The Perks of Being a World Traveler

Now that I’m older, and the novelty has worn off, I’m not a huge fan of plane trips, particularly international ones. I notice a lot more than I used to on the shorter, domestic flights—like how dry the air is, and how it irritates my nose and draws the moisture from my skin. How it’s pretty much impossible to get a decent nap in economy class, which is what I have to fly because I can’t afford business or first. Airplane bathrooms…

No worries—I’m actually not here to bash international airplane travel. What I think is, I was away from my home for a while—nearly three weeks—and I wasted plenty of time in dread of just having to make the overseas trip back, with a layover and souvenirs, etc. etc., while I should instead have been focusing on the positives, like the fact that I was even able to have this opportunity. That I have parents who want to spend that kind of time with me. The fact that my dad has the job he has to afford us these opportunities, and the fact that I’m even allowed into Saudi Arabia to visit—a privilege, regardless of whether or not I want to go. There’s a lot of silver that can so easily be overshadowed by the grayness of actually making the 16some-hour trip.

It’s odd to spend that much time on a plane. Not 16 hours on the same plane, of course, but even with a layover, I get this strange sense that a lot of time has passed and also that no time has really passed at all. Chalk it up to the lack of real sleep, maybe, but it’s weird to know that, really late a couple of nights ago, my mom and I said goodbye to my dad at the Dammam airport in Saudi Arabia. With all of this travel since then, and flying backward across time zones but at the same time the days moving forward, it’s all very distorted, and by the time we land in Houston around 2:00 p.m. local time on June 2, it will be nightfall in Saudi, after a day of work for my dad and with another day in front of him. It’s almost even confusing to describe, and I hope I haven’t lost you by now.

The point is…well, actually, I’m not totally sure, either, what the point is. But isn’t the not knowing the key to the (self-)discovery? Say yes; humor me.

When I think about the kind of person I want to be and the kind of life I want to live, ideally, it would be a life full of adventures that I would be able to tell people about when I’m old, between trips out of my house for new adventures. As much as I may not want to admit it at the moment, or even at all, I don’t know, I can only imagine that plenty of international travel and opportunities to visit new countries and experience new cultures must factor into such a life. As much as I love cats and do want one, I don’t want to end up the crazy old lady, alone, with no one but her cat and who never sets foot further than her mailbox. As much as I love books and to travel and live lives through their pages, from the comfort of my bedroom, that will not always be satisfying enough, and they won’t always be able to teach me everything I should know.

One thing I’m currently learning through traveling is the importance of keeping an open mind about cultures and people that are different than what I know. The first time I visited Saudi Arabia was in 2014, and I wasn’t very open-minded about the culture, nor did I care to be. I didn’t want to be completely covered in public, while the men are allowed to walk around in pretty much whatever they want. I didn’t particularly care for the view of sandy hills outside my bedroom window, and scornfully commented to my boyfriend via email about the trash that is allowed to pile up in the desert and why. I wasn’t pleased about how the women are treated differently from the men, and sometimes, I still feel the resentment bubble up inside of me—but that is there culture, not mine, and I must respect it. However I might feel about it doesn’t matter.

I think Saudi Arabia treated me no worse this past week than it did in 2014, and I hope I was kinder to it this time. I really tried to keep more of an open mind, and to see their laws from their perspective rather than my own. For instance, the fact that I have to wear an abaya whenever I step outside of one of the expat compounds? That law applies to their women, too, and isn’t it to protect them? Of, if not, it can still be viewed as a way to—and therefore, it can be viewed as a measure taken for my protection, too.

The last meal we had as a family before my mother and I left (…on a jet plane…🎵) was at a castle-shaped place in Dammam called Heritage Village, and I think this may have been my most authentic Arabian experience to date. Inside the restaurant are small rooms off of a large main room, and it was inside one of these small rooms that I dined with my parents. We were made to remove our shoes just outside the doorway, and inside, the floor was covered with colorful carpets, and the walls were lined with simple cushions for us to sit and recline upon. A prayer rug sat on a shelf, but the rest of the room was fairly bare; a couple of the men who waited on us brought a small table in with the food, and I can only assume that after we left, the table was removed. My dad and I shared a traditional platter of cooked lamb and rice, while my mom ate fried shrimp and French fries, and we all partook in the delicious bread that you can watch them bake in another small room in house. We had water to drink, and after, I decided that I wanted to try some of their coffee—which did not strike me as any sort of coffee and didn’t even seem to be caffeinated. This they brought in a silver pitcher, with tiny cups, and a bowl of dates that, my dad told me, were meant to be put in the mouth with a sip of the coffee. I honestly was not a fan of the coffee, and apparently am not a huge fan of lamb, either, but it was a neat experience that I was happy to have. (Although, next time, I’ll forgo food in favor of a nap before the airport.)

Until next time…