March 15, 2014
Waiting Indefinitely

The thing I hate the most in life is not knowing how long I’ll have to wait for something.  You might think that this ten-word phrase could be replaced simply with “impatient”, but it’s more than that. I’m very patient and I’m very good at waiting- if I know how long it will be.  I guess it’s a specific kind of impatience.  Whatever it is, it grates at me like nothing else.  When I’m waiting indefinitely for something, I can do almost nothing else. I become incredibly unproductive.

Usually, the antidote to this type of waiting (in my life at least) comes in the form of an email – communication from someone else who will know my fate before I do.  While waiting for the email, I keep my blackberry in my peripheral vision so that I can see the blinking red dot informing me that some kind of information is there – and I hope it’s from the person I’ve been waiting to hear from. Generally, this information means much more to me than to that person.  They’re only a middleman between my torpid waiting state and the glorious future I’ve imagined if the news is good.

If the news is not positive- the pain normally packs less of a punch than the agony of waiting.  Seriously, I get so frustrated and altered while waiting that hardly any outcome can be worse. This strange behavior has clearly made me skilled at getting over things, which I guess is the bright side, but in all truthfulness, I need to get better at waiting.

I’m currently in this state of waiting with no clue as to when I’ll find out the result- and it is crippling.  I’m surprised I’m evening writing anything!  90% of the past week or so I’ve just been sleeping or binge watching Breaking Bad – the show about the chemistry teacher turned meth manufacturer. Regardless of how phenomenal of a program it is, the show only further brings me down as just about every character in it has a dozen ugly flaws overshadowing any semblance of a redeeming one.

Because of the time spent waiting- everything else is in disarray- my home is not picked up, there is no food in my fridge, I haven’t worked out or gone to the pool, and I’ve read zero pages.  Surprisingly, I maintain a rather social nature throughout the waiting – I’ve gone out nearly each night with friends, and had great times.  But I slouch at the nearly always instant, “how are things going?”, question- because I don’t know… yet.  I deflect with a “they’re going” and make the conversation about something, anything, else. 

The biggest fear of course being that if I divulge what the waiting is for, I’ll have to deal with others asking “any news yet?” and if it is bad then having to make the rounds of informing everyone and answering to “oh I’m sorry- that sucks – are you okay?”

I’m fully aware of how dramatic this is.  I know that regardless of any result, I will be “okay”.  I have nothing to complain about, and never have in any of these periods of waiting. In fact, another reason why I’m good at getting over things is my propensity to have many backup plans.  So when one thing doesn’t happen, I’m just on to the next one.  One of my life mantras has been – always be planning 10 awesome things, then if only two of them happen, you’ll still be amazing! And this has worked really well for me… but while I’m waiting for one with no deadline, expected announcement date, or other inkling of when I’ll know- pheww! It’s tough!

Well- now that I’ve publically shared how dirty my house is, I feel pressure to clean it up- so will go do that now.  Maybe that’s the solution to my negative reaction to waiting- not saying what I’m waiting for, but being open about how unorganized it makes me!

March 11, 2014

Anonymous asked: Hi! May I know how do you get to travel so much when you only just graduated from university?

Hi!  Thank you for your question! 

It’s actually one that I sometimes ask myself too- I’ve been really lucky and worked very hard and often all of the experiences that I’ve so gratefully had seem unbelievable.

In thinking about the “how” of my travels, I believe there are four things that have enabled me to go so many places:

1. Desire:  the most important thing is wanting to travel, because once you have the will, you can find the way.  But it can’t just be “wanting to get away” you really have to love the whole process- the good (food, people, sights) and the bad (transport, exhaustion, instability).  If you don’t like some of these things, it will obviously be much harder to enjoy traveling.  I really love it and all that I learn, and so that is why I keep doing it

2. Location:  I’m lucky that living in the UAE, I’m basically at the center of the map– only 2 hrs to India, 5 to Africa, 6 to Europe, 7 to Southeast Asia, etc- so I can easily make a 3-day weekend trip to many different places.  In addition, my network of friends and family is all around the world- so visiting others often means traveling somewhere fun!  When I lived in the States it was much harder to travel internationally because even the closest places are 5 hours or more.

3. Time:  A lot of people are surprised when they hear that I’m 23, have been to nearly 80 countries, and have ALWAYS worked and/or studied full time.  But I’ve just always taken full advantage of any short breaks and vacation time.  More than time though is the opportunity- I’ve done much of my work while traveling.  For example, I just did training for work for a week in Austria, and bookended it with visits in Venice and San Marino.  Having opportunities to travel while working is important to me and so I took a job that gave me that.

4. Means:  Of course traveling as much as I do takes money- but there are three points to be made here:  First, traveling isn’t always as expensive as people make it seem, budget travel is definitely possible and I’ve taken advantage of it a lot.  Second, I’ve earned the money for every one of my personal trips since I was 16, I’m not some trust fund baby, I just worked hard and played/traveled hard too.  That said, I’ve had less other responsibilities- I don’t send money back home nor do I have any student loans.  Lastly, means aren’t always money- because I travel so much, especially for work, I have a lot of points on different airlines and with different hotels, and I use those to subsidize my travel immensely!

All in all, I’ve been very lucky on all four of these fronts, and have created a life that maximizes them to a level that has allowed me to travel this much.  At times, I haven’t had one or the other (No desire to leave home, no close place to go, no time off, or not enough means) and sometimes I have them all, but prioritize other things – like being with my family. 

I want to end reiterating the point that none of these four things are difficult to attain to a level that allows for travel- whether you only have time for a weekend getaway or only enough money to go one State over, travel is what you make of it.

Thanks again for the question!  Keep them coming!

March 11, 2014
Transit Nigtmare (long form story)

I’ve had my share of awful transit stories – missed flights in the Arabian Gulf, buses taking 36 rather than 24 hours in Africa, sitting for three hours in between two obese men on a small car seat in India, and the infamous never-ending saga of getting into and out of Angel Falls. However, I never quite broke down like I did this past weekend in Northern Italy.

The trip had a foundation of mistaken itineraries and so I shouldn’t have been too surprised at what would end up happening. You see, I had to be in Austria for a week of work training, but some colleagues and I decided to go to Venice and Ljubljana for a few days before it. So, I emailed my travel team and said, “Please book me Abu Dhabi to Venice and then Munich to Abu Dhabi” and I gave them specific flight times and numbers. They responded saying “attached is itinerary as requested, booked but not issued, please confirm for issuance.” I of course responded “Get it!”.

Only about a month later did I realize that they had accidentally booked Abu Dhabi to Venice and then Venice to Abu Dhabi… and I didn’t correct it.

I tell myself that I’ll get it changed later and I take off for the first flights out: Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam to Venice. I have a short layover in Amsterdam so I run through the airport and am lucky to make it to the gate 20 mins before it closes. However, my boarding pass won’t work.

Confused, I ask, “What’s wrong?” and they respond “We thought you wouldn’t make your connection so we changed your ticket.”
Flabbergasted I demand “But I did make it- let me on…”
“Oh but your baggage won’t- that’s why…”
“I’m ONLY carrying on!!!”

And so it continues as I glare unendingly at this not-too-understanding KLM representative. She explains that they’ve rebooked me on a plane nine hours later… but that I can maybe get on the back of the waitlist of one earlier. No, even though it was their fault for pre-maturely rebooking me, I can’t get priority on the earlier one. I sulk away- with my angrily demanded €10 for food and drink and €50 voucher for future flights (which are so hard to use I know I never will), and quickly spend the money on a beer and a sandwich- at 8:30am.

I do end up getting on the earlier flight via waitlist- some Nigerian guy brought his bag to the gate with his friend but then disappeared. The friend put up a fight for the plane to wait- but it didn’t- so I took his seat. I could only imagine him sitting on the toilet not knowing how late he was. One man’s mistake is another man’s opportunity I guess! (As you will see, karma later ate me for this thought)
Remember, getting to Europe was not the purpose of this story – though frustrating, it compares only mildly to what happened when I tried to leave.

At the beginning of training I email the travel team asking them how much it would cost to switch my flight out as the faculty had told me it was fine to charge the change, since it wasn’t fully my fault. However… it was impossible. Because my departure flights had been rebooked, I could not change the return ones- even though the rebooking was against my will. The travel team would have to contact the airline directly to change it, and once they did so, they informed me it would cost over a thousand dollars- much too much for the training to pay.

Realizing that my training ended in Kitzbuhel on Friday at 12:15 and my flight back to the Emirates left Venice on Saturday at 5:45, I thought to myself “What is an obsessive journeyer like me supposed to do with these 30 hours?” Answer: Go to San Marino, of course, the tiny mountain nation located within Italy (notice I didn’t write “mountainous” as San Marino is literally just one mountain).

My reasoning for this was that Austria to San Marino was 7 hours and Austria to Venice was also 7 hours. So why not go somewhere new? Of course, then getting from San Marino to Venice would be 3-4 more hours on Saturday, but hey- I had nothing better to do and I love nothing more than sitting in a train or bus and watching the scenery go by (keep in mind here that at night you can’t see this scenery so train / bus travel becomes significantly less exciting).

When training ended promptly at 12:15pm, I quickly grabbed my bags to get to the waiting car. I had to get to the train station in Innsbruck before the train left 1hr and 15 mins later. The drive takes 1hr and 5mins. I jump in the car and say “let’s go!” The seemingly kind (to everyone but me in my hectic state) said that no, someone else had joined my itinerary once they heard there was a car going to Innsbruck- we had to wait.

Seven minutes pass before we see the other passenger. Who might it be? The girl I shamelessly hit on at the drunken dance last night, of course. But not the normal, “hey, you wanna dance?” More like the kind of hit on where no less than nine of your friends act as wingmen /women, getting others away from her (not always peacefully), creating diversions of jealousy, and bringing the both of you drinks (remember we’re strategy consultants- we problem solve everything)… only to find out that she has a boyfriend hours later.

I mutter some rude things under my breath for her tardiness and how I will now miss the train and must take a later one (arriving at 10pm rather than 7pm). I call the B&B I’ve booked in San Marino and inform them that I’ll be late and to please stay up. They say it will be fine- and we’re off. The conversation was humorous and candid- unpacking all the events of last night: why all my friends got involved, how it was completely unknown she had a boyfriend, and ending friendly.

Then, the driver (who probably thought we were insane) announced that we might just make it in time! He had been going through these curvy mountain roads at a pace that made the both of us question our choice of filling our stomachs with only liquid poison the night before. We arrive with a few minutes to spare, I run through the station and make it on the train! Success! I will be in San Marino for dinner! Or so I thought…

A few calm and beautiful hours later I arrive in Verona- my first connection. I have some time, so I go and charge my devices, buy some headphones, and grab a Panini. I look at the board which says the 11:50 departure is from Platform 12. I make my way there, wait twenty minutes and then board the train that will take me to my next stop (and my father’s birth place) Bologna.

An hour into the ride, when we should be nearing Bologna, I get up from my seat, push through the crowded aisle and stand by the door. But Bologna doesn’t come when it should. Instead, “Ala” does. I know something is wrong- I pull out my phone’s GPS and it says I’m way too North. “Hmmm, stupid Blackberry” I think to myself before seeing that the next stop is “Trento.” I am DEFINITELY not on the right train.

In a daze I jump off at Trento, run to the departures board and see that there is another train going to Bologna from there…but it is a slow regional one, and won’t even arrive until 10:25. From Bologna I still have to get to Rimini (another hour) and then take a cab to San Marino (25 mins.) If I’m lucky, I’ll be at the B&B at midnight.

I’m physically tired (no sleep the night before), mentally exhausted (intense training and lots of travel), and sad (after a week of constant team camaraderie, I’m alone) and I don’t know what to do. I weigh my options of just taking a hotel in Trento vs trying to make it to San Marino. Reasons to stay: I’m exhausted and with new tickets and hotel room- it may be more expensive. Plus I know of no hotels and can’t find any quickly online. Reasons to go: New place, I’m young and can handle tiredness, I already have the hotel booked.

I do what I’ve come to do best- sit down on the train to Bologna and passively (through indecision) decide to go to San Marino.

In addition to the map feature, the best part about having a business phone while traveling is global data access. I message my sisters with my predicament and get some good encouragement that at least puts a small smile on my shocked face and makes me feel less isolated. Then, as I sit, close to exhausted tears, an older woman places herself down next to me and asks where the train is going – I answer in my best Italian- and we’re off. I try to sleep, and though she is humming a sweet lullaby (like a little angel sent to me)- I’m too upset realizing I’ll be at least 5 hours late.

When the train gets to my original place of mistake, Verona, it stops- there is a 90 minute wait before it will depart (hence the 5 hours delay even though I only went 1 hour out of my way). I go to the train schedule to see my mistake- and there it is, the ONLY time in the entire day when two trains depart at the exact same minute from Verona (in the exact opposite direction) was the time I needed to be more attentive.

Oh well- here I am. I call the B&B again to say I’ll be in at midnight and she says it’s fine- informs me on how to get into the place, that her old father will be awake, and that the taxi will cost about €25-30. I think that €1 per minute sounds obnoxious- but whatever, I’ve missed the buses.
When the slow regional train once again moves away from Verona- I’m excited to at least be on my way. An hour later, I arrive in Bologna- having only 5 mins to find my way to Platform 3. Luckily- I arrive on Platform 2! So all I have to do is walk down the Platform to where I see the train at the end.

When I get there, I push to open the door- but nothing happens… I try again- but still nothing. I move to another carriage, and it also won’t budge. Frantically I look up, searching for any sign of hope- but only despair comes. Bologna has two Platform 3s- one East and one West. I run, but I can’t make it- I see my train leave me (not only the station)- and begin to wait the 35 minutes for the next one.

By then, I’ve accepted my fate- knowing I will now arrive at 1am- really hoping that old man isn’t staying up only for me. I get on the train to Rimini, remember nothing of it, and then get off and quickly find a cab. I tell him “San Marino” and show him a photo of a map I’ve taken on my Iphone- and one final time for the night, I’m off!

Soon however, I begin to get worried. The taxi meter is rising much faster than would make sense for a €25 euro ride that takes 25 minutes… by the time we cross the little border (just a small sign, not even a line on the road) it is already at €40. “Okay, we’ll be there soon” I tell myself- not realizing that we still have to zig-zag up the mountain, as I had booked a room in the Old City Center. When the meter hits €50 though, I start to get worried, I pull out my wallet and see €65… I really hope we’re close.

When we finally arrive- the ride cost €63 (nearly $90). I’m shocked by the event, but not it’s placement in this awful day- and am just ready to be in my bed. The cab driver kindly spends 5 minutes trying to find the way into the B&B before the old man comes out. I check in, carry my bag up two flights of stairs, and pass out in a bed that I might normally be a bit fussy about. However, I was too happy to finally have arrived and looking forward to the next morning in this quaint little nation.

Does the story end here? No- not really. When I wake up the next morning I go and have the second “B” in this B&B arrangement- as was the first, this was quite average- tea with corn bread, sweet cake, and a croissant. It’s like they weren’t sure which bread option I preferred and decided to give me them all. I then stroll to the tourist center which was only a minute away as I want both to know when the bus leaves (I was told “regularly”) and to get a visa stamp (even though it’s Schengen area, you can get your passport stamped for €5- why not?).

The lady at the center may have been surprised I didn’t react more when she told me that on weekends the buses are “less regular” perhaps “infrequent” even and that I had only 90 minutes to catch the next one, and only one that would get me to my flight in Venice on time. But rolling with the punches, I got directions to where it left, asked what I could see on the way, and headed back to the hotel to grab my bag.

Inquisitive as to why I was leaving so early, the old man kindly checked me out and pointed me on my way. I had about an hour for a 25 minute walk, so I went slowly, taking pictures, finding a postcard (only one place sold them!) to send to my niece, and making quick observations on the way this strange but nice place functions. Maybe I’ll return one day- for more than a rest and a stroll, but if not- I do feel like I got my San Marino experience, and I quite enjoyed it.

After making it to the bus, the rest of the journey all the way back to Abu Dhabi is without note. A beautiful bus ride through literally all of San Marino, a couple easy trains, some pasta in the airport, status lounge Bloody Mary in Amsterdam, watching Frozen on the plane, and some traffic on arrival in the Emirates are the few blips I can recall. And now, I’m sitting comfortably on my recliner – taking a little break from work as my boss for the week reviews the document I’ve sent him.

You see, it’s crazy to think of the dynamic nature of comfort, and even crazier to think of how it is mentally controlled and sometimes chosen as an externality of other priorities. When I first knew I missed that train and found out I had 5 (who knew 6) hours left of my journey, I might have felt like those hours would be eternity- never imaging how I would happily be writing about them now. Nor did I fully know that my sister’s kind encouragement or that stranger’s soft lullaby would make the discomfort bearable. Even more, would I have picked to go to San Marino if I knew it would take 13 hours? Of course not, but once it did – I was fine, and it still felt worth it.

You never know how hard you’ll have to work for things in life, you don’t know who will help you or what will stand in your path, and you can certainly never imagine what you’ll give up or gain on the way. What you can do, is to appreciate whoever and whatever comes along and be thankful for the planned and unplanned lessons and experience that life offers you.

San Marino’s largest tower

View from San Marino into the valley below

December 30, 2013
2013 the year of superlatives!

I am shocked that the ritual of the 12 months and 365 days has already come and gone, and I am once more reflecting on a jam packed year.  As in the previous three year-end posts, as I look back on all that I did, felt, learned, and made happen this year, I can confidently say 2013 was my best one yet!  The highs were high and the lows were low, and (importantly) I’ve felt mature enough, secure enough, and supported just enough to introspect well on both sides.  

Last year I wrote that in 2011 I was becoming the person I wanted to be, that in 2012 I was being that person- and following this (true) logic, I would say that in 2013 I was testing that person out in the real world.  Looking back I’m very satisfied with the results, but looking forward I’m not yet clear on how I want to / can continue to push this.  I think 2014 will be the real test of whether I can keep up this growth and “best year ever” streak I’ve been on.

Because of how over-the-top this year has been, I thought the best way to write this reflection is with ten superlatives of things I’ve done more this year than any year before!  Enjoy!

1. Growing up- 2013 was truly the beginning of the third part of my life- the first being Indiana until I was 16, the second being my international education at UWC and NYU.  Sure, I’ve aged the same amount this year as the last ones, and been “of-age” for 5 years, but this is the first time I can say, without any thought of an asterisk, that I’m an adult.  And it feels REAL!  For the first few months at work I could happily say that at 22 I was the baby of the office, but soon 23 came around, new youngsters joined and I had to realize that 23 is a strange but wonderful age.  It is unique because it isn’t so young that any success is considered astonishing (significantly fewer “you’re only x years old!!!”) but also isn’t so old that you’re expected to have too much experience. 

2. Awareness and Confidence- Understanding and accepting the differences between what I’m capable of, what I can learn to be capable of, and what I probably can’t be capable of (but still not putting too much in this last bucket) was a great part of 2013.  I don’t think it stemmed individually from having a degree, working at a prestigious company, or the continued support of family, friends, mentors, and mentees, but all of these things combined gave me the confidence that where I’m at is good and the awareness of what I need to work on to be even better. 

3. Independence – Moving to a new country, making an apartment into a home, managing money, and generally having fewer guideposts have all helped me to move fast and grow.  Of course, I’ll never be rid of helping hands, and I’ll never want to be – but it has been nice to take on more things on my own and even nicer to realize I’m handling them just fine!

4. and 5. Travel – The past few years of my life have been full of travel, but 2013 takes the cake!  95k miles (150k km or 4 times around the equator) covering 30 countries, being taken there by 100+ flights and trains, over the course of  ~150 nights in luxury hotels, another 40 in hostels, 30 or so on friend’s couches, maybe 10 on planes, and a sad remainder in my own bed.  I’ve been on the move, and it likely won’t stop as I love it and my job requires it- so this year travel gets two mentions

New places - Through work in the Middle East, holidays in Southern Africa, the Balkans, and Central Europe, and weekends around the Mediterranean I’ve experienced so many fascinating and beautiful new places this year.  I’ve been to some of the most beautiful places in Croatia and South Africa and some of the most intriguing (for better or worse) in Bosnia and Saudi Arabia

Returning to my favorites –  In addition to new favorites, this year was also full of returning to some old locations that continue to inspire me- of course moving back to the UAE, spending more time in the villages of Tanzania and Rwanda, and spending time with family in the USA and Germany – I love having familiar places to travel to, and I sense that more and more my trips will be returns in the future.

6. Religion – Living in one of the most religiously charged parts of the world for 18 of my past 28 months has really pushed me to think long and hard about spirituality and religion: the unfortunate differences between them, the ways in which they can each lead to the other, and the magic / ineffability of the subject and how it affects my life.  My focus waxes and wanes, but this year I have felt myself coming closer and closer to the enchanting and unreachable truths.

7. Reading – In 2013 I read more than 30 books (mostly on my kindle) and have become once again obsessed with learning through print.  This year’s library included many books on geographies that interest me Rwanda (Antelope’s Strategy, Machete Season, Life Laid Bare, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters), North Korea (Nothing to Envy, Reluctant Communist, and Escape from Camp 14), and Gaza (Meet me in Gaza), topics I like to explore like identity (Ethnicity Inc,  Defining Decade, Exploring Happiness, Memories of Mohammaed) and economics and development (Black Swan, The Crisis Caravan, Capitalism and Slavery, The Elusive Quest for Growth, The Bottom Billion, Emerging Africa, and Outliers and Tipping Point, both by Malcolm Gladwell).  I’ve also made my way through around ten novels (Rules of Civility, Cry the Beloved Country, Middlesex, Diary of a Nobody, Gulliver’s Travel, and Inferno and Lost Symbols by Dan Brown) and explored some more of my favorite author, G. K. Chesterton’s, works with Heretics and The Man Who Was Thursday.  Reading has really been a highlight of this year!!! 

8. Working – There is nothing I have done more this year than work.  Starting my first fulltime adult job has been an exciting experience and I am happy to be at a place where I am constantly learning.  It is sometimes hard to be within a system that dictates what you learn and when, but nothing can take away the wonderful lessons and amazing mentors I’ve met this year.

9. Wealth / Points – Another benefit of working is getting paid!  It’s been strange to go from a student’s budget to being able to save or invest most of my earnings.  A lot of lessons come from having money- how to manage it, keep it coming, and how to get the most out of it. One thing I always remind myself of is the hadith that says “It is not a sin to own things, it is a sin for things to own you.”  This is a simple but meaningful thought which pushes me to realize the impact money can have beyond the material, especially through helping others.  What is also exciting is that I have a large indirect income from points earned from all of my business travel!  Tons of hotel upgrades, free flights, and special events make the long hours slightly more worth it!

10.  Culturally Sustainable Development – At the core of who I am for the past few years has been Culturally Sustainable Development, the idea that development is not just an increase in economic indicators, but an increase in quality of life, the metrics of which are culturally and community specific.  This year I have continued to think through issues of development and identity through the lenses of living in the Middle East and traveling the world, the books I’ve read, and the work I’ve done and hope to continue to do with Trail of Seeds.  More importantly, this year I’ve begun to see not just the destination I dream of taking Culturally Sustainable Development to, but also the path of how that can happen and what I need to push harder to do and learn.

2013- so full of memories, incredible new lessons, many new friends, and a very new lifestyle!

Here’s to 2014 being even better!!! 

2012’s Year in Review

2011’s Year in Review

2008’s Year in Review 

October 31, 2013
Unorganized thoughts scribbled in the Podgorica bus terminal October 29th, 2013

It’s times like today, sitting the bus station in Podgorica, Montenegro, on my way to Pristina, Kosovo, that I think to myself, “my life is awesome and strange!”

I’m sitting in the station bar, joined by three men at a table catty-corner to me.  They all look ragged, and (of course) their story is unclear to me.  Are they also transient travelers?  I don’t think so.  Is this their bar of choice on a Tuesday night at 8pm? That seems slightly more likely. 

Despite these usual questions I ask while people watching, another thought is at the top of my mind-  Why is one of those men wearing an entire jean outfit?  Jacket and pants!  Fashion in the Balkans confuses me- and not because of some “this looks better than that” ideal, but because it really shows how disconnected (consciously or subconsciously) this area is from the homogenized global norm.  

All of this said, I think I’ve quickly grown to hardly question it.  Point proven by the fact that a guy my age just walked into the bar wearing a full sweat suit, and all I noticed was the dog he brought in with him.   A dog in a bar? I don’t know either.  He quickly walked back out though- maybe he realized what we were all thinking.

Oh, but now we four patrons have been graced by the presence of an elderly man (almost said “gentleman” but I’m feeling a bit pessimistic at the moment and don’t want to assume too much) who has sat down behind me and begun to smoke.  He is in the perfect position to read my writing… but I’ll gamble on language difference and his inability to decipher my awful handwriting.  Of any of us, he definitely seems like the regular to the train station bar.  I bet he could tell a hundred stories about this place- if only I could speak the language.  What is the language here?  Montenegrin?  I will have been in 11 countries this month so have lost all memory of language names, currencies, borders, etc.   And despite no shared language, I think I prefer my imagination right now.

On the small circular wicker table (the kind with a glass protector over it) my notebook is next to a single 1.5euro Niksicko (lines over both the and c) 500ml ber bottle, half of the contents of which are poured into a small Coca Cola glass.  It’s a fine beer- I won’t pretend my palette or beer memory is enough to prescribe more than that single complimentary adjective to it.  I did think about ordering food as well.  I am hungry, have a three hour wait, and an eight hour bus ride after this…but from the seven page menu, only two options were available.  So I declined.  I’ll find something else soon.  Somewhere.  Though then I’ll have to take out more money at the ATM. Decisions…

What’s nice about traveling is noticing all of these little things and random people.  One gets in a mode of ultra-awareness of difference when going from place to place quickly.  This enables a heightened sense of smell, deeper respect for the beauty of vistas, acknowledgement of people and their jean jackets a bit more.  I think it’s because when we’re traveling we have the time to.  We are passive.  Taking the passenger seat to life happening around us.  We are in others’ lives when we travel.

We of course still find things weird when we travel, but unlike at home we can’t dismiss it so easily as such.  Instead, we spend time rationalizing, philosophizing, and hopefully not too quickly believing we “understand” it enough to move onto the next thought.   This makes travel a humbling experience- forcing the journeyer to say “I don’t know”.  It’s a transcendent juxtaposition between this forced lack of understanding and the heightened appreciation of the world’s beauty.

This exposure to the unknown (both places and people) is why some travelers love touristy places and others despise them.  Don’t you think?  Too much difference can be overwhelming.  Too many travelers are weak.

(side note) The jeaned man just left.  He was carrying a 2 liter soda bottle filled with a clear liquid.  He walks with a limb, has a scruffy face, and hair to his shoulder.  His one friend has a kind of fanny pack hanging from his neck.  The other is carrying a briefcase.  Understand them better now?

I find it funny that places like this bar (I’ve realized now from a sign on the door that it’s called “Aperitiv Bar”) were once new!  All shiny and quite possible fashionable- at least by local standards.  Maybe this simple blue carpet, the bar with green opaque-because-of-bubbles glass, or these dark brown wicker table sets were the “hit new thing” once.  Maybe everyone came to Aperitiv Bar- and slowly they have stopped- other than Mr. Jean Outfit, ancient old Mr. Smokes and SitsTooClose (oh I guess he left too), and the occasional random American on his way to an even more bizarre location.  

I wouldn’t be surprised if this cigarette-aged bartender woman was being chased by these men some 20 years ago.  They do say that bartenders have the best stories… 

Who knows?  I guess I do have 2.5 hours more to figure it out.  Though soon, after a few more gulps of Niksicko (don’t forget those lined consonants) I will find another strange location, but with food, and there I will once again try (and likely fail) to make sense of my surroundings.

But (closing thought) isn’t the point that through failing to make sense of others we get a new piece of the puzzle to make sense of ourselves?  But do we learn it immediately? If yes, then what have I learned from Mr. Jean Outfit?  No, I think it cooks under the surface for a while first.  But then how are these strange moments while traveling connected?

Do they make us who we are?  Or do they simply show us? 

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