A spirited African woman on a journey of discovery across Africa and across the plains of her self knowing. Meet Maskarm Haile and get to know her a bit through HERStory.
AF: What is Abyssinian Nomad about?
MH: Abyssinian Nomad is a travel memoir that offers encouragement and empowerment to readers to dream big, embrace life’s gifts and not give up no matter what. It’s about a journey of an African woman, traveling in Africa from Cape to Cairo.
AF: What made you decide to capture your travel experiences into a book?
MH: The main reasons I decided to share my experience is that crossing Africa from East to West, North, to South was my childhood dream. So when Cape to Cairo happened, I felt the need to share my story to inspire others how a dream can come true if we truly work towards it, nurture it and stay true to our dreams. The journey also happened at the most difficult time of my life. The lowest I had been as my mother was suffering from breast cancer at the time. So the journey was an inner one as much as it was an outer one. Cancer is a subject we Ethiopians don’t like to talk about. Our secrecy culture gives it more power and sadly not only it robes us life but also our precious time with loved ones. Again I thought sharing my experience openly, might help others who are affected by cancer directly or indirectly, or that it would create awareness in some ways.
Also, as you know, I’m a budget traveler. Which means I don’t travel because I have lots of money. I couch-surf, (stay with locals that I met online or strangers who invite me to stay with them), hitchhike most of my way, and basically am at the mercy of strangers, friends, friends of friends, family friends; anyone willing to give me shelter, feed me, wash my clothes, give me a ride. People who created a safe space for me to share deep conversations, shared their deepest fears, allowed me to share mine, gave me a smile on the street, that made me feel welcome in their country – these are the people that made my travel possible. Each experience has contributed not only to see more countries in the world but also made me grow, learn, transform my life, helped me discover myself, strengthen in my connection and has made me appreciate mother nature, grow spiritually, put fire in my belly to love unconditionally, and contribute to a great good in this world. And most of all it has made me not take anything for granted. For all these gifts, I needed to say Thank You! Not necessarily all of them will read this book, but it’s my work of gratitude to the world.
AF: The writing process must make a story in of itself. Can you share a little bit about it with us?
MH: I can write another book on my writing process. It was a long and hard but rewarding process. As a first time writer it was all about trial and error. Lots of learning curves. The process was also emotionally challenging since I needed lots of healing before writing my journey. – especially that of my mother’s passing. What made the writing also a lot harder was the expectation from others. It put a of pressure on me which was hard to live by until I learned a way to deal with that.
AF: Abyssinian Nomad sweeps through a number of African countries as you make your way from Cape to Cairo. What did you have to overcome as a woman to make this journey alone?
MH: 16 countries to be exact! In most of those countries I had to explain and justify what I was doing. Who I am and why I was doing, what I was doing. That can be sometimes frustrating, exhausting and discouraging especially when you have to consider the physical and mental challenge traveling in Africa. Lots of people had a different idea of what I should be doing with my life, rather than wonder around the world.
AF: Safety is a particular concern for many women who choose to travel alone. What considerations do you make when it comes to safety and traveling?
MH: Not sure how to answer this. Safety is a very personal understanding. I’m someone who is determined to travel and see the world. So my only weapon is my trust and intuition. I rely on a perfect strangers to house me, feed me, and transport me from place to place. I say trust your instincts, leave when you need to. But if I watch the news everyday and believe that is my reality, I’ll never leave my apartment, let alone my country.
AF: In what ways do you think your travel experiences as an African woman challenges stereotypes about women?
MH: Unfortunately in Africa there is a different and sad perception as to how and where African women should be and what they should be doing. I saw in some places my presence it self created discomfort. The fact that I didn’t need permission or protection to follow my heart challenged both men and women.
AF: As you know AfricanFeminism is a pan-African platform. Abyssinian Nomad seems to capture the pan-African ideal of overcoming differences across borders and building collective visions. Can you share with us a particular travel experience along the Cape to Cairo route that may have highlighted the spirit of pan-Africanism for you?
MH: We have more similarities than differences. Mostly we all want the same thing. I have to say, once most people accepted my presence, they immediately switched to making sure I have the best experience in their country and beyond. One good example would be Kevin, a perfect stranger I met in a guest house in Gisenyi, Rwanda who took upon himself to make sure I was safe crossing the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
AF: What travel tips would you give to young African women who would like to embark on similar adventures solo or in groups?
MH: I say, before leaving your house know why you want to travel? What kind of traveler you are? Can you rough it out for few days or need luxury? Do your research, but don’t decide based on other peoples experiences. Know your own dream will guide you to where you need to be if you are open to it.
AfricanFeminism(AF) is grateful to this kindred spirit for sharing a brief overview of HERStory. For more of Maskarm’s stories, order her book ‘Abyssinian Nomad’ on Amazon.