Learning to Write My Reality
I’ve always been intrigued by blogs: the idea that you can put your thoughts out there on the internet and anyone can find and read them. But I never felt like I had anything interesting, important, or new to say, so my couple of attempts at blogging quickly fizzled out. That’s why, when I decided to study abroad in Cape Town my junior year of college, a blog seemed like the perfect way of keeping my friends and family informed about my life, mostly because I would finally have something exciting to write about!
During my six months in Cape Town, I chronicled my adventures in a blog called “Liz Takes Africa”. My meticulously planned posts included my pre-trip excitement, deciding not to bungee jump on the Garden Route, my cooking attempts, the peculiarities and wonders of The University of Cape Town, a road trip to Namibia, and Cape Town life in general. Reading those blog posts, you’d think I spent six months reveling in life on another continent without a care in the world.
It wasn’t until recently, when I reread the countless emails between my friends/family and I from my time in South Africa, that I recalled some of the hard, scary, and crappy times. In my first real foray into the blogging world, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing the bad along with the good. I felt a responsibility to share Cape Town with my people back home who knew nothing about it, and I didn’t want a bad day or homesickness to shade their view of a city I had come to love dearly.
I left out of my blog the times in Cape Town when I desperately wanted to go home. I left out the emails, phone calls, and Skype chats where I cried to my friends and family, finally allowing my homesickness to show. I left out the times when everything about Cape Town annoyed me, from the unfamiliar accents, to everyone’s propensity for lateness, to the constant noise of mini bus conductors yelling their destinations out an open door. I left out the parts of Cape Town that made it a real place with faults, and not just a magical wonderland of things to do and places to go.
I left out the times when everything about Cape Town annoyed me, from the unfamiliar accents, to everyone’s propensity for lateness, to the constant noise of mini bus conductors yelling their destinations out an open door.
A year later, I was once again preparing for a trip to southern Africa. This time, I would be heading to Botswana to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer for a little over two years, and once again a blog seemed like the perfect way to record my life. My blog, “Botswannabe” (my blog names were improving) started much like my previous study abroad blog, featuring the excitement, strangeness, and complexities of my new country, culture, and life. However, after two months of training, I finally moved to my village and away from consistent internet access. That meant that I was writing my blog posts on a Word document, then uploading them every few weeks/months, when I had the chance.
After a couple of months, the initial excitement and freshness of my new life wore off, and my blog started to morph. Instead of writing to fit a certain topic for a preconceived blog post, I started writing just to write. Because my first vacation wouldn’t happen until six months into my stay in Botswana, I didn’t have crazy vacation adventures to fill each post, as I had in Cape Town. Instead, I began to write about the things in my daily life that preoccupied my thoughts, whether it was a reflective piece on technology, or what it was like to not have reliable access to water.
After a while, I realized that I wasn’t writing for my friends and family as much I was writing for myself. I was negotiating a new country, culture, and way of life, and the best way I could focus my thoughts on it all was through writing. These raw, stream-of-consciousness ramblings I recorded weren’t always positive, but I realized that was okay, because they were real glimpses into my life in Botswana.
Travel blogging is about so much more than those exciting moments that seem exotic to your friends and family back home. It’s also about the hard times, the boring times, and the terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad days.
It was when I went back to edit these ramblings into blog posts that I really started to reflect on my experiences. Peace Corps liked to call us unofficial ambassadors of America, and I especially felt that way when trying to relay my life in Botswana back to America. I had to carefully piece my blog posts together with context and backstory in order to make them understandable and relevant to my audience. While that process could be boring, it was through editing and piecing together that I was able to begin to reflect on my travel experiences.
My diatribe against the difficulty of transportation in Botswana became a frustrated, but appreciative, piece on the kindness of strangers on a day when everything that could go wrong, did. My incoherent babblings about the death of loved ones, both at home and in my village, became a strong statement about the courage to make hard decisions. While writing has always been a cathartic practice for me, the act of blogging made the cathartic experience a reflective one that showed me the traveler and person I am continuously growing into.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against a great vacation blog, and I’ve definitely written my fair share of silly posts (like the time my village thought I was on American Idol). But what I’ve learned is that travel blogging is about so much more than those exciting moments that seem exotic to your friends and family back home. It’s also about the hard times, the boring times, and the terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad days. Those days are what turn this new world you’re exploring into a real place. You really can’t go wrong with writing about what’s real.