Indonesia reflections

Travel reflections after 3 weeks in Indonesia

If I’m honest, I felt nervous about this trip. “The world is unsafe” has been the media message of the year, like a relentless drum tapping heightened vigilance into my nervous system. It seems I let those suspicions in a bit, and felt an unusual sense of solo travel trepidation as my plane took flight to Istanbul (gunmen! ISIS!) before pushing on to Jakarta. 

It took a week at least before I fully let those fears go. With each interaction, they became weaker and less sure of themselves. Every broad smile, every open-handed welcome, every ‘hello miss!’ shouted from giggling kids emerging from homes in a gaggle to catch a glimpse of us – the foreign people. The fears were drowned out by the sunset orchestra of clacking cicadas and 90s Bryan Adams tracks blasting from old radios. They were extinguished by the echoing thump of torrential rains, the crack of twigs underfoot, the soprano calls of unfamiliar birds at 4am, the shared laughter at language misunderstandings, the silence. It started to seem like there’s far more peace beyond our green and pleasant lands than there is within them just now.

It’s been good to be out here – travelling across Flores not seeing another tourist for days. Out where the seas crash on black sand shorelines, where hot volcanic springs hit cold mountain waterfalls and dense rainforests stretch for miles in a tidal wave of deep green. Where 2016 was a good year because the rains came and rice crops were good and babies were born healthy. 

In these more remote Indonesian islands, most people smile on sight. They don’t know the word Brexit. They haven’t heard of Trump. Villages and towns work the same as they have done for centuries, save the screen shine of mobile phones. It’s been good to remember there’s a whole wide wonderful world outside our bubble. 

That world is changing, of course. People tell us that the weather isn’t always so predictable, but it’s ok for now because when it rains more than usual they just plant peanuts instead of rice. Luckily, on Flores, they’re mostly out of site from the big companies and government contracts. But on islands beyond the ones we visited ancient forests are being cleared and rare animals find their territories shrinking. This unruly planet is being forceably tamed.

While at the same time, we foreigners seem to be less at ease. In Bali a teacher said to me that she thinks my country is “agitated”. She said she sees it more and more in people who come here from the UK – a quickness to react, an expectation of threat rather than goodness, a readiness to reward cynicism. I recognise this in myself sometimes.

So here are the things I want to do in 2017: keep travelling to new places. Don’t let unfounded suspicions about the world take hold. Donate to the Rainforest Trust. And maybe listen uncynically to Bryan Adams once in a while.

And big thanks to Martin and Jen for being really great travelling friends – it was wonderful to share this trip with you!

Seven things that helped me in recovering from ME/CFS

This entry was written as more of a personal essay than a blog post. Grab a cup of tea & take your time. I hope you find it helpful.

A few weeks ago, my friend and yoga teacher Fiona Agombar shared the news that a girl she knew who was struggling deeply in her first year with ME/CFS, had taken her own life. She was 33 years old – the same age I am now. Just last year, before her illness, she had travelled around Australia in a camper van.

I had never met this girl, but I immediately felt a kinship with her. I too was diagnosed with that same illness around 6 years ago, and at a similar age and with a similar backstory of adventures and achievements. Like her, I was devastated by the loss of the life I had known at the hands of this illness, and by the complete lack of hope I saw in my own once sparkling future. I could absolutely relate to how she probably felt in those weeks running up to taking her own life.

Had I had the chance to meet her, we might have talked about this illness. And having spoken to others in the same situation, I know she would probably have asked me how I’m doing now.

I would have said that since those dark two years in the beginning, each year has been a bit better, and work, and travel, and love, and nights out are no longer off the cards. I might have told her I go to dance classes now. I surf. I run a business. I write this blog. I might have told her that the illness is still with me at times, and that’s sometimes frustrating, but that it is also often a helpful warning sign that I am off-course somehow. I would tell her that I’m not sure I would even categorise myself as having ME/CFS any more, which means, I guess, I’ve recovered.

It might have helped. It might not have. As her spirit leaves us here, it is pointless to wonder what might have been.

And yet, there are many others in her place, in the place I was in and she was in, who right now, today, are still with us, and who are still struggling through the hours. I would like to have a conversation with them, you, about some of the things learned over these 6 years since that diagnosis, that helped me navigate myself into a better place.

So I’m publishing this, nervously, out loud. I hope it might help someone. Here are 7 truths I learned, which helped me in my recovery and saw me through the darker times.

1) Recovery is possible

Recovery is possible. Recovery is possible. RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE.

It’s worth saying again and again, because for much of the time this statement feels like the most ridiculous statement ever uttered. The idea of recovery becomes about as likely as the existence of Santa Claus. Like a kind of myth or fairytale. Something that sounded nice and all, but was also utterly unhelpful. ‘Deal with the reality,’ I thought, hearing the same the doctors and the long discussions in ME-related internet forums.

But while it’s true that it’s futile to simply sit and wait for the morning you might wake up feeling fine, it is also a truth that recovery is possible. And I know this, because I have now met many people who have done it. In fact, a critical part of my own recovery was surrounding myself with people who have recovered. I read their books. I went to their seminars and workshops. I marvelled at their stories – people sicker than I was, who were now running yoga schools, or studying for PhDs, or being meditation teachers, or travelling the world.

The recoveries weren’t over-night miracles. They were often the product of years and years of light effort; slowly refocusing and rewinding thought patterns, becoming more mindful, more joyful. Rearranging lives, friendships, influences, homes. Changing habits. Leaving and taking responsibilities. Slowly treading one step forwards (and then often two steps back again) towards forging a different way of being; one that creates better conditions for healing.

I also began to trust, at some level, it could be so for me too. I always felt very sick, back then, but there WERE some days, or at least hours, that were better than others. Which told me, MY BODY DOES KNOW HOW TO FEEL BETTER THAN THIS. It hasn’t forgotten. It hasn’t lost the ability to improve and heal a little, even if only for a few minutes. And if it could do that for a few minutes, who could tell me it couldn’t recover for longer than that one day?

Take that leap of faith. For me, the point where I began to stop seeing ME as something I needed to just live with, and started seeing it as something I also wanted to learn to recover from – no matter how long it took (and it did take years, and sometimes I’m still recovering) – was a turning point in my journey.

2) You are not alone

For me, the profound loneliness that came from having ME/CFS was almost worse than the illness itself. Many didn’t understand how I felt. Some dismissed it out of hand, or confused it with depression, or decided I was ‘just run down’, or concluded it was all in my mind.

And then of course, there was the energy that simple conversation could take out of me. I began to almost fear conversation for that very reason, and tried to find ways to limit one-on-one time with others because I found it so exhausting. Which naturally made making and nurturing connections even harder. And we need connection. We are human. We are social animals. Our souls thrive when with others who allow you to be who you are, however you feel.

You are not alone. There are many others who know how you feel. There are many more who will want to understand. And more still who you can connect with regardless of the ME, through your shared love of…whatever it is you love: music, meditation, film, nature.

Find those people. Your friends. Your family. Support groups. Even the Samaritans helpline (believe me; those guys came to know my voice pretty well). Practice being honest about how you feel and what you need. Say if you’re struggling. Say if you need help. Say if you need a rest, a break, a catchup that’s less about actually catching up and more just being in each other’s company, quietly. Reach out to the people whom you can share your sadnesses and your hopes with; with whom you don’t have to hold up a mask. Those people are out there, and they will love you anyway.

3) Some things can actually give you energy

It can be the biggest surprise to people with ME/CFS that sometimes, they can feel better than others. Sometimes, an activity can actually give, rather than take energy. For me, I found conversation hard. But I could spend an hour or so painting. And often, even if it took a week, writing a 500-word blog post (on this very blog) would fill me with a profound sense of joy that would fill the following days with a warmth and an easiness, even if physically I was still feeling like lead.

Energy flows when you feel easy, light, and content. When you feel open and able to act in accordance with your own needs. Energy can’t flow when you feel obligated or oppressed.

Ask yourself regularly: ‘what would I really like to do right now?’. Tune in to how you really feel and what you really want. If you don’t want to do whatever is facing you that day; if it feels like an obligation or a pressure, and you know you won’t feel better for it, give yourself the option of not doing it. Just the option. Because you might find that when you take that control back, you actually want to give whatever it is a go. Or not, and that’s fine too.

I remember sitting on the sofa at my parents’ house, my body feeling like it had been filled with concrete, and my face so painful from the tiredness that my eyebrow was twitching involuntarily. My mum would come to me and tell me it was time to go to a yoga class. Raising the energy to even stand up felt like it would require an act of superhuman will. But I would drag myself up. I would walk in a mental haze to the class – round the corner from our house. I would get to that yoga room and breathe.

I can’t lie and say it made me feel better. I still felt rotten – my limbs heavy and my eyes sore. But I did have the tiniest ounce more energy than I had when I was sat on that sofa. I held onto that truth — for me doing some light yoga with my mum made me feel like I had just a tiny bit more energy. So keep doing it. Even though it takes a superhuman level of willpower, keep doing it.

4) Approach complementary therapies & nutritional supplements sensibly

Four months into my illness, I remember being so frustrated with the blank look on my doctor’s face that I instead went to a complementary therapy centre for the first time and checked in for some ‘energy healing therapy’. For a full 1 hour (which seemed like an age compared to the ten minutes by doctor could spare), I had the therapist’s undivided attention. She told me my ME was curable, and was caused by some stress-fuelled energy block in my body, and would ask me to close my eyes as she held her hands above me and hummed. She then charged me £70 and booked me in for 5 more sessions. I left feeling sceptical, and hopeful, and hopeless, and a little poorer, all at the same time. I remember feeling like this wasn’t the right thing for me, but I literally had no idea what else to do.

I didn’t go back to her. I didn’t really trust her, and I knew she couldn’t miraculously cure me. But I noticed that just the having someone to talk to, helped. And I noticed that something about what she was telling me was right – that our bodies are more than just skin, flesh, and bone; that our energy can be affected by the way we live; that stress had become habitual for me; and that caring for and relaxing my body was going to be important.

Over the years, I tried acupuncture, reflexology, yoga, meditation, emotional freedom technique, CBT, Reiki, massage. I tried breathing exercises and hypnotherapy. Along the way, I wasted a lot of money – staying with some therapists long after I felt they weren’t helping me. Doing some things – like homeopathy & some of the more extreme ends of nutritional therapy – which I fundamentally don’t agree with or trust, just because I was desperate. Spending a small fortune on stacks of supplements that did nothing for me, or worse, made me feel even sicker.

But I also found some people to whom I now owe much of my health and life. Yoga teachers, like Fiona. Meditation teachers, like the wonderful people in the Triratna movement who teach mindfulness meditation for free at lunchtimes all over the country. The people in the psychology practice at the Optimum Health Clinic. A Bowen therapist who has since moved to Australia, whose wisdom helped me better understand what was happening to me and how to trust myself more. And amidst the plethora of supplements and diets on offer, I found some simple things that helped me, like D-Ribose & laying off dairy for a while.

The journey through complementary therapies and nutritional approaches can be tricky. It’s important to be open to things that might help. But it’s also important to be vigilant about not continuing to pursue approaches that don’t. Only you will know the difference. Trust your instincts.

5) Get a bit spiritual

I grew up in a cautiously atheist family. My mum is the kind of woman who would take me to Sunday school for the singing only, popping me into the church hall only once the sermonising was over and done with. At school, I remember our class visiting a local minister and him asking who among us didn’t believe in god. I was the only one in the class of thirty-two to raise their hand.

And yet, I could not possibly have coped with ME/CFS if I hadn’t put some of my own reason and scepticism about spirituality to one side. By which I don’t mean suddenly attending church once a week (although I did do that for a while). I mean by asking some of the bigger questions that you’re forced to ponder when you have very little you can actually do with your days.

For me personally, it wasn’t Christianity but Buddhism that I found most practically useful as a means to coping with my condition and finding some answers. For a start, the first truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering. Now this was a truth I could agree with. But it also teaches that there is a way out of suffering, which is by accepting what is, rather than craving what you don’t have (like health) or trying to fight against what you do have (like ME). And how do you do that exactly? By practicing acceptance, compassion, and mindfulness. Through that, can come peace.

Compassion and a sense of peace were two things I didn’t feel much of while I was really sick. Developing the spiritual side of myself – reading books by the Dalai Lama, listening to talks by Pema Chodren, learning to meditate – those things gave me the beginnings of a glimpse of a feeling of peace, even in the most painful of times.

Vidyamala Burch, a meditation teacher from New Zealand, has been almost paralysed and in deep physical pain for much of her life. For her, the biggest moment in helping her find peace in the pain was when she realised that she didn’t need to struggle through the night, or the hour, or even the next ten minutes. She just had to get through this moment. And this one. And this one. The moment is all there is, in fact. In the moment, if you can be with it and not fight against it, even in the darkest of times, there can be a kind of exquisite ease.

6) The story you tell yourself matters

So quickly, ME/CFS impacts so many parts of our lives that it’s easy to allow it to define us. ‘My ME/CFS’ – I would say. I suffer from it. It’s easy to feel wronged by it. It’s easy and natural to feel cheated. It’s easy to feel bitter and angered by the injustice of it, sometimes closed to the world that ‘doesn’t understand’.

All that is natural. But it took me a long time to realise that these are feelings to experience, feel and move through. Not feelings to hold onto, harbour, retell and reinforce until the whole of life operates through the ME/CFS lens.

ME/CFS is with you, yes. But it is not all that you are. ME/CFS is awful and painful, yes. But it can also be a teacher and an invitation to live differently. ME/CFS is a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute challenge, yes. But none of that means the present moment can’t be peaceful and light, just as it is.

I remember speaking to a friend who had ME/CFS about that feared moment when someone you don’t know, who doesn’t know about your illness, asks you the dreaded question – “so what do you do?” How do you answer that? “Well…I have ME/CFS you see, so I can’t do much of anything.” Silence. Awkwardness.

For many with this illness however, that answer isn’t a true reflection at all. Yes, I used to think, I do have ME/CFS. But I also practice yoga. I read. I try to be a good friend. I love to learn about current affairs. I, sometimes, on a good day, enjoy walking my dog. I might not work a 9 to 5. Some days I might struggle to leave the sofa. But that doesn’t mean my life is only about ME/CFS. It isn’t only about that.

There are people with ME/CFS who are famous, world-renowned authors. Artists. Coaches. Teachers. Therapists. There are people with ME/CFS who have won awards and acclaim. There are people with ME/CFS who have set up support groups. Debate groups. Painting groups. Meditation groups.

There are people with ME/CFS who for whom just getting out of bed every day is an act of heroism. People for whom writing a text message to a friend on their birthday might take hours of ‘trying to concentrate’. Those people are amazing too.

It might take us longer to do, well, anything. It might mean our goals become smaller and more local. Things that took a few hours might now take a few weeks, or even months. But life is long, and we have time. I remember realising…I could actually walk a marathon, if I wanted. I might take me a year. But I could do it. I could.

The story you tell yourself matters – it shapes the whole way you see your world and your future. Only you can choose what story it is you’re telling and the role you’re playing within it. Are you more often casting yourself as the victim, or the warrior? Are you on a journey towards illness and sadness, or growth and recovery? Have you been wronged by the world, or did the world challenge you in a new and unexpected way?

You still get to choose. You might have ME/CFS, but it’s still your life. Your story.

7) Be gentle with your language, and let go

There are times when the business of recovering from a deeply painful and debilitating illness can, in itself, be a deeply stressful experience. For me, trying to work out how to get through the days was, in itself, layering more and more cortisol and anxiety onto my already struggling nervous system. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t help very much.

One therapist I saw told me a couple of years in that I use the word ‘should’ a lot. ‘Should’, ‘need’, ‘ought to be’. She said to me, “wow, it must be hard being you, constantly on the receiving end of how you talk to yourself.”

What she was telling me, not so subtly, was that I was treating my recovery like I had treated everything in my life. Harshly. With high expectations and high standards and high demands. Telling myself off when I fell short. Telling myself I ‘should’ be doing better by now.

She invited me to think of some other words I could use. Words like ‘I wonder…’, instead of ‘I should…’. Like saying ‘I’d like it if…’, instead of ‘I need…’.

She invited me not to take the ebbs and flows of my illness so personally. ‘That’s interesting,’ she invited me to say when I noticed a new pain or a wave of fatigue, seeing if I could find a way to treat the bad days with curiosity rather than crushing disappointment.

She invited me to let go of the outcome. I might get better. I might not. I might feel stronger tomorrow. I might not. None of that made me any more or less worthwhile as a human being.

I still forget all this at times. I still get caught up in a spiral of ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’. I find myself scrambling about for reasons and justifications, fielding my own frustrations and accusations.

But then, sometimes, I notice the tightness around my chest, and I see what I’m doing to myself, and I breathe. I form the words, ‘I wonder if…’ in my head. I wonder if I’ll feel better tomorrow. I wonder if it matters if I do. I tell myself it’s all ok, and that this is hard stuff for anyone to deal with, and that I’m doing my best. I feel my body smile a little. I ask myself what I’d really like to do right now, and more often than not the answer is ‘watch the West Wing’, or ‘listen to Radio 4’, or ‘call my mum’, and so I do that. And I stop fighting for a moment, and I feel lighter, and some of the energy returns.

I hope some of this helps you too. This is hard stuff; it would be hard for anyone to deal with. You’re doing your best. Maybe you’ll feel a bit better tomorrow, maybe you won’t. None of that makes you any more or any less worthwhile as a human being. You are always more than your illness, and having your illness make you a hero for even getting up in the morning. And even with this illness, you can still experience peace, and joy, and lightness, and have moments of energy and connection. And all of those experiences are part of the road to recovery.

You can recover. You can. You can.

You can.


I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on all this, if you’d like to share them. Please feel very free to post in the comments below.

Album de la Revolucion Cubana

In London’s Tate Modern right now, in the midst of the brilliant Conflict Time Photography exhibit on the 3rd floor, is a curious set of rooms called A Guide for the Protection of the Public In Peace Time. It’s a strange space curated by a group called the Archive of Modern Conflict; apparently a publishing house concerned with artefacts of the past; forming them together in new and unusual ways. And in this room of propaganda and subversion, I see this image on the wall.


I was, its fair to say, pretty stunned. You see, I’d seen this image before. It is the cover image for a comic picture book called Album De La Revolucion Cubana, which I found on a market stall in Plaza des Armes in old Havana back in May this year. It’s now perched on my Hackney living room bookshelf.

A bit of a surprise, I can tell you, to see something you picked up at a market for a tenner displayed on the wall of one of the world’s greatest contemporary art galleries. And seeing it displayed in this way lead me to want to find out more about it.

The book itself is fascinating. Designed for children, it is a blow by blow retelling of Castro’s guerilla war with Batista’s government from 1952 to 1959. What makes it particularly special though is that each scene in the revolution is told by an individual picture card, which it seems were given away with cans of Felices canned fruit, collected and stuck into the book by kids. I remember when I got it how struck I was by the design and approach – it seemed to me to be a particularly overt piece of marketing designed to sell the story of the revolution, which is kind of ironic given this is a country that deliberately closed itself off to the usual blends of brand capitalism.


Castro, of course, is presented as the hero, inspired by Jose Marti’s Cuban independence movement in the 1800s (that’s his face hovering in the sky behind Fidel on the book’s cover), and flanked by his brother Raul and of course the beautiful Che. Each page comes with illustrations of guns and grenades, Cuban flags and army tanks, and even though the commentary is in Spanish, the drama jumps out of the illustrations – underhand backroom dealings by Batista, the suffering and sacrifice of the Cuban people, the bravery of the guerillas, fighting for the future of their country.

There’s a fair bit of chatter about the book online. Over on dropby, one Cuban man describes it as “a plaything from my childhood” which he since found in a restaurant in California – owned by a man who also found the book in Havana’s Plaza des Armes. Then on the Libriquarian site for ‘the sale of fine books’, the curators are displaying the Album with a $2000 price tag.

For a moment I’m pretty excited. Not that I’d sell my copy of course. But to see that others have found it too and recognise it as a special piece of history reminds me of my own wide-eyed excitement when I flicked through its pages back in the hot Havana sun.

On closer inspection however, it’s very clear that mine is a copy, rather than an original. The pages are too white; the picture cards are tinted in a distinctly photocopied way. Nevermind. It’s the symbolism of it I like – somehow enhanced by the fact that some enterprising market stall owner has decided to occasionally recreate the full thing now, in 2014, sticking in each of the 271 pictures by hand in the hope of selling it at a profit to a tourist like me.


Dinner with a North Korean defector

We’re in a back room of a Korean restaurant, sat around a low table contorting Western knees into a cross legged position that probably hasn’t been attempted since school assembly days. For most of us that was a very long time ago.

We’re here to listen to this man’s story of how and why he escaped North Korea, and what he thinks about things there, and here, in this leafy Surrey suburb just a 20 minute train ride from London Waterloo.

He’s a youngish looking forty-something year old. He nods at our English-speaking questions, then looks to the women on his right to translate them into Korean. Even with the ‘lost in translation’ translation, his speech holds to a regular pace. Then she translates his words about “escaping from hell” in the same way – with the even tone you might use for giving directions or reading a shopping list.

He grew up trusting the system, he says. He grew up learning that it was good, and that South Korea and America were bad. It was only when he joined the army and travelled around the country that he realised that it wasn’t just his village that was suffering.

He began to experience doubt. When asked to cook a meal for the soldiers, the only way to get food is to steal it from a nearby farm. “How could this be good?” he says. When he visited his sister, she deprived her daughter of food so he could eat. He didn’t know she had done so – only finding out when his niece, left alone, came across a bag of corn supplies, ate and drank water too quickly for her malnourished stomach, so it bloated and burst. She died, and it was then he knew he could not stay in North Korea.

He didn’t know if it would be better somewhere else. He didn’t know anything about what it would be like on the other side of the river. He couldn’t tell anyone he was thinking of trying to get out. Every third or forth person was a spy. Army personnel were required to ‘confess’ once a week on anything they had heard or seen that was suspicious.

He says he felt he had to try anyway. He says he was curious.

His crossing took four and a half hours. The water was shallow and every 50 metres there was a guard. At one point he bumps into a rock, and finds it is a soldier sleeping.

I ask him if he thought he would make it.

He says no. But he was willing to take the risk.

In one pocket he had a knife, and in the other a candy bar. You die or not, he says. Had he been caught – and he thought he would be caught – he would have killed himself. And the candy bar? He says he thought he might need to do a lot of walking if he made it to the other side. He would need it for energy.

When he reached the other side, he says he saw an apple tree, and it was then he knew he had been deceived by his country. The ground beneath the tree was scattered with rotting apples. This was unthinkable to him, he says. That food would be so abundant that it would be left to over ripen and rot on the floor.

He says that escaping takes courage. He says that that river to him represented the difference between heaven and hell.

He says he has no regrets. He says though that he thought the regime would change within 10 years and he would be able to see his parents again. It’s been nine years now, and it hasn’t changed. And his parents are getting older.

And so the story ends, and we walk back out onto Kingston Road in South West London, bellies full and collars turned up against the February cold.

I can’t stop thinking about the guts of the man – to go it alone, with a knife in one pocket and a candy bar in the other, with no idea what it would be like on the other side. Just in the curious hope it might be better.

For the latest news on North Korea, visit To visit North Korea there are a number of tour operators who will take you in from China. Try Political Tours for an in-depth look at the place and its people.  

Enter Zimbabwe

As I fly into Zimbabwe on the SA40 from Jo’Burg, I read a passage in this book called ‘Africa Trek’. which talks about border crossings. The author is saying that you can tell a lot about a country by the mood at the border. And if he had to categorise the mood at the border of South Africa and Zimbabwe, it would be ‘sad’.

I’m wishing I hadn’t opened this darn book. ‘Sad’ is not what I’m hoping for when I touch-down at Victoria Falls. If anything, I’ve been feeling optimistic. In Cape Town, South African after South African has been telling me how beautiful Zim is, and how things there aren’t as bad as they have been in recent years. But here’s this passage, and it reminds me how much trauma and breakage this place has seen.

The twist to and the reason for my ‘enter Zimbabwe’ tale is that my mum grew up here. Back in the late 1950s, my intrepid grandfather couldn’t resist the idea of journeying for weeks on end on a boat to this relatively unknown and vast continent, putting his engineering skills to the test on a new power station in the tiny village of Munyati, 270km from the nearest city of Bulawayo.

And so my mum and my uncle grew up with strange accents, their childhoods packed with giant animals and wild landscapes and running around barefoot until the soles of their feet were like leather, seemingly miles from the struggles over rights and justice playing out all across this epic land.

Those tales were told to my brother and I from our earliest days, and so, Zimbabwe has always existed in a kind of mythical stasis in my head. Over the years I’ve met many other children of that Rhodesian generation, and we’ve recognised in each other a similar heritage of both awe at our parents’ fantastical upbringings, and a kind of time-travelling shame at the wider political environment in which they lived.

And yet, as the plane touches down, I fill up with sensations of connection and nostalgia; the kind usually reserved for a long-overdue homecoming. I practically run to the tiny terminal, excitedly joining an ordered queue as we file into Victoria Falls’ passport office, commenting on the humidity of the middle day. My fellow travellers are from all over the world – China, Japan, Germany, Australia. I’m here alone, but I don’t feel alone. I see my name on a taxi board and soon drive off down a clean new tarmac road; lush green forest on either side and, above the tree-line, the billowing spray of the Falls, ‘the smoke that thunders’. Within an hour, I’m on the mighty Zambezi river, the sun setting behind palm trees as families of sleepy hippos bob around in mercury waters beneath a sky of fast flocking birds.

This journey into Zim felt professional and ordered, calm and warm. No doubt, we’re in a protected space here, a long way from Harare or Bulawayo, or any number of towns and villages beyond international view. But it is a better entry than I could have hoped for, and a more emotional one too.

So if I were to pick one one word to define this border crossing, I’m not exactly sure what I would choose. But ‘sad’? I don’t think that’s it. Not here, at least.

Why travelling isn’t about seeing the world

Have you noticed how different people respond to stress? For some, they get jittery – speaking fast and waving their arms, battling through the discomfort of a difficult situation by spinning around and doing more stuff with a spirit of wired wild gusto.

For others, (and when I say others I really mean me), ‘they’ do the opposite. They get quiet, overly-thoughtful, cramped into themselves as if the overwhelming task list or difficult situation were actually shaped into an physical box around their bodies. For these people, stress and overwhelm makes them retreat from the world, until it actually feels smaller. Room sized. Not full of action and opportunity and big African skies and deep turquoise seas at all.

Which got me thinking about why we travel.

I could wax lyrical about this for paragraphs and paragraphs, but what it comes down to is this.

Most of the time I don’t think the reason we travel is to see and explore more of the world. I think we travel to break down the temporary prisons we create in our own heads. We travel to remind ourselves of the way things really are beyond that made-up world of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’.

Travel is a kind of therapy. It forces perspective. It deftly dodges unwanted responsibilities. At it’s best, it can put you into the kind of lost and wild situations in which you can get back to yourself. Your bigger self. Your freer self. The self that sees through it all. 

When I was in Oregon last year, after a particularly difficult few days, I left my apartment, hired a car, and drove. I drove until I hit the beach, and when I did, I stopped the car. I watched the waves and waited. I was listening for something, inside me, which would tell me which way to go – north to Astoria or south towards San Francisco. I waited for about 20 mins, until somewhere, deep in my gut, a ball of energy appeared, expanded, and travelled up my torso. Out of it, a thought came. Not one of those heady brain thoughts. One of the deep instinctual ones. I started the engine, pointed the car in the direction this instinct was telling me to go, and drove.

For what ever reason, it’s that kind of behaviour that we have license to indulge in when we travel.

Which begs the question, if this is all about breaking out of mind traps and acting on deep instinct, why do we wait until we board a plane to give ourselves permission to experiment with this kind of freedom? Can’t we do it right here, right now?

And on this ordinary Tuesday night, sat in my bedroom with my work bag stuffed with papers and to-do lists at my feet, in a world made up of turquoise seas and big African skies, it’s that thought that I’m going to focus on tonight.

An ode to Broadway Market

Oh Broadway Market
What’s happened to you?
You used to be home to crack addicts,
And now you’re all about teeny tiny vegan cakes.


They are very beautiful
Small red velvet cups
And tied died meringues
Perused by people like me
Wrapped up warm, wearing ray ban sunglasses,
Armed with an iPhone Instagramming camera.


You’re now a bit like Borough
But smaller and marginally more expensive.
Packed with people clutching Clipson’s coffees
Proud of being brave and cutting edge enough
To venture into the crime-ridden socially deprived eastend.


But the old guys singing old songs are lovely,
The girl with victory rolls and an accordion puts a spring in our step,
And those extortionately priced pots of green pesto are bloody gorgeous.

Oh, how you bankrupt me.
Oh, how you infuriate me.
Oh, I still think you’re lovely.

Oh, Broadway Market.