Tanzania: Experiencing True Loneliness When Travelling

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Me, Myself & I © Jessica Gatfield

I had arrived. Greeted with an electric fence, large metal gates and a timid guard, I found myself confronted with home for the next two months. With just my belongings at my feet, I was joyfully greeted by the guard dog, a sandy coloured Pariah named Tienga, who, to my surprise didn’t have Rabies. Upon analysing my surroundings, confusion soon presented itself as the building looked nothing like the photographs that I had been shown. I was warmly informed that the charity’s budget didn’t cover the suggested accommodation so this was second best. Apprehensive, a tour of my new domain soon reassured me that a downgrade didn’t equal squat toilets or lack of hot water: it just meant no WiFi or cooked breakfast in the morning. Pleasantly surprised and therefore grateful, I was eager to unpack my suitcase and meet my fellow housemates.

To my miscalculation, I was going to spend my first night alone. Even through all of the meticulous planning, over cautious preparation and flying across the world in solitude, I never stopped to consider that I may have to spend some time, well, you know, solo. I naively made the assumption that when I arrived at my destination, I would be surrounded by English speaking expats, stay in a guesthouse overflowing with guests and be exchanging life stories over a warm beer within an hour of arriving. i never once considered that the particular time of year was named Low Season for a reason and that guesthouses, surprise surprise, really can be empty.

Denial Before Darkness

 I would say I am somebody who is content and in particular who enjoys her own company. It soon became clear that I am only 100% content with being alone when it is still light outside. It appeared that daylight is comforting and seemingly full of possibility and hope. The evening seems so far away and you cling onto the idea that a new resident is on his or her way to save you from absolute solitude. In spite of this, along with the sun, that idea faded away on the horizon and all that remained was the unenticing darkness. To my surprise, thankfully, there is always artificial daylight and locking myself in my bedroom rocking by candlelight wasn’t on the horizon just yet.

Oh wait… Powercut.

I had the naive assumption that a powercut would never occur on my first night, in particular when I’m alone because let’s face it, this is the scene from a horror film and horror films are all pretend right? On the one hand, I had already cooked some food so tackling the gas hob in the pitch black was a battle I wasn’t going to be a part of. On the other hand, I couldn’t quite recall packing a torch let alone having placed one in the vicinity of where I was standing. After fumbling around in the dark for what felt like an hour, I found a candle and a box of matches that had already been placed in anticipation on the dining table. It looked like I would be rocking myself to sleep by candlelight after all.

Just Ride Out The Emotion

I’m all alone. I’m in a foreign place. I’m in Africa. I’m thousands of miles away from Home. Oh home… home… home. The emotions came flooding in and next thing you know I’m crying. Just letting it all out like there was a water shortage and my tears were the solution to not dying of thirst. My conscious (or should I say unconscious) was screaming ‘focus on the now, be present, just accept it’. ‘Well, dear old conscious, the present is sucking a little I’ll have you know and I quite frankly am scared and fearful of my life’.

In the back of my mind I was thankful for being within a gated compound. Not a common asset in Britain although I doubt we are in constant need of electric fencing and a night guard. And when in doubt of your night guard wandering off out of the compound, there is always electric fencing.Thank goodness for electric fencing. Wait a second… ELECTRIC fence. Which needs ELECTRICITY to serve its purpose. SHIT.

Time to lock myself in my room, with the candle burning and rock myself to sleep. To my surprise my bedroom door didn’t have a lock so I’ll be sleeping with one eye open. Why I assumed sleeping would be possible is beyond me. Every noise outside startled me and I convinced myself that I was going to be next on a killer’s hit list. Just breathe… breathe.

 Accept It For Goodness Sake

Staring at the door by candlelight soon became psychotic. It wasn’t helping the situation nor was it making me feel any safer. That is when I reached for my diary and began writing. It not only took my mind off of the situation but got all of my feelings out on paper. The crying subsided and the fear died down a little too. I came to terms with the fact that I was now facing the true definition of loneliness and had to accept it as an experience that I would look back on in the future (If I survived the night that is to say).

Feeling Grateful

An opposing feeling then surfaced which shocked me a little. I became overwhelmed with gratitude for everything I was lacking at that particular moment. I realised just how lucky I was to have a loving family, a supportive group of friends and the option to never be alone. I knew that in the weeks to come I would be spending my time with both children and adults who didn’t have any of these privileges and would be experiencing pure loneliness on a daily basis. My emotions began to subside and within a few minutes, to my surprise, the power cut was over and my room was filled with light.

You’re Going To Be OK

Just having electricity back seemed to make all of the difference. It was as if the whole evening had been a test to see if I would crack. And I sure did. By this point I was emotionally drained, slightly jet lagged and experiencing the aftermath of culture shock. I needed sleep. With the guarantee it wasn’t going to be the best sleep of my life, I found the courage to turn off the light and brave the dark after all.

In the weeks that came, I experienced many nights where I was alone. Each night brought new obstacles and new challenges but each were overcome with more bravery than I felt resided within me. Experiencing pure loneliness strips you back to nothingness. You are forsaken to be alone with just yourself and your thoughts. It is up to you to control how you choose to spend those lonesome hours and whether you wish to let them break you or build you.

In the words of Winnie The Pooh:

‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think’.

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