I am just going to be honest here: travel is uncomfortable. It is a series of hand gestures, charades, directional mistakes, uncertain surroundings, unexpected detours, ever-changing time schedules, and accommodation surprises.
But isn’t that the whole point of traveling? Aren’t we curious to see how people live differently than we do? Don’t we long to experience new sights and scenery that we would not otherwise have the chance to experience? If that is not what we are looking for, then we should not leave home in the first place. It is time to get comfortable with "uncomfortability."
Way back at the beginning of this whole trek, while in Iceland, I mentioned my disinterest in camping. However, since I have a major interest in adventure, it edged out the discomfort. I signed up for an overland camping trip to Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. I made the decision that I would deal with the tents and bugs in order to have the adventure. Secretly, it was the overland camping truck I wanted to experience.
To start the camping adventure, my tour group conveniently met and departed from Cape Town, South Africa. Our first day was by far the most emotionally uncomfortable.
The first item on our itinerary was a tour of Guguletu, one of the poorest townships in the Cape Town area with a population just under 100,000. One of the residents was gracious enough to invite all twelve of us into her single-room, corrugated steel shack so that we could physically see and hear how she and her housemates live.
One small shack is considered home for two to ten people. Most have only one room, which is used for everything. It is the sleeping quarters, the living room, and the kitchen. During the day, the occupants have to leave the house and spend their time outdoors due to lack of space. Without windows or proper ventilation, the shack becomes an extremely unsafe hot box. The structures are packed so tightly together that a small house fire can quickly spread into a devastating disaster, claiming homes and lives.
These dwellings do not have running water, which results in a 10+ km round-trip walk of hauling buckets just to have the essentials for cooking and bathing. The “bathroom” is located at the back of the township in the weeds, which is also the only open space for children to run and play. As you can imagine, the waste bacteria breeds like crazy, causing much illness and in some cases, death.
We slowly drove through Guguletu’s dusty streets. Business buildings made from shipping containers, plywood, and cardboard lined the streets. We took a moment to stop by a memorial dedicated to several men who lost their lives fighting for equality during the apartheid era, the period marked by government-issued racial segregation.
We eventually arrived at a large concrete pavilion structure where a number of men and women were cutting different types of meat to be sold. As we walked through, I noticed numerous attempts to keep the flies away from the raw meat. I learned that markets and grocery stores are too expensive for most residents of Guguletu, so they often congregate at this pavilion as a central point to connect with the community and buy affordable meat.
My group had the opportunity to try sheep’s head, tongue, and liver. These are considered delicacy meals amongst the Black communities. (Please be aware that the terms Black, Colored, Indian and White are completely appropriate in South Africa.) They are favored and savored meals for life’s milestone celebrations.
Okay, at this point in the story, it is important for me to mention my conservative approach to food. I usually will not try something “weird.” I am not an adventurer when it comes to food; I leave that to my sister who will try nearly anything.
But considering I was wearing a necklace that says “Be Adventurous” and the fact that the guide had cut the delicacies into very small pieces, I went for it.
I do not have too much to say about the experience other than I did it and I lived to tell about it. The flavors were not as bad as I expected. The textures were not as gross as I imagined. The whole food experience was not nearly as bad as I pictured.
But I was uncomfortable.
The food challenged my comfort zone. The scenery around me challenged my comfort zone. I was challenged by people who live on very little and still laugh together at the community center point. I was challenged by people who cannot buy meat from a proper market, so they purchase only the amount they can afford from an open-air market, trusting it will not be spoiled. I was challenged by people who enjoy sheep liver as a treasured delicacy. I was challenged to not feel pity for what this community does not have but encouraged by the relationships and the care they have for each other.
Every time I travel, I have an opportunity to choose to get comfortable with uncomfortability. Sometimes, I do not respond appropriately.
In fact, I would venture to say most of the time I do not respond appropriately at first.
Eventually, I have to figure it out. This entire camping journey is another step outside of my comfort zone. I have been uncomfortable for much of these last many trekking months. I will continue to be uncomfortable as I am challenged by new experiences and new people.
The truth is, we will always be uncomfortable in places where we do not really belong. But the question remains, who will I fail to become if I am not challenged beyond what I know?
By: Tara Smith