Growing up, I was exposed to both mainstream American and Ghanaian attitudes on aging. It was hard to wrap my head around the American focus on living longer combined with an obsession with being eternally youthful in appearance. Then, at Ghanaian functions I was always surrounded by fun-loving animated adults who always tried to pull younger generations onto the dance floor, and it wasn’t uncommon for an octogenarian grandmother to get the party started. It seemed to me that while Americans attempted to defy age physically, Ghanaians tried to do it with their attitudes towards living life.
As I explore an era where I am still young, but not as young as I used to be, I appreciate the Ghanaian approach even more. But living in America, it’s hard to not be influenced by the messages I’m surrounded with. Like other women, I’m constantly exposed to harsh noise that tries to dictate what I’m allowed to do and be at each age in my life. But as one of my friends would say: Fuck that noise.
I’ve known a few women who in their own small ways, have said that phrase with their actions. These women have shown me that as long as you’re living and able-bodied, there is no age where you have to toss your dreams and sense of adventure aside and that there is always still time:
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, a strange series of events led me up to a bar where I spotted another solo female traveler. I asked if I could join her. She turned out to be a kindred spirit and we spent the rest of the night conversing. She had many tales of her adventures venturing off Southeast Asia’s farang trail and into tiny villages that constantly challenged her views on the way things should be. She also shared stories of her life back home and told me that in order to travel to Asia, she’d walked away from a successful business she’d started. She said that people around her thought she was crazy and to this, she shrugged casually. Running the business wasn’t for her, and more than other people’s ideas of success, she was interested in her own well-being and happiness.
When I was planning to go to Peru, I did what most budget travelers tell you not to and booked a two day Machu Picchu tour in advance. I didn’t know who would be on the tour or if there’d be anyone on the tour at all. I lucked out with the one tour mate I had, a journalist from England who lived and worked in Dubai. After several hours on a train, I learned a great deal about her life and her experiences with traveling and living abroad. She’d already seen and done so much, yet she still spoke with a youthful enthusiasm about the possibilities of both her personal life and what she had left to see of the world. Age was a non-issue for her, and she’d found away to make it so that adventure was incorporated into her everyday life.
5/12/13 update: We met up last summer when she was touring the West Coast of California and caught up over Peruvian food and pisco sours. She is in the middle of a trip at this moment, traveling Vietnam from “top to tail” and then visiting Cambodia.
I think my mom has now gotten used to my need to be on the move. Whether or not she’d actually admit it, she is directly responsible for my wanderlust. Growing up, my family always actively enjoyed our free time with summer trips and day trips and road trips. And my mom always had a knack for finding humor in whatever travel threw our way. She still points out that the most annoying things that happen on trips tend to be the most entertaining moments to look back at later. Now she is in her mid 50s, and life hasn’t gone as planned. But she has explored different opportunities and is making things happen. So at the moment, she is getting ready to retire early, taking classes in child development and applying for the Peace Corps.
5/12/13 update: She was accepted into the Peace Corps and is currently serving in Namibia where she is helping a group of physically disabled people start a food business. Right now, she is on a break and traveling in Cape Town, South Africa!
When I volunteered in Salvador, Brazil, in a sea of recent college and high school graduates, one of the most active volunteers was almost 60. She came up with great lesson ideas that others borrowed from and she always wore the best wild accessories when we went out at night. She was the biggest advocate for taking advantage of free time and often rounded people up for day trips or Brazilian dance classes. After spending months in Salvador, she volunteered in several other locations in Central America and Africa followed by taking Spanish classes in both Spain and Mexico. Over the course of several years of travel, she’s maintained friendships with people she’s met along the way and brings the many travelers she’s met together. Having been divorced for quite sometime, finding a special person to share her life with was always something she desired. She eventually decided to settle in Northern California and recently got engaged. While she has slowed down a lot since her days of volunteering, she continues to travel, goes to school, and sings in her future husband’s band.
5/12/13 update: At the end of 2010, she was married in a lovely small wedding that highlighted the couple’s adventurous spirit. She and her husband recently returned to Northern California from an epic journey in which they traveled for 14 months and visited 30 countries on four continents. They are currently trying to find a way to travel across the United States in an electric car sometime next year.