“I came to London. It had become the center of my world and I had worked hard to come to it. And I was lost.”
V. S. Naipaul

As a child, I moved around a lot. Whenever I made new friends, we moved again. That's probably the reason why I can't spend much time in the same place. Yet, I managed to find a place I call home. My mother spent a lot of time during her teens in England and kept telling me about her secret longing for London and how it is impossible to live there with children, otherwise she'd pack up and move there with us. I laughed and thought "What a silly housewife memory." 

Then, when I first visited the city when I was 16, I was hooked. The next six years of my life, whenever I had more than two days off, I went to London, and when I was 22, I moved there. Everything went just right: I got a job I would never have dreamed of, lived in decent areas with lovely flatmates. Unlike many others, London has always treated me well.
I'm not sure what it is that draws me to this busy, dirty, overcrowded and insanely expensive city. She's not a beautiful city, but she's a city full of contrasts, and every possible culture or subculture in the world exists here. London is like all cities of the world, mixed into one. 

Then, I started to realise that this was pretty much it - the London life I was living was as far as the plan for my life went... and it was THAT easy? I like a challenge, so I decided on a new goal - to travel, maybe a little to see if there really is no other place is the world I feel as much home as in London. 

Right now, London cannot offer me what I am looking for in my life, but one thing is sure: I will always return. 

This is my contribution to BootnAll's 30 Days of Indie Travel project, Day 13 - Home

After haggling with about 5 different taxi drivers to get a reasonable (as in, less than $100 for a 3 mile ride) price for a ride from the city centre to Marrakesh airport, my bags and I arrive. In the past days I spent on my own in this beautiful country, I experienced none of the harassment I had been warned about before. Dressing fairly smart and speaking French made most people think I was a local expat (and French!), so they left me alone. Now, at the airport, I am turned back into a 23 year old tourist girl, on her own with lots of luggage. And I am way too early for check in. One trick I learned to ward off the touts is to always sit next to either the oldest, fattest woman or just a very conservatively or smartly dressed local woman. 

I pick up the departure card to fill in and ask a woman in her early fourties who wears a headscarf if I can sit next to her - no problem at all, she says and smiles. I fill in my departure card, which is, as most official things in Morocco, trilingual in Arabic, French and English - no crazy information needed, just my name, date of birth, passport home address, occupation. I notice her spying on my card, assume she is curious about me and start a conversation. I learn how she was born in Morocco but has lived in Paris since her early teens, that she visited family in a village in the south of the country, about the working environment in France, about Paris vs. London, Moroccan food and many other things. She seems shy but smart, her French perfectly fluent, or at least substantially better than mine.

Then, all of a sudden, she asks if I could help her fill out the card, because it's so complicated. I point out that it's in Arabic, too, and am surprised she has to fill it in at all, but she pulls out her French passport - so she is an official EU citizen, just like me, and needs to fill it out for the Morroccan border agency. I say sure, we can go through this together. First she fills in all the parts that require numbers. A little wacky, but why not. Then we talk about the bit that says 'Occupation'. She says she doesn't know what it means, so I paraphrase 'your job', she nodds and says 'office worker'. I urge her to write it down, but she goes back to the beginning of the form, where she should fill in her name. 

Things start to dawn on me - no, it hadn't crossed my mind, I was so absorbed in our conversation - when she got out her passport again and carefully copied every single letter of her name, like a kindergartener trying to writer her name on a drawing for her mother. This woman is illiterate. She was born in 1970 and lived most of her life in Europe.

I feel ashamed for not having noticed her obvious signs before and putting her through this 'well, just write it down' routine for every line. Should I say something? I ponder it for a bit, but as she asks me what the line below the name ('place of birth') is for, I ask her if I should fill it out for her. Smiling, she accepts and hands me her card. After I have finished, she thanks me, offering some sweets she brought with her. I feel I need to hide from my own embarrassment and get up to buy a coffee, asking her if she would like one, too. She declines. 

When I return 10 minutes later, she is gone. 

Illiteracy rates throughout the world
Back home, I look up the numbers for illiteracy and learn that over 40% of Moroccan women never learn to write. Most go only to school until they are 14, if at all. And this is by no means one of the poorest countries on earth. This is the event that made me decide that I need to see more of the world. I didn't have a pretty childhood or youth, no 'I wish I was back in school' moments for me. The one thing I have always had though, was the ability to read and write, a central part of my life since I have been six years old. No matter how 'bad' my life is, I can always study to improve it, communicate, get along on my own in an unfamiliar place because I can read signs, maps, guidebooks. What if you don't even have that?

Ok, with all this jungle-trekking, laksa-eating and Tiger beer drinking, on top of crappy internet connections, I will not get to write/post all the backlog I have for the 30 Days of Indie Travel project this fast, so I'll jump right in and see if I can post the texts for other prompts later.

This is my contribution to Day 12, Meaningful Connections.

One of the things people ask all the time as I am a girl travelling on her own, is „Isn't it dangerous?“ and statements like „There are all sorts of nasty people out there.“. I am not saying that there aren't. Funnily enough, after travelling in almost twenty countries on three continents on my own, I can't count the number of times I experienced random acts of kindness from total strangers. I can tell you the number of times somebody tried harm or betray me: zero (I am not counting obvious, aggressive touts – I plainly don't interact with them). People look out for you, especially if you are a solo girl, and you're never really alone. There's always someone to help you out.

Japan has a special place in my heart, one of the reasons being people being insanely nice. You ask for the way and instead, they drive you there. You try to change money because the ticket machine doesn't take bills and they just buy you a ticket. You have a chat with someone at a small diner and they buy you a meal and offer you their spare room for the night.

This is has happened to me all over the world, though, especially in places where you would not expect them. Many people see Muslim countries as a dangerous place to go, especially on your own as a woman, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Islam values hospitality, and nowhere else have I found such welcoming, loving and polite people as in Muslim countries.

The point I am getting at is – most people are not out to rape you, take your money or just play a practical joke on you. People essentially all want the same – happiness, health, love and friendship. They might sometimes feel a bit too straight-forward, a bit too close to you, but that is the impression you get based on a very matter-of-factly western culture. In many countries, people never get to travel, and much less women on their own, so they are just curious about where you strange girl has come from, where you have been and what you can tell them about the world. Keep your wits about, but other than that – just let go. In 99% of all cases, the only thing you risk is making a new friend.

This is my (belated, thank you, crappy Malaysian internet connection) contribution to BootnAll's 30 Days of Indie Travel project, Day 5 – Kindness
of Strangers

 On the last leg of my East Asia trip, I was travelling around Taiwan for two weeks. I had no expectations of the country at all, and was positively surprised by the ease of getting around, the friendly and open people, the food, and this thoroughly Chinese culture that at the same time was more advanced than any Asian country in its view of life (this is the only Asian country, aside from Thailand, where being gay is totally normal thing).

So before I was to return to Taipei, I decided to check out Taroko National Park, touted by guidebooks and my Taiwanese friends alike as one of the highlights of Asia because of the gorge that runs through it. Although I'm from one of the flattest areas of land in the world (yup, very close to the Netherlands) I learned to enjoy hiking during my time in Korea and Japan, and was happy to find out that there are regular buses and well-marked routes in the park, thinking I could do it on my own.

How wrong I was. Not only did it prove an epic project to get a ticket for the bus, it was impossible to me to figure out which stop to get off (everybody on the bus either spoke only Chinese, or was, like me, a clueless tourist). In the end, I got off at the last bus stop – the top station. As soon as I got off the bus, the world around me started to sway. There was a beautiful temple a few hundred metres across from where the bus dropped us off, at the other end of a... suspension bridge. I went on it, and looked down. I shouldn't have, because I got violently sick. Then it it started to rain. Hard. I made it over the bridge and found shelter at the temple.

When the rain stopped, everybody else disappeared with tour guides or other hiking professionals and I was the only one to still be in this tourist village consisting of a tourist information a post office and three outdoor food stalls. The next bus back to the city wouldn't arrive for another 4 hours, so I tried to go on one of the hiking trails nearby, one that was marked 'easy'. About 200 metres in, my head started spinning again. I went back and spent the next 3.5 hours sitting in half-rain, half of the time staring down the gorge (no cafe/restaurant to while my time away here!), half of it at the toilet.

This is how I found out I am scared of heights – actually, I should have known already. When I was 16 we went on a Skiing trip to Austria with school. I realised what had rendered me unable to Ski back then was not the boards underneath my feet, but the fact that I was 2000 metres above sea level. Hiking little mountains and hills is ok, but everything over 500 m is out of the question. I don't panic mentally, but my body rebels against it and I lose all sense of orientation and most of my equilibrium.

Although I am very sure Taroko is a wonderful place to visit if you like hiking and are used to heights, it was the worst trip of my life. Luckily, when I returned to my hostel, I ended up having a wonderful night filled with traditional aboriginal dance, the local night market and a feast of dumplings – I am not afraid to say it: I'm a city girl. I'll pick crazy scooter filled, dirty streets any day over a serene, 200 m deep gorge. Sorry mountains!

This is my (belated, thank you, crappy Malaysian internet connection) contribution to BootnAll's 30 Days of Indie Travel project, Day 4 –Mistakes

I'm an old punk and hardcore kid, but when I travel, I fall back to cheesy classic Rock (basically all Bon Jovi albums before 1995, and the Springsteen's classic 'Born to run'). I love theatre and live music, so I also try to pick up local music or try to see a local band live whenever I travel.

The soundtrack to my summer 2011 is Shonen Knife, one of Japan's oldest girl-rock bands – you might know there are a lot of weird Japanese bands and often, singers are not talented at all (ironically, the are know as 'talents' in Japan – the talent is to be cute, look good and advertise lots of shit). Shonen Knife is different and combine classical rock covers (the current album, The Osaka Ramones, is a collection of Ramones covers) and fun, catchy road-trip music perfect for long train or bus rides along Japan. One of the songs I can't get out of their head is 'Do you happen to know?', a song about how after I flight from London Heathrow to Kansai airport (my route to Japan!), the protagonist lost her guitar. Overall, I can recommend their album „Free Time“, with many of the lyrics being in (understandable, yet not deep) English.

Another favourite song on this album is „Monster Jellyfish“ which reminds me of a visit to Osaka Aquarium and my unreasonable fear of... jellyfish, and their wonderfully nonsensical 'Capybara'. If you don't know, capybara are the biggest rodents and originate from South America. They look like giant, long-legged guinea pigs and awesome. So I guess they deserved a song of their own! 

This is my (belated, thank you, crappy Malaysian internet connection) contribution to BootnAll's 30 Days of Indie Travel project, Day 3 - Music

After taking the wrong train for the fifth time because of the intricate Japanese train system that means what looks like one train station is actually four, operated by totally different companies with their own ticket gates, I get off the train at the right stop, only to find out out that by now, I have gone over the amount my ticket is valid for and the ticket gate won't open for me. Luckily, this is Japan, so there is a neat little machine at the inside part where you can top up your ticket without getting fined (try that, Transport for London). Except that I have to pay exactly 110 yen extra (around $1), and all I have is a 1000 yen note that the machine, unsurprisingly, won't take. This is in the middle of nowhere north of Kyoto and no staff is around. Frustrated, I give up on visiting the temple I was headed for and stomp off to take the train back to town. A little old lady at the platform stops me and asks me what's wrong, and, being all shaken up by now, I tell her in my broken Japanese (the English equivalent being „I - train – ticket - not enough – 1000 yen! *waves 1000 yen note* - machine – go back to Osaka now“ *shakes head* *sad face*). She pats my arm and gives me exactly the 110 yen change I need. I bow frantically, she says it's ok, don't worry, and enjoy the temple.

This is just one example of the many random acts of kindness from strangers I experienced in the two months I spent in Japan – other episodes include sending a parcel to my brother, going to the supermarket without my wallet, and getting several rides when I lost my way and only asked for directions.

I'm a pretty self-reliant person. Usually, so much that I prefer to walk 3 miles rather than taking a taxi, even if it means I end up getting totally lost (I don't ask for directions, either). I've had to take care of myself since I've been fairly young, so accepting help or even admitting I need it is very hard for me, as I expect to be let down anyway. Travelling on my own, I am often forced to rely on others, and very slowly, I am learning that this might not always be the worst thing to do.

(Oh and by the way, if you DO end up going to Kyoto, check out Fushimi inari. It's a little out of the way, but everything you ever dreamed a Shinto shrine would be)

This is my (belated, thank you, crappy Malaysian internet connection) contribution to BootnAll's 30 Days of Indie Travel project, Day 2,about Embracing Change.

Since, I was little, I have been dreaming of travelling. In kindergarten and primary school, I remember doing projects on faraway places such as Borneo (just a few hundred miles southeast of where I am writing this now!) and India (same, just to the west of where I am now!) and was endlessly fascinated. Actually, the first 'grown-up' book I was given when I was five and about to start school was an illustrated world atlas. I have been soaking up everything I could learn about foreign culture and languages as long as I can remember, although it surely (except for mother's obsession with Britain) doesn't run in my family.

My mother being a single mom with three kids, no driver's license and trying to make ends meet, we didn't travel much – there were maybe half a dozen trips to the Netherlands and Belgium (both less than 100 miles away from where I grew up) until I was fourteen. We stayed in holiday resorts and I hated every minute of it.

Then, as I came out, my circle of friends changed drastically, and most of them were older then me, and pretty wild and crazy. After a few spontaneous hitchhiking trips to France, a summer spent a friend of my mother in Essex, with a friend's grandmother in Northern England and finally, a school trip in London, I was hooked. The think that I was hooked to most was London, though, and from when I moved out when I was 18 until I actually moved to London when I was 22, this was the only place I visited. All other places ceased to exist.

Until I realised, a year after I moved to London, I now have money to travel – and so I did, barely spending any time in the city I had been working towards moving to in the past years. In 2010, I left Europe for the first time and went to Japan and Morocco, two places I had dreamed of for a long time. It felt like it was what I was meant to do.

So for 2011, my decision was to travel even more. Little did I know at the beginning of this year that after endless boredom with my job and a hopeless quest to find something more exciting in the current economy, I would turn to freelancing and that this would give me the opportunity to travel full-time.

I've been a digital nomad for four months now, and to be honest, at the moment, I have no clue what my travel plans are for 2012. I have a return flight booked to London at the end of January, and will be in South East-Asia until then. In 2012, I would love to see India and South America, two parts of the world am madly in love with but have always been scared to go. I would also love to take my time in North Africa.

I think if I can handle Cambodia, I can do this, too. But maybe I will feel like settling down? At the moment, any place feels like home.

This is my (belated, thank you, crappy Malaysian internet connection) contribution to BootnAll's 30 Days of Indie Travel project, Day 1, about Travel Goals.  

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