A Solo Traveler

September 25, 2008
I did not go to Ghana, at least in the typical sense. My ambitions may have grazed its borders, wishing to wet their feet in the Pra River, yet I still found myself firmly planted in the grounds of New York’s stony suburbia. I wanted to know something outside of typical high school experiences, do something that would tap passion on the shoulder.

I had the forms. I shook them in my parents’ faces, insisting that I needed to volunteer abroad, that it would be something so gratifying, so reputable that it would compensate for the heavy fees required to take part in the program. Even after vowing to fundraise and pay every cent of the costs, they refused. I was bewildered by the decree; “you’ll have time for that later in life, when you’re older,” they shook their heads.

I pushed my summer days forward with local volunteer work, which was undeniably worthwhile, yet I still craved for something to zealously fill my empty hours with originality and animation. Such desires proved to be rarities, so I resorted to my habit of reading until my pupils shivered for rest. I fantasized about my trips through lands that could have been so grassy or gritty, my palms still raw and naive. But my fingers were worn, and could tell intricate tales of many friends and acquaintances; I cherish the journeys with Harry, Huck, Hester and Holden, with characters that I could confide in, or occasionally push off a tree. I owe much of my last sixteen years to many authors, from Roald Dahl to Primo Levi. And while such endeavors will always be thrilling, solo travelers are always in demand as well. It’s intimidating to trek without a sidekick or a posse, but it is vital in freeing a brain that watched everyone’s luggage for most of its voyages.

I had written with some level of enthusiasm throughout the school year, but it was barren territory on which I was about to embark. I typed and scribbled, ranging from a word a day to pages a week, the majority of it incoherent babble that I am proud to have written but refuse to re-read. It was the most surreal combination of frustration, loneliness, freedom and elation. I do not particularly strive to be powerful, but there are few parallels to creating little worlds where the train stops, flight delays, and train robberies are at my discretion. I hiked pass the endless plateaus of sentences, ran down mounds of sleek pages; I crept through the crevices of letters, my mind a map and compass.

I wanted to feel significant, and there’s no shame in that. Competitiveness can kidnap the most innocent person and dump them into a realm of pseudo-intellectual ponderings, of skirmishes among the typically peaceful; of the perpetual chess game where being a winner is essentially meaningless. And as the voices of disgruntled children ring, I know that my parents are right. I will have time, and with direction and desire, there is no need to sprint.

So now, I am in Ghana. Maybe one day I will go to Bolivia or Norway or into the mind of an orphaned slug, but Ghana is so captivating, and I intend to stay for a while. Perhaps, when I have been alone for enough time, I can invite others; I’ll introduce them to all the benevolent folk that welcomed me into their homes and hearts with such eagerness.

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