Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Swimming Downstream

I've been assigned to try and sum up my trip. I don't really know how to summarize what feels like three months of chaos and insanity. So here's my attempt.

I loved. I fell into life in that village and was surrounded by warmth and childish fun and LOVE. I wove in and out of concern and devotion, and I learned that no amount of flies, colds, or heat would ever keep me away. I cooked, I giggled, I blew kisses on the naked, plump stomach of a three year old. I played dress up. I sat still and blinked profusely while kohl was applied to my eyes and tried not to cry it all off as it burned and my Moroccan mother laughed.

But most of all, I was adored and I adored back. I was dragged willingly into a life that wasn't mine, but felt like it was. Because there, I was loved. And I loved in spades.

I recharged. I stood in the rain in the too expensive dress I had bought because I couldn't resist, and thanked God for umbrellas. I scanned yellow lit streets that reflected light from puddles and held my breath, even though I was early. I clutched a small Starbucks cup to my hands for warmth and finished the contents.

Everything looked British. No matter where I went in London, it always looked the way I imagined it. Its one of the only places I've ever been that has that quality.

I turned towards the tube stop and forgot my umbrella and my carefully straightened hair, and rushed foreword into one of my favorite people in the entire world.

One of the hardest parts of traveling for me is missing the people I love. I've always felt close to my family, and that connection helps me thrive. While I think being alone is a blessing for me, that doesn't always dull the ache of homesickness I sometimes get in the pit of my stomach.

Seeing Ethan was like a breath of fresh air for me. I didn't care what we did, despite how incredible London is, and I didn't care about missing him. Because I got to see him, and that was one of the highlights of my time abroad. It helped me reboot- helped me remember why I was there, and plugged me back into my family. I was zapped back into alignment with my life.

And then, I enjoyed. I met nice people, drank nice drinks, and mostly, ATE nice food. I will forever remember and crave those little pizza shops that had giant square pizzas. They would, upon my order, cut slices into rectangles and fold them over so that cheese met cheese, and I had makeshift pizza sandwiches. Its one of the best things I've ever eaten.

I had a lot of mishaps in Rome. I decided to do a cheesy tour bus around the city and picked the company with only six busses running on a Friday. This meant that I hardly got off the bus because if I did, I would wait forever and not even get a seat when the next bus did come. I went to museum after museum just to be disappointed by decayed frescos, no paintings, or oddly enough, a futuristic art museum with art aiming at contemporary, I think, but mostly achieving nothing of interest (okay, so I'm not really a contemporary art person anyway, but this belonged firmly in the category of crap). I've never spent so little time in a museum, but I've learned from now on, if I'm not sure of what lays inside the museum, I should check out the gift shop BEFORE I buy the ticket. Good lesson.

I went to the Vatican on a Saturday and became claustrophobic by the number of tourists and cameras (there were more cameras than tourists). I basically ran through the Vatican museums in an effort to escape being trampled.

But I still enjoyed. I enjoyed because I found the best chocolate mouse of my life, and promptly called my Mother to discuss specifics. I enjoyed because I had great conversations with interesting people, including a Canadian soldier who discussed government errors (read: stupidity) with me and struck me as a cowboy. And I enjoyed because when I walked to my little pizza shop on the corner, I wasn't alone. AND I got pizza.

Then in Barcelona, I connected. Not just in a superficial way, but in a way I've never felt before. I went on my first pub crawl, just to get out and because I was alone, not expecting to have anything really happen, but to maybe make some friends. I befriended almost everyone on the pub crawl, including a group of seven awesome girls on break from studying in Madrid. I made friends with two Spanish girls who spoke little English, but told me my Spanish was good, because I complimented one of them on their truly adorable dress.

And I met this guy, and we talked all night, until past six in the morning, and I felt concocted. I felt great. I know, without a doubt, that having that kind of connection with someone was the next stage in my development towards being (wanting to be) in a romantic relationship with someone for more than a few weeks at a time. What a good lesson, to know that I could desire it, feel connected enough to actually want to share myself. To understand even a little that it could happen for me, not just in stories. While I am an overtly open person, when it comes to romance I guard myself quite closely. I always thought that was a problem. I contemplated the idea that maybe I did that because I was never with the right men. I considered that sometime soon, I might be open to a relationship in a way I never have been before.

Next, I healed. France was all in all a sort of non-experience for me. I slept. I read. I watched television. I didn't tour. I avoided busy areas and cities. I tried to rejuvenate myself.

All of that effort was somewhat moot when I had an allergic reaction that sent me to the hospital in Paris in the middle of the night. After some of the worst hours of my life, I had medicine and no doctor's bill (go France!).

And I healed. Quickly. Before I knew it, the welt like bumps were gone, along with the itching and my discomfort. My mood improved, and I healed in a quiet village in the southwest of Turkey. There, I slept and cooked and attended a village wedding, where I somehow managed to miss the ceremony because I had no idea what was going on, and I was doing my best to make myself invisible. It's harder than you'd think.

But mostly, I healed. I caught my breath. By the time I got to Cappadocia, I was ready to soar.

I discovered. With my face firmly planted underwater, my eyes hardly blinked as they stayed glued to every detail of the underwater kingdom I had found before me. Even sporting dysentery (the latest fashion, in my life anyway), I lost all thoughts of the outside world as I stared at grass, coral, and fish darting in and out of their mazes.

Some of the coral were bright yellow trees and branches. Some were white plants with highlighter green, purple, pink, and blue tips. My favorite was probably the array of pinks, purples, and whites that covered entire walls and reminded me of exquisite wedding centerpieces.

I was also fascinated by the patterns on much of the coral and reefs. I didn't know why humans even tried to make symmetry and pattern when nature had already perfected it. I wondered if I hovered if I could pick out the symmetry group. I know, I'm a geek.

I saw the most spectacular fish. Deep purple with midnight blue spots and yellow accents, and a foot long. Vivid, multicolored stripes. Moray eels. I swam with a sea turtle I approximated at four to five feet long while diving. I touched a foot long blowfish and felt the spikes, and I saw it expand into a comical balloon (those things are hilarious- I didn't know it was possible to giggle underwater, but I managed it).

I saw rainbow fish and Dora and Nemo from Finding Nemo (incidentally, my dive school's name was Nemo Dive Center). I saw something in the crocodile family, barracudas, and three foot long fish in quads. I swam around a sunken tank. Basically, I discovered not only a world unto its own, but that I could participate in that world.

I reveled. I reveled at Petra, old stone masterpieces, and at life. I experienced gratitude in spades and listened to affirmations until I truly felt them, and felt hurt, anger and fear melt away. I grew up a little, both when I didn't cry upon getting an IV and shots, and when I recognized that I was going to take responsibility for my own feelings and turn them into a positive direction, despite conflict and health.

And lastly, I loved again. As cheesy as it sounds, this time I was the recipient of that love. I recognized my accomplishment- three months of somewhat rough travel, and two months of it alone. I didn't just survive, I learned from it and adjusted to become a better traveller. I finally recognized that this is not something everyone is capable of, which means that I am good at something. I'm allowing myself to take every hiccup, supposed failure, and setback and view them as excellent indicators that will help guide me towards what I want in the second half, so that it might go more smoothly than the first.

So now I sit in Cairo, where I will be in a month's time, but under such different circumstances. I don't know what the next trip will bring, but I know what this one brought: love, recharge, enjoyment, connection, healing, discovery, revelation, and love all over again.

It brought insight and truth and blessings and gratitude. I don't really know what more can be asked of any experience. I always planned on learning. I always planned on self-discovery. I didn't quite expect the crazed ups and downs.

I've read that this life is just a flowing river. We can either fight the current, or ride it towards bliss. Conflict arises when we fight it, and joy when we let go and follow the stream. When you live an intense life, your stream flows faster. Therefore, you have to fight it harder and when you relax, you go faster into happiness. This accounts for intense emotional ups and downs. So the biggest thing I've learned is simple.

My stream is rushing.

My stream is thundering.

My stream is flowing even faster than my imagination.

And I don't need to keep up with it.

I need to remove my clasping fingers from the rock I'm clutching, and allow myself to be swept along into the currents of my rapid-filled, steaming, whirling life.

Note: As is probably obvious, this post is extremely personal and as such I was hesitant to post it. I have done so in the spirit of neglecting fear and swimming downstream (I.e. I'm not quite floating because I am actively participating in my path downstream, hope that came through). So anyway, I hope someone enjoyed it, and I think it adequately, if not completely thoroughly, sums up the first half of my experience abroad.
Much love,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lessons from the Middle East

Things I've learned in Jordan:

1) The Red Sea is awesome. There is noting quite like swimming amongst coral of red, yellow, and purple and watching schools of multicolored fish cruise by. It is truly a crazy experience and even better since you can swim to the reefs from the beach (they are only about ten to fifteen meters out!).

2) I like to dive. My first diving experience happened about a week and a half ago, and I've gone twice since then. While I was initially nervous about this (read: terrified) I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I saw a moray eel, which looks like a big old snake, and something that was apparently in the crocodile family (which I only learned after I had left the water, thank God). I swam a lap around a sunken tank with coral growing on it, and fish nipping at the algae. Basically, it was out of this world, literally, because it felt like another world altogether under there!

3) Petra deserves to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, so go team! The facade of the Treasury, the best known building in Petra, is spectacular, and I couldn't believe that the red rock carving was two thousand years old.

4) I don't like dysentery, or IVs. I left to write a book on food and I'm starting to think that I should really be writing it on hospitals and doctor's offices. While dysentery really sucks (I didn't eat properly for a week) I still can't deny the fact that I'm grateful for antibiotics, anti fever pills, and IV fluids. I've become a walking pharmacy, but hey, I'm not stuck in bed anymore!

5) Jordanians are incredibly friendly! While I've often had trouble deciphering whether Jordanian people (read:men; I have had basically no interaction with the women, they just aren't around) are hitting on me or are just being friendly, I've discovered that the majority of them are very hospitable. When I went shopping, I received a magnet, a postcard, a sand bottle, Fanta and water for free, and was invited to tea twice in the six shop stretch.

6) Shopping with a local gets you crazy discounts. Running around Aqaba trying to finish the last of my shopping, a necklace that was originally 40 dinars (the dinar is about equivalent to the euro) was reduced to 10 dinars for me, and the shop owner would have made no profit, but he still offered me tea! Basically, I hardly had to negotiate, because the shop owners immediately reduced their prices to their 'last price' price. Awesome.

7) Magluba is delicious. Called 'upside-down' because the chicken is cooked on the bottom and the rice on top, but the rice is served on bottom, the rice and vegetables are so flavorful I ate about four plates of it (this was before eating became a force of will). While I was not able to get as many recipes about Jordanian food as I would have liked due to the fact that cooking is out of the question when I can't eat (duh, why else do I like to cook?), I did get the recipe for this. It takes about two hours to make, and is quite involved, but it is amazing.

8) I like to lay by the pool or beach and fry. I never considered myself to be one of those people who was particularly good at this. I tend to get bored and find it a waste of time. However, I'm discovering that after three months of travel I am more than happy to lay by the pool or sea for a good couple of hours and roast. I expect to return with a killer tan, and then quickly become pasty due to the amount of snow I hear we're getting.

9) There is something truly unsavory about seeing meat in other countries. I know what you're thinking: I should already know this, and I did to some extent. But three days ago I saw an entire cow body, tail still furry , hanging from a hook. Next to it was the cow's fully furred, black and white cute little head. Cut off. Now I don't consider myself particularly squeamish, but if I ate beef I think that would've been my cue to become a vegetarian. In fact, the more hooked, partially skinned animals I see, the more I consider giving up meat altogether, but I just enjoy chicken parmesan, chicken tikka masala, and my crazy stuffed pesto chicken too much. Not to mention southwest-chicken sandwiches from The Lodge where I work. Mmmm. Sandwich.

10) The tobacco industry's main target is Jordan. It must be because I've never seen people smoke like Jordanians do. The men generally chain smoke cigarettes. I've seen men literally just light one after the other. And more surprising to me, the women smoke. In a restaurant in Amman I saw hoards of women smoking hookah pipes for hours. Even on the bus the passengers and bus driver alike smoke the entire way to the destination. It seems to me that this is the country's main pastime, and has served to make me never want to touch a cigarette for the rest of my life.

Cheers to finding new things. It is there that I am discovering, in my Dad's words, other cultures from the inside and mine from the outside. So thanks for the lessons!

(The first two pictures are from the internet. I will be posting some of my own that I took with an underwater disposable camera, but first it has to get developed. Just wanted to give you all an idea of what it looks like down there!)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Aqaba, Jordan

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thank You Notes to God

Dear God,

I would like to say a big resounding thank you for placing a Starbucks, several in fact, into the middle of Istanbul. I've thoroughly enjoyed the meeting of new and old, as I often walk through the Grand Bazaar with my oversized Starbucks cup and a smile on my face.

Furthermore, you've done a great job of making them all look exactly the same. For all I know, I'm actually at home and the world outside of trams and Mosques and kebab stands is just an illusion. The drinks taste exactly the same too; it really takes talent.

Which brings me to my next point: thank you for shish kebabs. That truly took talent, to make the things and to lead me to the local infested hole in the wall where I go everyday for my injection of oven baked chicken, homemade bread and couscous, salsa, and charred chili pepper that burns my mouth off but I can't stop eating.

The fact that you placed it in the Grand Bazaar is further appreciated- it just gives me an excuse to wander over and do a little shopping with too much money. And yet, every time I find something great I get a little twinge of happiness and I think how much I need to send you more thank you cards.

And thank you for people. The more people I meet the more friends I have, and the less alone I feel, despite the fact that you and I both know that it's good that I'm traveling alone; its good for my character. Its good because it scares me and I never want to live on fear.

Which of course reminds me of the day recently where I threw caution to the wind and fear out the window. I've heard the sang 'the higher the hair, the closer to Jesus' and I have to say, in my case, I think its 'the higher in air, the closer to God' because that hot air ballooning in Cappadocia was awe-some.

I'm pretty sure I heard you laughing when I took all of those pictures of your incredibly phallic rock formations, then got distracted by the ones that looked like noses.

And thank you for that beautiful sunrise on the balloon; it's always reassuring to see it appear without fail. Right now, I feel like in my daily life there is really not so much I can count on, but the sun always rises, just like me.

So thank you for the opportunity to count on me. To be beautifully surrounded but by all means, alone. Because I'm learning what I want and don't want in life. I'm discovering that qualities I have in myself not everyone shares, which might actually mean that I AM good at something in particular. I'm finding that certain things annoy me beyond all belief, and that I can choose not to deal with them, to look past and move on.

So, God, thanks for the cup in my hand, the clarity in my eyes, and the burning in my soul- they all propel me further into a life that is coming head on, and sweeping me with it.

Someone asked me yesterday what my hopes and dreams were that I hadn't yet fulfilled, and it took me a long time to come up with anything because I am living them. And isn't that what you want from us? To live them?

So again, thanks God, because I know you're holding me with you, and that someday I'm going to find exactly what I'm looking for, and right now, I'm getting exactly what I need. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I know that for now, I'm living with thank you.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad