Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Destiny in the Desert

When you're flying across the desert at 80 miles an hour in the back of an over-stuffed bus full of Arab men and boys, there are a few things that cross your mind. First, you look at the interior of the bus, and you note that, like their homes, the Arab folks really like to dress up the inside versus the outside of everything. In this case, the royal blue velour curtains with the gold tassles that line not only the windows and the dashboard, but also the potential ventilation units at the top of the bus...amuse you. You are also impressed by the fake roses that hang from the rear view mirror in a semi-wreath. You chuckle to yourself as you sit in your pile of accumulating sweat. You look out the window and see nothing but desert ahead of you, and nothing but desert behind you. You take a deep breath and remind yourself that you didn't come to Jordan to die from dehydration in the middle of the desert. Despite the fact that you know that this is not your destiny, you say a small prayer for the health of the bus and clutch your little water bottle a little closer. You also ponder what it would be like to be kidnapped by a local Beduoin tribe. You think to yourself that this might be a great way to not have to re-pay those student loans...

In the desert, though, one can't help but think about destiny. My mind became a veritable movie-reel of all of the things that have happened in my life to lead me to this very moment. The day before, I walked through the pages of the National Geographic issue of Wadi Rum and Petra that I once coveted as a child. In a few hours, I was going to be dropped off in Amman. From there, I would head back to Israel. I glanced out of the window and saw a road sign fly by the fork in the road that led the way to three potential destinations: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. "My god," I thought. "What the hell am I doing here?" For better or for worse, with an Israeli stamp in my passport, I would be unable to gain access to any of these countries. Again, I chuckled. Clearly, this is for the best.

There were moments in the desert when you realize that you can't question your destiny so much as you can question your choices. I had hours upon hours to stoically sit in the midst of twenty men who have never seen anti-perspirant in their lives while I privately pondered the contours of my inner reality. Silently, I reeled through my childhood and adolescence and thought about those moments of inflection when my tiny world opened, when I knew that I would spend the bulk of my 20's with a Northface backpack surgically attached to my backside when I wasn't sleeping with...books.

Rolling through the desert made me feel more completely removed and disconnected from everything I am and everything I have come to know in my life, and I couldn't help but feel a rising wave of worry swelling up from my sweat-soaked center. What kind of person takes out a bunch of school loans to hang out in the Middle East for a year? I must be completely out of my mind. Clearly, I don't belong here. Clearly, the desert scares the hell out of me. Am I taking calculated risks or am I just being completely foolish? And after all of this insane budget travel across a country that would clearly prefer me to be in a burka, how on earth am I going to come home?

What kind of woman will I be when I go back?

Perhaps none of this was helped by a guy I met in Ramallah a few weeks ago, who, over an adult beverage at the Jerusalem Hotel, rather presumptuously asked, "What kind of man is it going to take to saddle a woman like you?" Clearly, he didn't get what he was fishing for, but the question lingered with me. It woke me up at night. It made me wonder if my longing for domesticity in the middle of the desert is simply my mind's way of wanting what I can't have, won't have, and will only fantasize about while I'm off doing my escape-artist moves in the middle of Timbuktu...

Or something like that.

Like I said, it's funny what the desert can do to a girl. Fortunately, the music in my Ipod has been a constant, reassuring companion, a healthy reminder that my heart strings are tethered to something bigger than just me and my small sandcastles of neurosis. Laws of physics ultimately prevail: What goes up must come down. Fortunately, my small moment of losing touch with my grounding was brought back by a old song by Loggins and Messina that my parent's used to listen to when I was a child. The one beautiful quality that my parents gave me was their idealism. They also gave me the fearlessness possible to go as deep as my heart desired into the desert so that I wouldn't have to walk in anyone's footsteps. Suddenly, in a place where I was utterly alone, I felt my parents, my brother, my army of dearest friends and mentors and all of the amazing people who love me the most in this world walking with me. In an effort to hold in my moisture, I blinked back tears as I imagined this oddly-assorted tribe of brilliant individuals who have helped me be where I am today. They have been here all along, and they will there when I get back.

Reassured but still sweaty, my mind raced forward. I'm happy to say that my vision of the future is just as pleasant as the moment is right now.


Restaurant Gal said...

"Suddenly, in a place where I was utterly alone, I felt my parents, my brother, my army of dearest friends and mentors and all of the amazing people who love me the most in this world walking with me. "

I know this so well as I have landed in a different place, so far away from everyone I know, for different reasons. People have told me they think what I am doing is brave. It's not brave, it's just really hard.

What you have been doing is brave. And incredible.

EA said...