After almost two years of living every day with the inevitable obsession of visiting the Middle East and getting to know its magnificent culture and people, May 30, 2012 was the illustrious day that I started my journey. And, that day, as I found myself in front of the Egyptian Airline en route to Jordan, I started reminiscing about how it all had started.
Yes, I was nervous. Yes, I was alone. But studying in the Middle East was what I had dreamed about ever since I entered college, after deciding I wanted to major in Near Eastern Studies. I smiled as I recalled the voices of some people I love and some others I barely know who, at one point or another, fell into the typical remarks of “What on Earth are you going to do there?”, “Are you crazy?”, “How did your parents let you go there?”
Or one of my favorites, “Be careful with the bombs, you could get killed.” And not to mention the most popular advice from mostly the grownup western female population: “Lorena, please don’t fall in love with an Arab man.” Oh, yes, because I’m an expert at following these type of rules. Right.
But let’s not talk about love right now. Ever since I left the the Western bubble of commodity and practicality, I realized how lucky we are for living on this west part of the planet, where freedom and human rights are part of the everyday. Just kidding.
I learned that there’s a world out there composed of people that, despite their difference in culinary taste, accent, language, or religion, they are people nonetheless. I also learned that there is no way you can study a region and culture without visiting their countries, living with its people, and speaking its language. You can control how big you want the “culture shock” to be… that is, if you travel with an open mind. But there is one thing for certain (if certainty can be attained), and it is that you can’t understand a culture if you don’t step out of your comfort zone.
So, there I was, two months later in front of the same JFK terminal that once witnessed an innocent girl who had no idea about how many intangible treasures and knowledge each country has to offer. And, there I was, smiling again, thinking about how I would answer all those questions about my “lack of good judgment” or “recklessness” for going to a place where the sound of bombing is more common than the sound of trains passing along the rails. (And, let me just tell you, that is because Jordan doesn’t have trains, not because there are more bombs or weapons there.)
Please don’t tell those lovely middle-aged western females that the Egyptian flight attendant gave me his phone number and email, and offered to show me the Pyramids while I was waiting at the Cairo airport, or that the Jordanians cab drivers memorized my name and my address. Don’t worry, I didn’t accept the offer to see the Pyramids; there’s always a right time for everything. And right now it is only the time to continue traveling and smiling about those naïve questions I’m bound to keep hearing. Morocco, here I come.