Six years ago this summer, I left the apartment where I lived by myself and walked to a train station with nothing but a large hiking backpack on my back. I would not return home for almost a month. After stepping on the commuter train to New York City, a conductor looked taken aback by my luggage. “Where you going?” he asked.
“Africa,” I said, barely even making eye contact. It never occurred to me that this might seem odd to him or anyone else. I went about my business, negotiating a variety of public transportation until I reached JFK Airport. The next night I was in Johannesburg. That was the year after my mother died. It’s a funny thing how horrific pain can lead one to freedom, and joy can sometimes feel like a prison sentence.