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The Desire For Elsewhere

The Desire For Elsewhere


The Desire For Elsewhere is a 122-page book written by a Singaporean named Agnes Chew—it’s a book you can read in a day which I love. The author describes herself as a writer, traveller and activist at heart. Her professional publications include work for UN Women, UK DFID, and Save the Children.


I realised the first and last book I ever reviewed on this blog is also a collection of travel journal excerpts—I seem to gravitate towards travel journals or any books with the themes of travelling and self-discovery. It’s such a cliché, I know.

I’ve actually reviewed more books on my IG than I’ve on my blog but sadly, and I can’t remember why, I removed many of those reviews from my feed. I’ll do my best to include more books reviews and recommendations on both my blog and IG for 2019. Ok, so without further ado, let’s get to it.

I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but does that include the title, too? This book was a gift to me and upon reading the title for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel weirdly understood. Coincidentally, the author has also travelled to Morocco and wrote about it in the book! So I can understand how she feels as she describes her experiences in Marrakech. I’m not sure if everyone feels a certain magical way when they’re there but I sure did.

I once saw this quote which says: "The right book for the right person is not enough. It needs to be the right book, for the right person at the right TIME." I find this to be true because two people can read the same book but understand things so differently because of their state of mind at that time. ‘The Desire For Elsewhere’ came at the right time for me.

The Desire For Elsewhere.

Those four words resonated with me big time—if the title’s already had an effect on me, can you imagine how the rest of the book made me feel?

A Wandering Soul

The tagline for my blog is ‘Here lie the musings of a wandering writer’ and as I read on, I got the sense that Agnes, too, is a wandering soul like me. I realised that not everyone gets this way when travelling but for the author, it gets her contemplating on some sobering matters such as the meaning of life, her mortality and how significant everyone we meet actually is.

I found these questions which she asked sobering and I’ve written something similar to this before on my column.

“We each carry within us a distinct individuality that can never be wholly replicated.

At the end of our lives, what would we want to be remembered for?

What would we want to have left behind in the minds and hearts of those with whom we have interacted?

What change do we hope to have effected through our brief existence on this Earth?”

The legacy we leave behind is a matter I frequently reflect on because we are living in a time when people don’t think seriously enough on the impact of their actions. This insane YOLO (you only live once) mentality drives people to do things impulsively just because it seems like a good idea in the moment. People these days are driven solely by emotional impulses as opposed to a fair balance of intuition, rationale and wisdom.

People don’t pause to consider how their decisions can affect their loved ones, their company, the environment or even the country they live in. As a Muslim, knowing that one day I will be present before Allāh to answer for each of my actions truly scares me. It doesn’t mean that this fear successfully prevents me from sinning every time but it certainly makes me think seriously enough about the consequences of my actions.

We often think we’re just one person but one person and one event is all it takes to start a revolution. Our actions are powerful, trust me on this. We want the way we live to inspire others to achieve ehsan (excellence), not the opposite of it.

Anywhere But Here

The second thing that Agnes perfectly described is how as humans, we are never satisfied with what we have in the present moment. We always have this itch to want more because we believe that if our circumstances were slightly different, we would be at our happiest. I believe this is the result of only focusing on what’s wrong or missing in our lives instead of focusing on what’s currently working well in our lives. I’m totally guilty of this.

“The desire to leave the present moment for elsewhere appears to be a fundamental human condition.

In times of loneliness, we ache for brighter days that have since passed us by.

In times of suffering, we envisage our beings in happier circumstances had we taken a different path.”

As humans, we have this tendency to always seek happiness in another time and place. Oftentimes, we develop a feeling of resentment towards the choices we have made because we believe that had we done things differently in the past, perhaps we would be happier now.

We are always looking to change the external without really taking a deeper look at what’s happening inside of us. Because of this, we have given ourselves a very narrow idea of happiness which only serves to frustrate us in the long run. We chase and chase but the finish line keeps moving further and further.

If you’re feeling guilty, don’t worry, you’re not alone in this. This is something I’m still working on but alhamdullilah for good friends because they do a good job reminding me. ❤️

“In our vague restlessness stemming from the quotidian, we long to travel to the far-flung places of the earth that seem to hold the unconditional promise of allowing one to begin completely anew.

A place where we can embark on a new life with a fresh identity, to pursue new dreams in a fresh environment—a safe space—where no one knows our names.”

If you find it hard to understand the above quote, don’t worry, because I totally had to check the dictionary (yay to learning new words).

Agnes perfectly describes how I feel when I’m bitten by wanderlust. As much as I want to discover and learn new things, I can’t deny that a huge reason as to why I love to travel is that feeling of freedom. I don’t mean the freedom to move from one place to another but the freedom to start over as if nothing before this really matters.

Being somewhere new gives one the courage to start anew. When you’re in a foreign place, you can be anyone you want to be and people have to get you know you from scratch not from the things they hear from others. And who doesn’t want that?

The book can be purchased here.

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