How I Became A Traveler – Barbara Miller Elegbede

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Barbara Miller Elegbede in her young Hippie days...
Barbara in her young Hippie days…

It started long ago… well I am Barbara 72 now… so it was when I was about 10. Moving from school to school at a young age, an understanding teacher arranged for me to help the librarian during the school day and she put me in charge of the biography/autobiography section. I ended up reading most of the books and was well on my way to an adventuresome life just like the people I had read about. Their adventures and achievements filled head. Having a racist father also helped. I wanted nothing of it. Margaret Mead was my hero. Gender consideration didn’t enter my thoughts.

Barbara Miller Elegbede
Barbara – when films were still black & white

In middle school, I knew all the names and capitals of the African countries. I followed the civil rights movement closely although I lived in a close-knit homogeneous town of Boise, Idaho, USA. Through scholarships and work I graduated from San Francisco State University and for much of the time considered myself a hippie, experimenting with drugs, alternate living and political activism. The thrill of traveling to Africa although dormant was still actively fighting a battle in my subconscious.

First Trip of Barbara

After two years of teaching in San Francisco, I set off on my first real trip as a world traveler – to backpack through Europe, alone, on very little money and then down to Africa. Was I scared? A little bit. But mostly it was the excitement of adventure. Was it dangerous at times? Sometimes, Yes, but not most of the time.

Barbara Miller Elegbede
In China – her latest travel

Currently, I have visited 65 countries of the world. I have lived in Nigeria and Ghana for nearly 18 years and India for 3 years. I have taught children in the USA, Ghana, Iraq, India, and China. My grandchildren live in London. My home is in Arizona but I like to spend part of the year in India. I find myself dreaming mostly of Asia and the beaches of Mexico. It’s never too late to dream although now I have travel restrictions and use a walker. I still travel. I just returned from China three weeks ago and find myself lamenting about all the “steps.”

What have I learned as a traveler?

Barbara Miller Elegbede with Mohammed Ali
Barbara with Mohammed Ali

One of the foremost questions asked is what have you learned through travel. There are of course too many answers. It could be sort of a how-to guide: how to pack; how to enter a country with or without a visa; how to meet people, etc etc. Most of these questions take research which is so much easier with the internet and bookstores, Lonely Planet, travelers blogs. I always think if you want to travel, follow your passion and do your research. It is always better to know about the culture, its history, and a map, where you are going – the roads and topography. You might have to get away real quick!

So on a personal note, here are some of the things I learned:

How to Walk in the Dark?

Barbara on one of our Delhi Walks...
Barbara on one of our Delhi Walks…

Pitch black it wasn’t. There were dancing fireflies bursting with light in one second and disappearing in the next. Then, there was the twinkling galaxy of stars overhead to point our way on this moonless night along the unpaved dirt road towards Dixcove, a small fishing village in Western Ghana.

Ghanaian darkness falls sharply between 6 and 6:30 pm almost every evening 365 days of the year. We arrived there too late for the last van. We tarried in the small village only to grab fried black and sugary plantains and crispy fried fish wrapped in newspaper, drink coconut water before walking to Dixcove five kilometers away. But how can we find our way in the dark? I asked Victor, my Ghanaian boyfriend who kindly was carrying my satchel balanced on his head, walking ahead of me, swaying one way with his body and another direction with his head, unconcerned about the trip.

Barbara with Children...
Barbara with Children…

Very soon we were cloaked in darkness except for the shooting fireflies and sparkling stars. My feet protected by rubber squeaky thongs felt the smooth dirt and occasional pebble clusters on the roadway. All I could hear was the sound of Victor’s sandals clumping ahead of me. If I moved too far to the right or left I could feel the roadside brush against my bare legs and moved to the center of the road. I said to Victor amidst the sounds of buzzing insects and windy swaying palms overhead, ‘What about mosquitoes won’t they eat us alive’? And I heard Victor’s voice ahead of me say “keep movin they no like movin targets o.”

I learned how to walk in the dark through sound and touch.

How to Scale a Rope Ladder?

Barbara Miller elegbede dancing
Barbara Dancing at the Christmas party she organized for children in Delhi

Looking up all I saw was what seemed like a 5 story black, barnacle encrusted, a rusty fishing vessel from where I was standing in a taxi boat in the Las Palmas harbor. The seaman at the top threw down a rope ladder, down, down it unrolled hitting the small by comparison little tug I was in. I gulped and realized that I was going to have to climb that thing and I just didn’t know if I could. It wasn’t a straight rope, it seemed tied securely with rungs every foot or so weaving back and forth with the wind.

Ghanaian Seamen help

Before I knew it three Ghanaian seamen jumped down the side of the ladder and came all the way to meet me. One grabbed my backpack but heard me say “I don’t know if I can do this”. Another said to me “Don’t worry we’ll get you up there” as he held my hand and pulled me up to the first rung of the rope. The third seaman went behind me and just sort of bottom pushed me from below. I kept thinking one step at a time one step at a time.

I looked down once and saw rolling turbulent waves of the sea growing smaller and smaller and heard one of the seaman yell “don’t look down”. And I wanted to close my eyes altogether but soon we were at the top, and I was pushed over the railing and stood before the English captain who said: “You have a visa for Lagos?” It was so formal and such an anticlimax, I felt like saluting.

I learned it is best to have three handsome seamen assisting you.

Las Palmas is the biggest island in the Canary Islands off from Morocco.

Barbara at Sanskriti Museum in Delhi
Barbara at Sanskriti Museum in Delhi

So traveling, yes, it is a wonderful thing.

This is a Guest Post by Barbara Miller Elegbede. Barbara is a dear friend and a fellow Couchsurfer. She is my travel inspiration. She is always ready to travel. At any point in time, you will find her talking about the next travel. I had the good fortune of exploring Delhi with her that resulted in all the Delhi Walks on IndiTales. 

Thank you, Barbara, for sharing some unique travel lessons with us.

13 COMMENTS

  1. barbara and anu may u both continue 2 inspire all readers 2 xplore life and live full brim.
    packin yr. bags 4 the next destination ?
    happy goin

  2. This is best inspirational real stuff who are or want be a traveller….feel lucky to have known Anuradha ji and Barbara Miller is like mother to me…bravest of brave at 72….

  3. This is the best and very good inspiration to who are want to be a traveller and also this is the very good story of travelling and very nice blog.Keep go on.Thank you so much.

  4. Helli! My goodness! I just stumbled upon this blog because I am looking for how to reach Barbara! Barbara was a dear family friend to my dad and late mom when she lived in Lagos, Nigeria while working at the American Embassy. She lived down the street from us. I still remember the inside of her home – it had a lovely courtyard in the middle and rooms built all around it. She used to take me swimming with her 2 daughters. She met every week with my mom and other friends for tea. We kids looked forward to that. Could you please show this to her? My name is Sandra Isiguzo. I’d love to reconnect with her.

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