next day to go to school after having breakfast; here I was looking at this boy; who is obviously exhausted, tired but yet here he is trying to make a sale so he can survive.


I held back the tears I had and smiled at him and asked what is your name, he replied Tudjane and spoke no more English, I asked him in Zabarma and french where are you from, he said Agadez In Niger.


I held his hand, smiled at him and he smiled back, in the most innocently and kind way I have ever seen in a child struggling yet so strong and resilient. I gave him a token and said to him you are loved, keep being a good boy and don't worry things will get better.


My heart was so heavy; I wanted to do something, to take him with me or help him more sustainably but I couldn't, in a minute the driver had just came in and the other passengers ready to go. I looked at him and he waved at me profusely and said, Merci Tata! 


I still see his face every time I think about this encounter, I wonder what his story is, where his parents are, if he even knows them, what his struggles are and how he can still have such a beautiful smile amidst all of that. 


As I travel more, from the borders to the busy markets, from the bus stations to  the streets across Africa and South America I see so many Tudjanes; wondering what they story might be or their future might hold. All we should try to do is be kind, loving and caring for the short time and memory of their childhood we may encompass. In doing so also means to find , contribute and donate to causes that may impact their lives directly. 

3. Threatened by a local taxi gang leader in downtown Pretoria - South Africa

I will start by saying this: Danger is everywhere even in places we least expect and in situations we seem to take precautions.  


So in February 2019, 3 other colleagues of mine and I after staying in the city centre for 2 days and touring Jo'burg ordered an uber (a.k.a the safest transport option ) to our next hotel in Pretoria. We arrived about 70m away from the hotel parking lot and there was a little traffic as a result of many drops off, and our driver slowed down and was asking if we would get down there; a gang of 5 people who seem to belong to the taxi rang closeby approached our vehicle and surrounded the 4 exist; the gang leader started pointing fingers and shouting at our driver talking to him about why he is in their territory. Unknowingly to use there is a cold war between application-based taxi drivers with regular metered taxis in that territory too. 


A few minutes later he demanded that the driver pay him fine of about $30 and the driver was calm but not cooperating so was arguing back with him and in the middle of the conversation, he looked at all of us, started cursing and saying we were cheap a*sses that why we are taking uber instead of metered taxes. So in an attempt to bring calm to the situation I started to negotiate with him and he was so hostile that he threatened to shoot us but one way or the other we managed to restore calm and gave him about $10 instead to let us go. It was a scary situation and one of the only times I felt in danger while travelling. 


That experience reminded me of the need to always stay calm and talk to people with assertiveness but with respect and try to see reason and get in touch with their human side; amid that tense situation, I remember I stared and smiled at the gang leader before he accepted to let us go and take the money. 

South Africa is a beautiful country with so many complex issues that are deeply rooted in the fabric of their society and people which we may never understand. 

2. Threaten to be stabbed with a Knife by a Livestock Vendor in Manzini Swaziland

Public photography went wrong on the streets of Manzini Swaziland: one afternoon on my trip I set out to meet up with a friend of mine who was going to show me around and get me immersed in local life and possibly see the sunset later on.


I met him at a public bus station and started to walk down the busy road with local food stalls, shops, fresh produce and livestock were displayed on both sides of the road as buyers stand to negotiate and buy from the best cheapest vendor. 


As we walked closer to the livestock market I brought out my phone to take some pictures of the streets and everything around from a distance, and as I was taking the photo a middle-age mad walked up to me and spoke to me Swazi, I put away my phone from the position of the shot and spoke with a smile in English and said pardon I don't understand what you said; he then spoke English and spoke rudely asking me if I had permission to take their photos; meanwhile, I was taking a photo of the opposite side across where he was so I replied and said to him I am taking aerial photography not a specific person; while we were talking another livestock seller aggressive came towards me and started cursing and profusely trying to snatch my phone away from me; I quickly grasped my phone tightly and asked what his problem was since he was not even part of the conversation. At this point my friend had turned around to resolve the issue with the 1st guy who approached me and this second guy suddenly pulled a knife pointing and threatening to stab me; I hit his hand and the knife fell off while people try to hold him and I pulled myself together and stood there where other locals came to ease up the tension and called him to order. We left there when a local chief was coincidentally passing and he addressed the issue warning the guy not to follow us

1. Getting detained for over 2 hours and interrogated by Anti-drug law enforcement agents in Kotoka International Airport, Ghana 


This was a blessing in disguise and a wake up call to me. Over the years as I travel more and wider, I have become very aware of the prejudice that comes with travelling as a Nigerian, an African and a black person in general. 


Also, I have come to bear in mind that we are always treated as guilty until proven innocent in most cases especially dealing with consular, immigration and other law enforcement agencies: so I operate from a state of calmness and non-aggressiveness. 


However, I did not know that is it a crime to travel more often than usual and to go to destinations like Mozambique. 


So to give you some perspective; I have been in South Africa 3 times in the last 1 year; and on my last trip there in June 2019 I thought about the fact that I have not seen or experience South Africa and other Southern African countries from the perspective of a traveller, not just a tourist or person coming in and out for an event. So I decided to map out a trip to Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and Mozambique; I ended up travelling to Swaziland and Mozambique as there had a little less tedious visa procedure and processing time. So after a week of a business training event, I attended in Cape Town, South Africa; I proceed to Pretoria to process my visa to continue my adventure and while I wait I explored Gauteng more like a local.


I spent a week in Etswasini (a.k.a Swaziland) experiencing the deep culture and traditions of the last and only remaining absolute monarchy in Africa and one of the most naturally beautiful countries I have ever visited. I continued my travelled overland to Mozambique, where I got my Visa at the border after about an hour and a half wait. I spent 4 days in Maputo and Travelled up to the Southeastern part of the country where I stayed in a Hostel at Praia do Tofo and explored the area around there. I wrote about my love for this place on my Instagram below  


On my departure in Maputo, I had a normal experience even though the immigration officer who handled my passport was not friendly and was asking so many questions about why I travelled overland and my purpose of visit to Mozambique bla bla bla (which I felt was part of normal immigration procedure ), so I answered her respectfully and got my stamp out. 


All cleared, onboard my flight which had a stopover for a night in Addis Ababa before departing for Accra, Ghana the next morning. Akwaba!! The hot sun, the sight of not too tall chocolate men and beautiful sound of jazz music at the airport in Accra - Ghana; I went through immigration pretty smoothly, picked up my only piece of luggage a 16kg backpack and heading for the exit via customs: before I got to the custom desk a man in uniform approached me and said welcome to Ghana! As he reached for my luggage tag, where are you coming from? I smiled and answered Maputo Mozambique, he asked again what do you have in your bag, I replied the basics, clothing, shoes, books and some souvenirs; at this point, I was talking with him and heading towards the custom checkpoint but was directed to a different table. While he getting my backpack on the desk, I noticed my name on a sheet of paper in his hand so it hit me that this was not a normal procedure; so I looked up at him and asked what is this about; he replied do you know who we are? Anti-drug law enforcement agents? I asked him? He nodded his head. I smiled and said is it because I am Nigerian and coming from Mozambique? He nodded affirmatively without a word and the search began. 


After over an hour of searching and raising every item in the bag and unzipping every corner of this gigantic backpack; while interrogating my entire life history, educational background, business registration, tax clearance, work history and more; nothing was found in my luggage. 


Although tired and exhausted, throughout the process I was the calmest I think I have ever been while placing an eye at every move and hand that was searching for my bag. Lastly, I was asked to take a urine test, and was followed to the toilet by a female officer; I made sure I didn't close the door of the toilet when I was peeing and made her look at me throughout the process; I handed over the tube and she did urine drug test and didn't find anything since nothing was there to find. 


After the whole interrogation; I was released to go home stating that they are only doing their job which I understand. I smiled and ask them I hope that now you know that not all Nigerians are drug dealers or 419ers. 


However, that experience taught me some lessons which I think you would also find useful: first, of foremost Be Calm, Do not panic when you are suspected to be doing something wrong you know very well you are not doing or guilty of. The last thing you want is to get into an argument or a battle with law enforcement, answer questions directly and be truthful in your explanations. Do not be intimidated by any act of aggression, sarcasm or prejudice. Secondly, travel light and wrap your bags; when you have less stuff you are less likely to be distracted from the little luggage you have to avoid any slip ins or implication by drug traffickers or the enforcement agents looking for a scapegoat. Thirdly when you visit presumed dangerous countries known for any kinda crime, do not entertain anyone leaving their bags with you or trying to become extremely friendly with you; you do not know who you are sitting next to on a plane, so be careful and last but not the least remain fervent in your prayers for God alone can see you through and guide you from any danger, implication or any unpleasant encounter. 


Last but not least, be human in your encounter with anyone, even law enforcement sometimes they are just doing their jobs to keep us all safe but don't be complacent! I hope that more of us will continue to do our path to break the stereotypes and keep redefining who the average Nigerian, West African, African, Black or Muslim is. I hope that my children will one day get to live in a world that is less judgemental against them due to their nationality, race or social background. 

Conclusively, 

At the end of the day, life is all about taking lemons to make lemonade, lol seriously we travel not only to experience the pleasantries and escape from our reality but rather to create those realities, to learn other ways of life and to learn to deal with the difficulties that come with it.


We travel to experience it all, to discover ourselves in the process, to test our limits, challenge our beliefs and our tolerance level by learning to become more resilient and blossom in zones that are unfamiliar. We travel so we can grow, so we can change ourselves, the narrative and also create our own definitions of how other cultures, people, places by experiencing the world around us. 


So do not be distracted by the highlights of the glamour and beauty as shown by the perfectly filtered and curated pictures of travellers on social media. Including myself!! (Your girl is just living her best lifeee)


Nobody's life is perfect, nobody journey is smooth sailing, we all have our struggles, we all face setbacks and danger sometimes but it is in this mess that we find purpose and fulfilment.


So do not be afraid to Travel! Go out there in this new year 2020 and create your own experiences, discover of the beaten path, learn from other people's experience and make your own mistakes.


The goal is to make you feel a part of my journey, to share my experiences, to connect you with the tools, the opportunities, the resources and the stories of others in the hope that you act on what is suitable for you to create your own, tap into your potential and begin to live fully.


My mission is simple to empower, educate and inspire you to live your ancestors wildest dreams! 


So to more travels in 2020! where were you my fellow travellers last year? Any unpleasant experience? How did you deal with them? And to my future travellers where are you planning to visit this year? Let me know how I can help you?


Share in the comment below and hope to see you somewhere in the world! 



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