When it comes to travel, I guess you might say my parents started me young. My first trip was as an infant. We flew from our home in southeastern Oregon to visit my Uncle Ed and his family in Detroit. I rode on my Dad’s lap and apparently saved him from vomiting all over everyone but, of course, I don’t remember any of that.
The first trip I actually remember was when I was three. My Mom and Aunt took me on a road trip to Petaluma, California for Uncle Hal’s funeral. I don’t remember Uncle Hal, or the funeral but I do remember that trip. I rode in the back seat of my Aunt’s two-door Subaru and we stopped at a magical place called “The Nut Tree” where a small train wound through palm trees (the Nut Tree is still there, check it out). Perhaps most significantly, while sitting in my great-aunt’s tiny kitchen at the center of their octagonal tower-home that I learned that everyone likes oatmeal…providing they put enough honey in it.
That first trip was what it is all about: I experienced the thrill of new places and I learned to like unusual (to a three-year-old me) food.
That first trip to Petaluma, California was just the beginning. Two years later, my parents moved our family to Sanaa, Yemen where they accepted jobs as teachers at an international school. From then on, we spent our summers roaming Europe or on frantic American road trips in the futile effort to squeeze visits to every distant relative into a six-week window.
We traveled in Yemen too. I was one of the fortunate people who lived in Yemen during the relatively stable 1990’s. Sure, there was the (first) Gulf War when Yemen took Sadam’s part and the streets of Sanaa filled with hundreds pro Sadam protesters. Later there was the short, but noisy civil war. Overall, though, the country was open for tourism. In the 90’s we traveled to Marib and picnicked on the sand dunes that half-covered the pillars of Sheba’s Temple Arsh Belqis. We traveled the flat expanses of the Wadi Hadramaut twice before there was a road. We drove the coast from Hodeida to Mocha speeding along the wet sand as the incoming tide licked at our tires. Then we slept in the hotel lobby because the staff canceled our reservation to make room for a government official.
When I left Yemen, finances and circumstances led me to travel less. Sure, I traveled to visit my sister in Kentucky or Washington DC, or Oregon, or New York, or New Mexico, or wherever she happened to live at the time, but mostly I moved. I moved from Oregon to Tacoma (WA), then across the country to Rochester (NY) for university. Then I moved to Philadelphia where I lingered for six years because I met some good people and didn’t want to leave. But in all that time I didn’t really travel.
It wasn’t until I made the same leap my parents did – into international teaching – that I began to travel again. I moved to Almaty, Kazakhstan to teach music and stayed for three years. My parents (still in Yemen) and I met up for holidays in Istanbul and Spain and Croatia. I joined group trips to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and took crazy last-minute train trips on my own to Astana, Shymkent and Sayram.
As I learned to travel, I began to travel to learn. It seems like a cliché – something quoted by a thousand bloggers, writers and gap-year takers, but for me it is more than a clever saying. It is truth. I travel to understand myself, and also to understand those who are different from myself. I travel to study the many shades of beauty. The beauty of an honest and simple life is as remarkable as that of the profoundly orange sun setting over the Adriatic. I admire the unusual, and the absurd. I love that Tirana has a George W. Bush street and a Joan of Arc Boulevard and also that the tell-tale mark of a native Philadelphian is the desperate desire to leave Philadelphia.
Whether you are a fellow traveler, or are just dropping by to see what this is about, I hope you enjoy your time here. Oh, and please drop me a note. I love to hear from people!