Have you ever written a sonnet?*

A sonnet’s beauty and difficulty both lie in the restraints placed around its form. Fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, and a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b;c-d-c-d;e-f-e-f;g-g, the sonnet is no quick jaunt on a summer day. It is hard work to fit depth of thought and poetic sentiment within its narrow frame. But when it works, it’s magic: the sonnet emerges as just reward for the poet’s pains.

This trip I have just begun (arriving in Paris on November 17th, and checking in now from Barcelona) is a bit like writing a sonnet.


Have I mentioned that I am traveling with my partner? And have I mentioned that said partner is traveling on a Ghanaian passport– a document that grants today’s international traveler few privileges?

Well, I am, and he is.

We arrived in Europe knowing that we would have to leave within 30 days– the length of his visa. Yesterday, we returned from the Moroccan Consulate in Barcelona giddy with disbelief. We would not continue on to Morocco by ferry as we had expected.


Because one week prior the Consulate had received instruction to grant Moroccan visas only to residents of the Barcelona area. We would have to return to the U.S. or Ghana now to apply.

And so we are back to square one. The fourteen lines, iambic pentameter and strict rhyme scheme of travel sonnets and bureaucratic poetry close in ever tighter.

The following two maps represent our respective “green zones” for international travel. Green and yellow mean we can obtain visas on arrival or do not need them. Gray typically entails a lengthy visa application process, and often the necessity of returning to the U.S. to undertake it.

Were you to lay one map on top of the other, the world would be mostly gray.

Add to that the places we do not wish to travel, for various safety concerns, and the gray spreads farther still.

Yet even as borders tighten and possibilities shrink before my eyes, I feel an odd sense of freedom then, faced by our obstacles. When our plans shatter and we are forced to return with all haste to the drawing board, we have to opportunity to create a sonnet of exceptional spontaneity.

Where will we go now?

To Zanzibar! (You may have guessed it.) City of rare consonants that beckons my imagination to wander. To East Africa. Nairobi, Kenya first, in fact– though its lack of Z’s renders it a less tempting contender for title line– then on to Botswana and Tanzania and maybe South Africa.

I hope the sonnet that emerges is worth all the trouble.


*[The credit for this analogy goes to a friend– he managed to express perfectly the nature of this trip.]