We are excited to present this personal travel story from one of our top ten Travel Writer Award finalists. Read more about the travel experiences of Katie Martinez.

Sometimes I watch people walking in the street from a high vantage point, like a balcony, and it amazes me how slow they are. My thought process will then usually turn into a series of questions; starting with confusion as to how we got to Europe from Africa at that pace and ending in the unavoidable realisation that the people who started the journey did not finish it, rather their children, or their children’s children must have. Then, because I am human, my thoughts return to myself, and I marvel in the idea that me, as a starter of a journey, and with the help of modern technology, am able to finish it.

As it turns out, I have actually had the chance to start and finish a journey that I like to refer to as life-school, because the person I am today would not exist were it not for all of the little hardships, the large ones, and all of the wonders that my two years in Sudan had to offer. When I talk about Sudan with European people, they have the tendency to act surprised as to how someone would chose freely to spend two years of their life in what they perceive to be a dangerous and hard-to-survive-in country. Let me tell you right off the bat that yes, South Sudan is dangerous, there is a war going on. But no, North Sudan is not.

There is no way in hell that less than 1000 words can begin to round up two years of anyone’s life, but I can fit in this:

  • Moving somewhere new, and not knowing what to expect when you get there, is a leap of faith very few people are able to take. Some people might call it stupidity, because it is, but the sky in Africa is different to the sky in Spain and if you have an itch inside of you that begs you to go and see it, I suggest you do.
  • Being thrown into a sea of people whose faces you’re completely unfamiliar with and whose names are nothing like anything you’ve ever heard before is terrifying. Like, really, really scary. But give it a month and you will start to learn the names, and welcome the faces, and next thing you know, you’ve made friends.
  • The friends I just mentioned, they’re not going to be like your friends back at home, the friends you grew up with and have so much in common with. These people have so much to teach you, and you have so much to teach them. You will come to enjoy and love their little rituals, you will come to understand new religions, and customs, and you will come to accept that you are an outsider.
  • The first big step for me was accepting that, being an outsider. You are not one of them, and you will have to fight the human instinct inside of you that wants to be. Even writing this I feel like a hypocrite. What do I know about the inner workings of Sudan? Nothing. But I am blessed and grateful for the glimpse that I have gotten.
  • And here’s my favourite. Tourist attractions? They won’t teach you anything. You should go and see them, wherever you go, because they’re pretty, they’re interesting, they’re entertaining. But you need to live somewhere, to have been somewhere. Go to tea parties and weddings, eat out with people that know which restaurants to go to and what to order, get to the restaurant in a tuk-tuk, talk to people’s grandparents, ask questions.

Do not, under any circumstances, think you are done learning about a country, ever. And if you don’t cry when it’s time to leave, you have so much left to learn.

Did you enjoy reading about Katie’s travel experiences? Like her story on Facebook to vote for Katie and she could be the winner of our Travel Writer Award 2017!

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