Getting out of My Comfort Zone
A few months ago, on finding me in a state of confusion and bewilderment, a close friend of mine, whom I know as an adventurous soul obsessed with travelling, recommended me to watch the 2010 Romantic drama movie: “Eat, Pray, Love”, starring Julia Roberts whose seemingly perfect life starts to fall apart after her divorce. She starts a journey across the world in an attempt to find her true self and recreate her life.
Given my guard against getting out of my comfort zone in general and travelling in particular, I put off watching the movie until two weeks ago. My phone’s storage was almost full and I didn’t have my laptop to transfer the thousand photos and videos of my always-full gallery. So I thought I should watch some of my downloaded films just so I can delete them later to free up some space. And so I hit play…
The main theme of the movie, and what gives sense to its title as well, is how the heroine (Elizabeth Gilbert) travels to three different spots in the world and rediscovers the joy of eating, praying and loving. She goes to Italy, treats her taste buds and finds great pleasure in eating; she travels to India and though after a lot of challenges, discovers the spirituality and peace associated with praying; and finally, she sets foot on Bali only to encounter the true love of her life.
I was simply moved and inspired after the movie ended. I had started it only to free up some space on my phone, but there I was, impressed and in complete need of a change. In want of a major shift in my chaotic life. The post-movie effect had me right there, in its firm hold. I didn’t know what kind of alterations I exactly needed or even wanted but I knew that something somehow had to change.
The very next day, I went to a beauty salon and cut my long hair short. That’s what I usually do when I’m fed up with myself or my life. When I desire a deep, inner change, I usually tend to pair it with an overt one and my hair is usually the most accessible vice through which I can remind myself of how it’s time to be different, to let the change begin.
A week after this ardent desire for changing something, ANYTHING, in me or my life, IRANomad Tours, the social business I’ve been working with for more than a year now, invited me to a 4-day trip through a couple of villages and nomadic settlements in west-Iran. I was informed about the trip only a day before and it’s always been my way to decline such invitations with excuses as justifiable as being informed too late, but with the actual reason of being a conservative, introverted home person who’s quite scared to touch the unknown.
But this time, this one time, I accepted the invitation right away with a mixture of fright and excitement. I had rejected all the previous trip opportunities for the sake of one lame excuse or the other, but I decided it was enough and now, I was finally about to experience my first trip without my family. A trip with my colleagues and a few Iranian travellers of whom I didn’t know a single thing whatsoever.
I immediately informed my family about my decision and started packing my stuff with haste and double-checked everything so as not to leave behind anything essential. I was running around the house in search of my backpack items like a mad man who’s lost his sanity and is searching for it through every corner of his house. Even my checklist didn’t give me all the pre-trip comfort I needed.
I finally packed everything (or I hoped so) and went to sleep that night with the hope to wake up the next morning and the days following that. I slept, dreaming of truly waking up…
The Journey Begins
I started the journey in a state of homesickness. Yes. I realized the gravity of my domestic attachments when I found myself homesick for a house and city that I had barely left. Pondering over my pathetic imprisonment in the last seat of a VIP bus, hours passed and the long, boring ride annoyed me even more.
Occasionally the bus would stop for a break and passengers, stretching their tired bodies, would get out to get some fresh air, use the toilet or eat something. It was in these short break times that I introduced myself and was introduced to our travellers. My first impressions of them all were in their favor. A few smiles and warm eye contacts were enough for me to take them as good people and wonderful companions (which was later proved to be the case).
At night, when we reached our cosy settlement in the suburb of Isfahan province, our cravings for good food and quality sleep were in constant competition. After the rooms were assigned and everyone washed up, we were ushered into a little, underground dining room where we introduced ourselves and with the pleasure of new acquaintances, ate the most delicious dish with an unprecedented appetite. I still wonder if the food was really that tasty or it was my hunger bliding my belly’s eye. Either way, I discovered such joy in eating that night in Booyin MianDasht village as Elizabeth found in Italy. Every meal in the trip was a heavenly supper, not in and of itself, but due to it being served after a good deal of physical challenge and waiting.
Through the next three days, from hiking in the mighty mountains of Charmahal and Bakhtiari province, to the refreshing, waterfall showers after hours of hiking, and stargazing under the peaceful sky of villages at nights, we experienced a form of connection and unity with nature which is quite hard to find anywhere near the chaotic ambiance of cities. I’m not a religious person. But there and then, in the darkness and silence of the nights, when nothing could be seen but the silhouettes of the mountains against the sheltering sky and nothing could be heard but the chiming bells of the sheep and the chirp of the crickets, I felt like praying. I was filled with contentment, gratitude, and peace. The kind that Elizabeth had found in her spiritual journey in India. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t an easy or comfortable experience at all. We were bitten by insects, our shoes were screwed throughout our hikes, we couldn’t bathe unless we found a lake or waterfall and we had to pee in the wild, but at the end of the day, all that mattered, at least to me, was that I was alive, and in the company of good people and a higher intelligence whose presence or even existence I had long forgotten if not doubted. I was connected, through invisible, earthly threads to otherworldly forces. It was in such moments that a specific quote from “Anne of Green Gables” would come dancing in my dreamy mind:
“Why must people kneel down to pray?” If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep, woods, and I’d look up into the sky–up–up–up–into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer…”
It’s a common saying in Iran that “you can really know people on trips”. It’s also said that “bonds developed through travelling together are bonds hard to break”. I’d always assumed both of the statements to be true but only on this trip were my assumptions reinforced. From my three lovely colleagues, Sara, Saeed, and Setareh (the stellar triangle of our trip), to each and every one of our travellers, we formed magical bonds together, which were mostly the fruits of hardship and challenge. Laughing and having fun brings people together too of course. Just like when we embraced each other under the waterfall and danced together in a nomadic wedding. But our bonds were strengthened when we took each other’s hands in the heights of mountains when we switched seats in the bus to make the other person feel more comfortable when we offered each other the last gulp of water that we had in our bottles under the hot summer sun when we waited for our co-traveler to tie her shoe laces and not be left behind when we genuinely cared for each other despite needing to be cared for ourselves. If Elizabeth found love in one person, I found it in many. From co-travellers by chance to friends by choice, I found love in the company of people who were a couple of strangers to me a few days before. There and then, on the night when we said goodbye to each other, I established my faith in the miracle of new acquaintances. Of new beginnings.
A New Beginning
A few days have passed since my trip. I’m sitting at home, reflecting on the memories of our collective journey. On the dinner-table discussions, we had, on the early morning breakfasts and mid-day Chais (teas). I already miss the post-lunch naps and the hospitality that our hosts showed us wherever we went. I stand in front of the mirror in a state of prayer again. In a state of change. My legs look stronger from the hikes and my eyes are filled with maturity and hope. I dishevel my short hair in an attempt to wake myself up from the recollections I’m ruminating on. Feeling more than ever like Elizabeth in “Eat, Pray, Love”, I smile at myself in the mirror and the reflection smiles back at me. We’re both grateful for the changes I’ve had, and hopefully expectant of changes to come.