Transient vagaries

In close to ten months of travelling, the hardest and most constant challenge I have had – beyond the isolation, helplessness at otherwise ordinary tasks of everyday living in a new place, utter loss when everything is going wrong and no one is speaking the same language – is being sick.  

Continental journey: Crossing the Straits of Gibraltar, Tarifa, Spain, to Tangier, Morocco

The kind of sick outside of the usual traveler ailments like the flu and food poisoning. Particularly, illnesses that manifest in unexpected and frightening ways: bronchitis, something that could have been altitude sickness and/or dehydration, mysterious infections that pounce and then disappear without apparent explanation. Trying not to feel too aggrieved with my own body for betraying me, over and over again. Things that deplete me, and leave me faced with the confounding truth that no matter how fortunate we are to have people stand by us, we are ultimately alone in our moments of reckoning.

The medina of Tangier (Morocco) by night. Cloud-cloaked mountains of Spain loom in the background, 9 km away

I chose this path, and while it has been a choppy one from the start, it’s not one I would change. But being away from loved ones, especially in times of need (both mine and theirs) is difficult. There is no sanctuary like being with those who protect you when you’re vulnerable, as there is no equal to creating one for those you love, when they need it.

Beachfront, Barcelona, Spain

There have been days where I’ve lain in bed, too weak to move, remembering my mother’s voice, almost tasting the sweetened barley water she always made when I was sick as a child. My father recounting a tale I’d heard several dozen times throughout the course of my life, that inevitably got better with every retelling. Wishing, for the briefest of moments, for that all encompassing certainty that someone was going to make sure I was better.

But nothing is certain. There is a strange serenity in the inseparability of despair and hope, beauty in the struggle of living things to dance on that equilibrium without upsetting it. I keep moving, carrying the memory of those I love with me, hoping that it will prove enough.

Kasbah gate, Tangier, Morocco


  1. Beautifully written Charlene. Ultimately we’re all at the mercy of very fragile realities…

    1. charlene says:

      Very, very true. More reason to live every moment to the fullest.

  2. I keep being spellbound by that image you made on the ferry trip to Tangier, it just speaks very deeply to me, something about leaving and arriving and chasing the dreams, the hope, while also always thinking of those near to us that may be left back on shore or far away but somehow close.

    1. charlene says:

      That seems to be the ongoing theme of my year, although perhaps it’s true of all of us who are transient. I like that picture too… it’s not everyday one sails across the Straits of Gibraltar.

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