Lost Girl of the Week: Alexis Grant on Africa

Africa, Lost Girl of the Week, Quitting & Career Management — By on December 15, 2009 at 9:33 am

Alexis Grant is a journalist who left her reporting job at the Houston Chronicle in May 2008 to travel and freelance in Africa. Now she’s writing her first book, a travel memoir, and living in her hometown near Albany, New York. Here, she shares her experiences on getting lost.

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It’s a question I hear often now that I’ve returned home to upstate New York: What was it like to backpack solo in Africa? Was I ever scared? Homesick? Ill? Yes, yes, and yes.

Alexis GrantBut traveling alone on the so-called Dark Continent was also thrilling, a new experience every day. As I made my way across West Africa, Cameroon and Madagascar, I’d wake up to the call of prayer from a nearby mosque, spend hours wandering through colorful markets, get excited when I found a restaurant that sold western-style pizza. In Burkina Faso, I watched an AIDS-infected boy befriend a lonely chimp at a deserted zoo. In Cameroon, a grieving polygamous family in a rural village took me in as one of their own. In Madagascar, a howling Indri lemur carried her baby through the trees far above my head.

It was more than I expected when I left my job as a reporter with the Houston Chronicle last year, planning to travel for at least six months. I’d long wanted to embark on a backpacking adventure but I’d put it off-first for graduate school, then to gain experience as a journalist. After three years with the paper, three years of saving money for my dream trip, I finally felt ready to take the leap.

Through my travel blog, Inkslinging in Africa, I brought readers along for the ride. Now I’m writing a book based on that blog – my first book, a travel memoir, which answers that question I get again and again: What was it like to backpack solo in Africa? And what was it like to do it as a woman?

The hardest part wasn’t navigating unfamiliar countries or learning to communicate in French – it was going without certain luxuries I took for granted at home. I missed getting a good night’s sleep in my comfy bed every night, using toilets with seats (squat toilets are the norm in French-speaking Africa) and eating cereal with milk in the morning. My patience was often tested, whether I was waiting for hours for my bush taxi to leave or elbowing my way through a crowd at the bank, wishing they used queues like we did at home. Most of those situations were manageable because locals befriended me, helped me learn their way of doing one thing or another, showed me unexpected hospitality.

In Africa, I was a “Lost Girl.” My days were largely unplanned, my itinerary flexible, my quest for adventure at its best. Now I’m home, but writing about my experiences allows me to relive many of those lost moments. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I want to be found.

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    1 Comment

  • meganahill says:

    Alexis, you're my hero. Big props for leaving Houston and striking out on your own. I can't see where your next adventure takes you.