For me taking a trip is a lot like being in a relationship. In a relationship, there is the initial excitement, the honeymoon phase, some lows, some more highs and then there is a point where maybe it all comes to an end.
Leaving the Kilimanjaro airport on Friday really felt like this to me. I was doing what I loved, discussing climate change, climate adaptation, and mitigation. I was given the ability to meet interesting people and exchange interesting ideas. I traveled to city centers, markets, reefs, rainforests, the gorges of the first humans, and the homes of lions. I made great friends along the way and made cherished memories. Consuming a chicken burger at the airport this past Friday, I thought about these experiences and how they had become my new normal after just a month, and how strange it was that there had to be an abrupt conclusion. I was numb and in shock, and I thought maybe I was in the first stage of grief.
However, getting on the airplane back home I had plenty of time to question this grief and its validity. I thought it prudent to share with you all some of the thoughts and actions I took that helped me grapple with the ‘break up’ from this dialogue.
The first thing I wanted to address was my concern that after this dialogue I would no longer be able to discuss and explore climate policy. To ameliorate this I started looking into the books recommended to me by my professor and the professors we met in Tanzania. I also looked to change my classes in the fall to a class about environmental policymaking and looked to see how I could be involved in this study area on campus.
To address my inability to see my dialogue pals again I made sure to reach out to them before leaving to make sure to stay in touch. Because of our shared experiences on the trip, I recognize they can also be empathetic to my post-trip sorrow. Planning events back in Boston like a Lion King watch party or a Bao (a traditional mancala board game played in Tanzania) game night can alleviate the feeling of no longer being in Africa together anymore. Sharing memories and inside jokes is not something that can be taken away with distance or the passage of time was another reassuring thought.
The people I met in Tanzania like the students at the local Universities in Tanzania, scientists, government officials, and safari car drivers will be among those I will miss as well as I leave. It is reassuring to know that in a digital era these connections can live on with ease. After landing back home, sending a few emails and WhatsApp messages to those I got to know on the trip made the distance between us disappear.
The physical places I was afforded to visit were unlike any places visitable in New England. After getting home, I took some time to organize images and videos from the trip. Doing this helped me cement the idea that while I no longer physically occupy these spaces, the things I saw and the memories I had in these spaces will always be something I can look back on and recall. Organizing my thoughts into media and into words (maybe like this) is another strategy that has really helped me be okay with no longer being on my dialogue. There is something about sharing with others who did not experience what I experienced abroad that makes the trip feel like it lives on through others.
But why let images capture a time from when I was in Tanzania that one time? Why can’t these images capture my first visit to Tanzania? What is stopping me from returning? Maybe this break up from the destinations we travel to is not as immutable as we think. Experiencing Tanzania once has opened the door and enabled the ease of future visits. I have friends to visit and favorite places to return to in Tanzania. Not to mention all of the Swahili I would have the ability to use in the future.
This was no doubt the most reassuring thought I had while coping with no longer being in my dialogue. This idea expanded as I thought about a commercial I remember seeing a while ago for Travelocity or some travel company of the like. It featured a couple on vacation looking at booking flights for their next vacation. I kind of sat with this idea as I was just getting over my last relationship with Tanzania. Was it too soon? Could I find joy in starting to plan a new adventure where I could make, not the same memories as I had in Tanzania, but look forward to new ones?
Maybe our sadness of ending a trip just means the trip was a good one. Leaving Tanzania this past week was difficult for me, but I have since come to acceptance and hope. I have developed the idea that friends met along the way can still be grown in new spaces. Harboring and sharing thoughts and images from the trip can not be taken away from you. If all else fails, returning to the place you love is always an option, bring new friends and make new memories in the same places. If this is not possible, scratch that travel itch of yours and plan a trip to an entirely new destination. Once that trip is over reread this blog post and let the lows and highs of the traveling cycle continue.