I just finished reading an amazing book, The Places in Between, about an adventure taken by a young man through Afghanistan in 2002, right after the Taliban fell. He decides to follow the famous Emperor Babur’s footsteps, walking across Afghani terrain to Kabul. Weaving the tale with threads of personal anecdote, history and observations of another culture, Rory Stewart’s adventure held my attention captive. He tells of evenings sitting with men discussing local politics and religion; moments of possible danger, trying to understand the motives of individuals, what the best answer to a question would be given the region and religion; he tells of moments of loneliness, uncertainty, and ultimately triumph when he accomplishes his goal. I looked forward to sitting down to read a chapter during a quiet period, holding a cup of tea close, taking in each scene he portrayed, the emotions he felt, the physical difficulties he endured.
What made him successful? Firstly, Rory’s knowledge of the language, culture and religion was of great importance in his journey, enabling him to get out of several very dangerous situations. Secondly, he is generally in good health, although experiencing some sickness on the trip. Finally, he is a man. In an Islamic society, I highly doubt a single woman, no matter her nationality, would be able to take such a journey alone. At one village, Rory describes that the women had never left that village, not to even visit a neighboring one. A woman traveler therefore might be at constant danger from local men who believe it is wrong for a woman to walk alone. As Rory often slept in mosques or village leader’s houses, there might not be a place for her to sleep, as she might not be welcomed.
While reading his memoir, I felt a certain sadness, due to the fact that I don’t think it would be possible for me to complete a similar trip. I’ve had almost a year of travel and living in new cultures, but my travels have stayed within certain limits. I was never in a place where I couldn’t get food or water, or where my safety was continuously threatened, or where my gender put me at a larger disadvantage.
But there are two strikes against me completing a similar journey to Rory’s: the first, having T1 diabetes. This is a huge logistical challenge, requiring a lot of attention and dedication, but can be overcome. But the second challenge, that of being female, is much more difficult to more beyond. As a woman, I am unsure I would be able to walk alone for hundreds of miles across an Asian, Middle Eastern or African state without putting myself in extreme danger, simply due to my gender.
Working so hard to pursue the dreams that motivate me, I have been able to overcome the challenges of Type 1 Diabetes in moving to Kenya, traveling solo in different countries and cultures, and learning about my body and limits. So how can something as basic as gender be the Achilles heel of adventures?