Since I left the U.S. two years ago, I’ve written thousands of words about my experiences. Some I’ve shared with others, other words are way too personal to reveal and are best kept for myself. I recommend for any Black woman traveling—not just for enjoyment but for peace and reconciliation—to journal and reflect. Do this so you can account for yourself and for your growth when the time comes. I have hundreds of entries that have served as an inner travel guide.
As I was traveling through Kenya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, I was traveling into the deepest parts of myself, shedding light on the places in me that were covered in dust like harmattan in Abuja, or were fragrant like the coffee ceremonies I frequented in Addis Ababa or were like water as warm and serene as the Indian Ocean and places that were lush and fertile like the mountainous areas I traveled in Nanyuki. I also found many places inside myself that were simply and irrevocably dead. I cannot find any physical place that mirrors this death, maybe it’s those places of stillness I encountered so many times trying to find the part of me eager to lighten a heavy load.
December 4, 2018
I’m in Nigeria. I had to fight to get here. Like, every step of the way. At one point, when I was at the airport, I had begun yelling at a flight attendant who tried to tell me I had missed my flight. I can’t go into all the details but it was some bullshit. When I look at it in the end, I was protected every step of the way. I’m completely taken care of here. I was met at Abuja airport with my name on a sign, and that person helped me out. The airport staff noticed my name was Nigerian and spoke to me like I belonged, although I had a U.S passport. One attendant said I should get my Nigerian passport. I’m going to do it! When I got to where I was staying I found out I had access to a driver and my apartment was amazing!!! A part of me was like, wow, and another part somehow knew this was right. I felt like I deserved it…which is new. And everyone here has been reading the story I wrote and asking questions…I’m amazed. When I got here, I just knew this was my home. I belong here. Sometimes I feel emotional, but most of the time I feel settled. I’m trying hard to stay in the present. It is HARD. I’ve stopped writing (for now), and I feel like letting go of my need to control is something I’m really working through. Things I never thought would happen are happening. My life is completely turned around and I don’t want to get in my own way. So through gritted teeth, I’m just letting myself flow.
I’m not gonna visit my family out here because it’s so sudden, but hopefully next time. Something told me I wouldn’t be traveling to see them. For some reason, this makes all the sense in the world.
On Meeting other African Women and saying, “Yea…I’ve been there.”
January 23, 2019
So yesterday I met someone. Her name’s Achen. She arrived two nights ago and we are staying in the same dorm. I’m not really a sociable person, so I said hi when she said hello and went about my day. It’s interesting that with how much I gripe about being alone I’m quite protective of my “me” time. Yesterday, I felt moved to talk to her. We talked, and then we kept talking and eventually hung out. She told me she had just left a husband who trapped her in a mentally, verbally, and physically abusive marriage. His family no longer liked her because they had been married for three years and they weren’t able to conceive. They blamed her, even though Achen had been to the doctor and was told she was fine. The husband refused to go to the doctor because he believes that because he’s a man naturally there’s no problem. Both her parents have been dead a long time and she’s been taken care of by aunts and uncles. Barely.
She didn’t have an easy life: She got married to a man she thought was her best friend but he became violent. Back where she’s from men are Gods. She said she’s sure no one will miss her now that she’s left since she doesn’t really have a family. She left Uganda with 200 dollars in her pocket and the husband hasn’t called. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we met. She’s really hopeful. I mean, she’s only 28. And she said she knows so many other women who have these stories. She hosts meetups at a hotel in Uganda where survivors gather, pray, and share stories. She said each time the number of attendees kept growing. Even though I can’t understand everything she’s been through, I can relate. We’re both survivors who want to thrive and find our place in the world. So we are both here in Kenya indefinitely. But…she wants me to go with her to Uganda and help her lead discussions there. I’ll see. I feel like Achen is teaching me a lot about parts of African cultures that I’ll need to understand. Our connection was and is easy. Not forced.
On Being Black, Carefree, and Trying to Mother Yourself
January 27, 2019
So I’m thinking about volunteering at this hostel until I figure out my next move. It’s free accommodation and food. Plus, I don’t want to go anywhere else for now. I spoke to the manager about it and he said after one volunteer leaves I could fill the position. I’d be working at the bar, which I think would be good for my social skills. I feel the need to talk to more folks and work on connecting more. I’d get fresh mango juice for free. So that’s great.
Life feels pretty flat right now. Not much going on, but I’m still reading and I’m really looking at my patterns. I’ve cut down my social media time considerably. Eating healthier foods is a little trickier. I have my period right now so that helps me with picking foods that are better for my body. I also have been thinking more about taking care of myself in terms of my aesthetic. I’m really feeling brighter and I want my outer self to reflect more of that. I just want to look the way I feel, so I got my hair done and it’s Diana Ross huge. Next week, I’m gonna work on getting $5 shoes and a free mani-pedi. The promise that Achen and I made was to live our best lives. We said that no matter what we are gonna enjoy life. She’s back in Uganda now, staying at a church, they don’t give her any food and she’s scared. I told her I’d pray for her. When she was here I was telling her about meditation. I’m glad I followed my gut and stayed here. I’m getting the message that I can only save myself, for now.
On Dealing with Uncertainty While You’re in a Theater Training
March 18, 2019
I still feel alone and super emotional. Maybe it’s all the nature and quiet… but this training brought up so much for me—general feelings of unworthiness and not being enough…feeling like a schmuck in front of my peers and people I’d like to impress…and a general sense of feeling overshadowed. I’ve been emotionally eating…which isn’t helpful.I’m gonna try not to do that. I also don’t feel very good in terms of my body, I feel good when I do yoga, but I want to shave, get my nails done, and just feel sexy again. I’m not sure what the plan is after this. I hope I didn’t make a mistake by coming to this training, it really triggered some stuff in me that made me feel inadequate… money is money again, of course, bills are due. If I get a regular job, this would help with stability and finding a place to live. I live nowhere. America feels distant. Nigeria feels far off too. If I go to Nigeria, what will I do there? Today I’m gonna try to write, even though there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write anymore.
I had a dream where a former supervisee said, “The story you wrote is getting a lot of people to leave the old ways…” she was referring to the idea of faith and religion. It’s so prevalent in what I write, and usually my protagonist challenges traditional notions of religion and tries to search for her own understanding of spirit. I know that spirit is trying to talk to me. I’ve been angry and frustrated. I haven’t been as open as I usually am to listening. I’ve basically given up my entire former life and I still feel alone and like I have no people. Navigating this human life isn’t easy.
On Talking to God after you’ve read Neale Donald’s Walsch “Conversations with God,” and you think, if this white man can speak to God, then you better believe that I’m gonna use my imagination and have my own damn conversation.
P.S. In my heart…God is not an I. God is a WE.
March 18. 2019
Me: I’m feeling lost. There’s something about life and God being so vast that makes me feel alone. I already feel alone in life. I don’t have kids, a partner, even an artistic community. My close friends are in another country and they have their lives. I definitely don’t have the support of family. I think once I read that book I just started to feel like everything is on me to create the life I want. It’s overwhelming.
God: We don’t minimize your human struggle. Your struggle lies with the fundamental connection you lost as a human. The connection to your mother and father. That is how many humans first know God because they are there to mirror for you and to affirm that you are good. We weep that you did not get that because this fundamental knowing is often essential to building a life that feels safe and liberating. We see you and love you deeply. We honor your path and hope you can believe that your success and your path is assured. You now get this time to think clearly about what you desire. You get the time to connect to the source that loves you, beyond what you can see. You now get the opportunity to put your stock into what is actually real. God loves you. And the love the spirit has for you is unwavering. The vestiges of love you were taught, which was based in fear and ego is dying. For you, there is much to grieve because you are moving into a new life. Look around you. What surrounds you? What do you look forward to now that you have chosen your life? We are asking that you tell us what you desire, we are asking that you tell yourself what you desire while you take care of your grief. We are asking you to trust that something larger is leading the way. Respect your transformation and allow yourself to be mothered and fathered by the source that truly sees you. Forgive those in your life who couldn’t and let them go.
Me: I feel like I’ll always be sad.
Spirit: You are not sadness. You have sadness inside you, and you are learning how to use that specific energy to heal and create. But Itoro, your being, your soul is actually far from sad. It’s important for you to know that your natural state is joy, and for the time being, you’ll be purging the sadness through your art to create and heal, because yes, sadness and grief has been a part of the process, and even necessary, but this isn’t where your story ends. You won’t die in denial and distress.
Me: Thanks…it feels weird but I know it’s important for me to know.
Spirit: It is.
Me: And what about my love of Oprah and Jane Fonda?
Spirit: Their spirits love you too!
Me: Now I really think I’m delusional.
Spirit: We’re all one, and Oprah and Jane Fonda realize that life is about self-actualizationself actualization which involves a more intimate process of being with one’s self and spirit. It’s ok to admire these women, and they are great examples for you. But we know they’d tell you to follow your own path and have faith in your particular contribution because it is yours and can never be there’s.
Me: Ok. Got it. Good dialogue. Amen!
On Feeling Safe in the World
Saturday April 6, 2019
It’s almost a month until my birthday. A year ago I was in Oakland, living off unemployment, putting on a play, watching tv with my roommate…it had been two months since I had left the monastery. Which gave me the space to cry and open something deep within my soul. A year later, I’m in Nairobi. I don’t feel aimless but I do feel like I’m in the wilderness. I do feel alone but very protected and looked after.
This past year I began talking to my higher self. I finally told myself the truth about my assault, had difficult conversations, almost shutdown a toxic organization and figured out my values, wrote like my life depended on it, raised over $2000 to come to Kenya, visited Nigeria after 29 years, and worked with students…it’s been a wild ride. I’m staying someplace alone, I keep the doors locked, but I hear a lot of noises that scare me. I realize that safety and feeling safe is a big challenge for me. The more healing work I do, the more this comes up. When I talk to my higher self I hear the assurance that I’m safe and protected. Last night, I got the message that anytime I’m scared I should just sit with the fear, meditate through it, close my eyes and breathe.
Theoretically, I know that all is well but emotionally it’s a whole ‘nother thing. This sounds too good to be true. I have a lot of muck from ancestral trauma to transmute. I know I’ve been through a lot. Not to say that in order to reap a good life you have to suffer, but I think what I’m getting is that continuing to suffer has nothing to teach me. I’ve been down the suffering road before. I had a healer who told me that my path is clear and the ancestors are with me and even my Dad said I’m never to look back and that I will not die young. So maybe I should just rest in this a bit instead of having all this restlessness. I still feel funky and a bit bleak…all I want to do is stay in bed, listen to podcasts, and blink. So we’ll see. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a quiet life, surrounded by nature with a private chef to fix good food. I kinda want to be away from it all.
I’m also getting from the spirit that I need to be clear and specific about what I want, and ask. So I ask to be surrounded by the right people. I ask that my passion and purpose is made clear. I ask that I feel safe and protected while walking the earth. I ask that I’m materially comfortable. I ask to see more of the world and taste more of the world’s cuisine. I ask for healing and resolution of all the grief and heartache I’ve lived through.
I realize that all I want is to grow into the most beautiful flower that my heart can conceive. I can’t think of any Black woman who isn’t simply looking for an opportunity to bloom. What better way to do this then through travel?
Itoro Bassey is a Nigerian-American writer, cultural worker, and healer based in Nigeria. She has received numerous fellowships and publications for her writing. Currently, she is working with multiple organizations and coalitions to build better mental health infrastructures in Nigeria. She is the co-founder of Naija Meditate, a collective for Nigerians and African originated peoples that provides funding, training, and community to wellness practitioners and those on a healing journey. You can follow her on Instagram @itoroflower and @naijameditate.