Just days ago, I uploaded my final thesis for my undergraduate degree, defended it (on Zoom, for god’s sake) and suddenly realised that was the end of my university career. Only, nothing changed. I am still alone in my apartment, day in day out, and all my friends are still abroad in their family homes. In a normal scenario, we’d be partying in celebration before I’d quickly pack all my stuff in my beloved backpack before heading away to see my life partner in Iran or elsewhere we both can travel.
It’s been since New Year’s that we last saw each other. In the mean time, both of our countries have been rocked by the pandemic and both of us have seen widescale collapse of economies. My job opportunities have near zero-ed, and his business hasn’t had an income since the start of the lockdown in March. My plane tickets to go and see him were cancelled too, and quickly I had no idea anymore what to do, because I wasn’t even allowed to visit my parents who live closeby. Was I ever going to step foot in my university again? Will I ever see some of my friends again? What if I can’t find a job, and I have to sell my stuff and move out, where would I go?
These months in solitude and sadness forced me to think to myself what this situation can mean for ordinary people such as you and me. Not only on the daily rundown of statistics about death counts, infection rate, etc., but also what the strain is that a pandemic puts on our relationships, friendships, economic wellbeing and so forth. lso how we can overcome it without falling into a mode of panic or despair. Without anger or resentment and certainly, without it going at the expense of our valued relationships or our own mental well being.
This question brings us back into the core of our being, I believe. It requires you to rethink what your valued relationships were and what they were based on. And, whether this pandemic (or, any other major life event) has changed the way you look at the world.
It certainly did for me. Though long before Covid arose, I started questioning my mode of life. Whether I still wanted to travel every single day off, whether me being everywhere was justified and whether I contributed to the world more than I took from it (eg. in the form of emissions, intrusion into people’s lives, etc.). Additionally, this lifestyle made me less able to nurture my friendships and family relationships back at home, which I have often regretted. But, I had previously defined myself almost solely on my ‘abilities’ related to travel, so how could I give that up?. I was so brave! I was that woman who went to Afghanistan and Iraq all by herself at the mere age of 21, I was that travel blogger who went ‘deeper’ and went to ‘off the beaten track’ places. But it didn’t struck me so much most of the time how incredibly privileged it is to be able to do that. To be able to book a ticket to Afghanistan and do a 20 day trek, and safely return home after to blog about the beautiful experience it was. The humility of the ‘locals’, the ‘divine simplicity’ of the food and other things you commonly hear about non-western places.
But rather than really honouring these people and their ways, their traditions, I felt that through an Instagram post, it becomes nothing but a commodification of lives, identities and histories in exchange for some likes, some comments and more data that Instagram can sell about me and them. I asked myself, how many people have deliberately asked consent of their subjects before publishing their photos? How many people have invented stories just to make a portrait look more intriguing, more attractive to an audience that marvels at exotic sights and so-called ‘authentic’ images? When is this authenticity really something to admire and when is it a mixed feeling of feeling superior in our modern society while also being envious of the prevailing respect for traditions, dress, rituals and culture that can be seen elsewhere in the world?
Thus, before travelling far out, perhaps it is imperative we first re-evaluate what it is that we seek? Can we also travel within to see if we can find the authenticity, real authenticity, inside ourselves too without the need to fill this in with the commodification of other cultures?
The forced pause that Covid imposed on us all, should be seen as a short-term nuisance but a long-term blessing, if we want to get out of it successfully. Thus, I decided it had to start with the only place I can access and enforce change: myself. With this in mind, I decided to start over on my blog.
Hunting Rarities, what first meant looking for far-flung places, or bringing my audience a glimpse of ”the unknown”, thus gets a wholly different meaning. It now means to look for wisdom, to look for shared experiences that connect us all and whether we can go beyond using travel as a means of self-validation but rather as a means to create a more equal world based on mutual respect. And, last but not least, with this blog I aim to create a platform where knowledge and experiences found all over the world can in fact create a more sustainable future for us all.
How has the Covid pandemic changed you? What do you think of this novel idea for Hunting Rarities? What would you like to see more of from me in the future? Leave a comment below or send me a message.
One thought on “A Fresh Start”
Wow Andrea, what a wonderful piece. I recognize myself in your story, especially you questioning your desire to travel; is it really beneficial (for you, the locals, your readers…) or just a priviledged luxury? I have also travelled to exotic places all my life, but looking at the world map in my room with red pins in so many parts of the world, as trophees, I feel a bit silly, even ashamed. I decided that I didn’t want to fly anymore if it wasn’t absolutely neccessary. I want to travel more slowly, emerging myself in the landscape and the culture, instead of being just an observer. I am super excited to hear more about your thoughts about your new found insights! And I will definitely keep myself updated on how you will shape your new way of travelling! Big hug, Femke