The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Precariousness of Getting There: Travel's Hardships and Blessings

Nicole Maisha, January 2013 - On a recent flight from Washington DC to Dakar, Senegal we had a strange experience.  Before we took off, the pilot got on the PA system and told us there would be quite a bit of turbulence for the first part of the trip.  A couple of passengers nearby were also telling several of us that it would be a very bumpy ride initially because of a storm system brewing over the Atlantic.  But alas, after takeoff and more than two hours into the flight there was nothing beyond the normal bumps here and there.  Then suddenly one of the flight attendants walked hurriedly down the aisle and told his colleague to put away the duty free cart because we were getting ready to "hit some really bad turbulence". You can imagine the fear we experienced upon hearing his words.  Our anxiety was more a reaction to his tense demeanor than anything else.  I turned to my husband and asked him to make du'a (Islamic term for supplication) for our safety and protection. We never actually hit any bad turbulence.  In fact, we didn't hit more than a few waves and bumps that were scarcely felt.  It seems that the pilot was able to avert the storms and winds by slightly changing course.  And that change even got us to our destination about 30 minutes early!

Cape Verdean Ferry

I often write about the spiritual, visceral and emotional experiences of traveling. I'm usually referring to the part where you've actually arrived at and are enjoying your destination.  But when you really think about it, the getting there is just as enlightening.  Plane travel has distanced us from the precariousness of international journeys; however, even when you're in- country you get a sense of how risky and scary any voyage can be.  For example, I was just traveling in Senegal - from the capital Dakar down to Kedougou, the southeastern edge of the country close to the border with Guinea.  It's approximately 500 km and if road infrastructure was good it would be about a 7- hour drive. But the roads in the country's interior are narrow, windy and riddled with potholes in some parts.  To top it off, the buses used to transport passengers are old, rickety and often in poor mechanical shape.  Seats can be old, windows not working and passengers squeezed into tight seats and rows.  What adds to the dangerousness are the mounds of luggage, goods and boxes that are piled high on the roof and the seeming recklessness of the drivers who are often sleep-deprived before setting off on the 12- to 13-hour overnight drive.  You are literally on a wing and a prayer during those trips.  

I've heard many stories, both in the news and from personal accounts, of people injured or even killed in bus accidents.  My friend’s cousin had to get stitches on her face and arms after her bus from Conakry, Guinea tipped over in the middle of the night. Even my husband gets antsy.  On our most recent bus trip to Kedougou he gave the driver a piece of his mind.  When he felt we were going too fast, he yelled out, “hey, you have our life in your hands.  Be careful!”  Then, there was the time I took an hour-long ferry ride between islands in Cape Verde. The Atlantic Ocean was rough, the boat was unstable, people were getting sea-sick, and I was traveling alone.  I seriously thought the boat might capsize.  Obviously, it didn't   Halfway through, I made subtle contact with an older man on the boat who had clearly made the trip numerous times.  We were able to communicate with the few Creole words I knew and he tapped my back and comforted me as he saw my motion-sickness and the shear fear on my face. 

If you are brave - or some would say naive- enough to take these kind of trips (or just one of tens of thousands of people who have no choice), then you will likely be tapping into your personal faith and spiritual foundation for protection. These examples are pretty extreme, I know! But even with the statistical safety of modern aviation, nothing is guaranteed.  You're likely not completely comforted by numbers when you weather the severe turbulence of an ocean storm that reaches you 33,000 feet in the air.  When you travel, you are vulnerable, you put yourself at risk and many times you pray that you make it to the other side unscathed.  It is a hardship and a blessing.  
Pretty nice tour bus in the desert of Bahrain
The bus that goes from Dakar to Kedougou
The acknowledgement of this travel duality – the danger and the benefit -figures prominently in Islamic tradition. Seeking blessings and protection during travel is very important for Muslims.  Muslims frequently refer to the reported sayings and examples of the Prophet Mohamed (called Hadiths) for guidance.  One Hadith says, “Three supplications will not be rejected (by Allah (SWT)), the supplication of the parent for his child, the supplication of the one who is fasting, and the supplication of the traveler”. It is believed that during travel supplication is heard by Allah (SWT) if the trip is for a good reason, but if the trip is for a bad intention this will not apply to it.  Upon returning from a journey it is reported that the Prophet Mohamed would say, We are returning, repenting, worshiping and praising our Rabb (Lord)”. 

Finally, this verse from the Holy Qur’an touches the heart of what it means to travel. “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made into you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other).  Surely the noblest amongst you in the sight of God is the most god-fearing of you. God is All-knowing and All-Aware" (Quran 49:13).  As a Muslim, an adventurer and a world traveler, I gladly and humbly accept those hardships and blessings each and every time I have the opportunity!

Do you have a particular travel ritual that helps you feel protected?
On the hills of Fogo, CV


  1. Beautifully expressed! :) Yes, prayer and a review/reminder of our intentions for our journey are what keep me grounded, no matter how high I am in the air or what bodies of water I traverse. Thank you!