*I wrote this article for my Diversity Abroad Scholarship and would like to share it with you guys.
“Your skin is just like mine”, he held up his hand next to my own in order to compare the deepness of our shades, “we are fine under the sun”. This is a moment I shared with my guide as we trekked through the hills of Kalaw under the fiery heat of the daytime sun. I spent a total of seven hours with him, and during this time we would exchange many moments of similarity and distinct difference. My guide would be one of the very many faces who would define my time in Myanmar and make it the experience that it has come to be. I have developed a memory of Myanmar and it is one of the most vivid ones so far.
I spent all five days of my time in Myanmar completely alone. The moment I knew I was going to spend three months travelling the world, I knew I wanted to challenge myself to travel alone at least once in one of our 10 ports. For many people, it was one thing to be traveling alone, but it was a whole other issue that the place I wanted to travel alone in was Myanmar. The information which we had been inundated with was of civil unrest, military juntas, and large scale genocides. Myanmar was supposed to be the country where we needed the most caution. Rumors spread through the ship that we would be rerouting to Thailand, others wondered why such a country was even on the itinerary. Yet, I had been excited for what would be my biggest personal challenge, solo travel.
There was not a time that I felt alone in Myanmar, nor did I ever feel unsafe. During my second day in Yangon, my taxi driver locked my stuff up in his taxi as he accompanied me up to the Shwedagon pagoda, explaining to me Buddhist culture and ritual practices. I imagined if anything like his could ever happen in a place back at home like D.C. or New York. My taxi driver had become a friend, my travel buddy, and never had I suspected anything different. Travelling alone made me vulnerable, but it made me vulnerable in a way that I was a walking curiosity. Throughout my time in Myanmar, I would communicate and walk alongside many people. I would experience genuine concern and welcoming. I recall as at one point in my travels two men would welcome me to their table as I awkwardly looked around for a place to sit and eat. It was times like these that I realized I was travelling alone, but I was never alone.
When I exchanged that moment that I talked about earlier with my tour guide, it was about four hours in to our trek. It was followed by conversations of colorism, conversations about family, conversations about culture, conversations about anything you can share with a person in seven hours. I thought about the level at which I got comfortable in Myanmar, and the fact that I never glanced around and thought about how I was being perceived. I can’t help but think about how aware of my blackness I was just two countries prior in China, and now my darkness was not the complete point of interest. It is not to say that I found some lost kindred spirits in the streets of Myanmar, but I was able to navigate the country and communicate with people on a level I had not yet been able to. In a country that had been prefaced for us with the imagery of death, poverty, and strife I had found something entirely different. I had found a pursuit for life and a growing hope for a changing country. Travelling alone was more than just about discovering myself as a traveler, but about having the ability to fully immerse myself in a place without grasping for the few reminders of home.