June 4, 2014
Thoughts on the recent “honor killing” in Lahore

Last week, while reading news online I saw the headline “Pregnant woman, aged 23, stoned to death by own family outside of Lahore High Court”.  To most it might sound like one of the million awful stories in the news each day – but for me it struck a nerve in a way that has only deepened since. 

I’m one month into a three month engagement of working 4-days a week in Pakistan.  The Lahore High Court is just about a mile away from where I stay – where I was comfortably sitting at the moment of the attack.

This proximity was my first thought.  The insanity of something so physically near yet based on such incomprehensible logic or morals.  Our existence was so close, maybe I’ve passed her on the street, we’re even the same age- but our experiences are opposite sides of a coin in a much realer sense than simply life and death.

For your understanding, the basic points of the story are as follows: The woman wanted to marry a man who she loved (and was pregnant by).  Her family wanted her to marry a cousin and so went to the court saying she was kidnapped and raped – trying to get the male put in jail.  The woman was on the way to the court with a declaration saying she was marrying the man out of her own free will.  When she arrived at the court a cousin tried to shoot her, but missed.  Then more than 20 relatives attacked her with bricks, crushing her skull. 

After reading a few articles on the event, I spoke with some family and friends, here in Pakistan and abroad, about what happened.  What I realized was how quick to disassociate people are, and how if I didn’t have the similarity of space, maybe I too would do so.  The idea of “they acting like this” or “their problems” are so easy to consider, what’s more difficult is having this event make us think about the similarity to family quarrels, public violence, and female oppression in our own societies.  Once we acknowledge that these issues exist everywhere, and give it a foundation that we too share- we can begin to explore the differences in extremity and maybe talk about solutions.

A large part of this disassociation is spurred on by the media- especially in regards to the illogical links to this event and Pakistan being a Muslim nation.  Islam fully accepts “love” (self-arranged) marriages and clearly forbids forced marriages, and so shouldn’t play a part in this story.  Why it is used, is to emphasize the difference, making it easier to see the attackers as unfamiliar outsiders.

But pushing beyond this attempt to help our disassociation, we can see the foundation of similarity and how the pulse behind this murder is part of something in every society: sexism and ownership.  Why people find it acceptable to be unkind (whether saying bad things or killing) is because they value others less than they value themselves.  Women most often get the brunt of this oppression because gender is a dichotomy that exists everywhere humanity does, and because it is an easily discernible difference.  In family structures, sexism can take on the role of ownership and modern day slavery- i.e “The daughters’ only value is to the father, rather than to themselves”.  When this value was taken away by the woman deciding herself who she wants to marry, the reaction was to devalue her through murder.  When a parent sees a child’s value as “family reputation” and then the child comes out as homosexual, changes religion, or gets an awful piercing – often they are devalued by being disowned as a way of saying “you have devalued yourself and you do not exist to us or as a part of us”- a symbolic killing.  Or, when a woman in America gets 70% of the salary of a male counterpart, she is being devalued as a contributing employee.  It happens everywhere, very often to women, and through this extreme event we can reflect on how we skew value of others and maybe think about how we can fix that.

What sometimes makes this harder to accomplish, and did very much so in this case, is when a crowd or the public is involved. More than 20 people attacked the couple, and more than 30 (including police officers), were onlookers. Are we so afraid to hold different value systems than others in our own community that we don’t stand up for someone when they are being attacked?!

If your initial thought to the question above was that this would only happen “over there” then consider the viral video from a week or two ago that showed an actor passing out twice on a crowded Western street, once in a suit and another time dressed to look homeless.  When he was in the suit, representing someone that is valued in society, everyone came to his rescue asking if he was okay.  When he looked homeless, and unvalued, not a single person stopped to help. 

It’s scary to think about standing up for someone, especially in a violent situation, but what’s scarier is when no efficient system is in place to ensure this happens.  I’m referring to the on-looking police – which is where the focus of initial reform should be- in proper laws that protect citizens and a police force and judicial system dedicated to righting wrongs.  We need to think about how we can make sure we equally value all persons and also make certain that our governments are doing so; governments should be the role models to their citizens.

Of course, for good story telling, one similarity is usually promoted- that of the victim.  Which is why the headlines refers to her age, pregnancy, and the story to her “love marriage”.  Promoting this familiarity is obviously good- but we need it on both sides so that we don’t just feel bad for the victim but so that we also work to understand our differences with the attackers.  Because only when we deeply consider both, can we truly hope that it won’t happen to ourselves AND make sure we don’t do so to others.

It all sounds good, right? The idea of first finding shared foundations, then understanding the differences, and finally seeing how to bridge those differences to a shared respect for all humanity… but is it possible?  How hard is it?

Why this event has caused me so many troubling thoughts is that it’s made me momentarily not so optimistic.  I can write and talk on and on about the theories above because I’ve studied them closely and I’ve worked in many communities around the world to promote this in small ways- but can change be had with such an insanely low starting point, with a largely unwilling population, and deep societal acceptability (conscious or not) of hatred for others? Can it be done on a large scale?  This situation of course being the same in my home country the USA as well as here in Pakistan and all over the world on various issues.

I ask because this is partly what I’m actually here to be doing, and even more so because it is what I’ve been trying to do the past 6+ years.   This murder showed me how hard the battle ahead is – how deeply these (de)values are ingrained in people.  Can we change anyone’s mind?  Even just a little?

It is the last question that, through these moments of doubt, keeps me going. It is a fight worth pursuing, not one we’ll likely see the finish line of, but one that has rewards with each step.  To stay motivated I just have to focus on those small rewards, and be guided by and push hard for the end-state but not expect it of anyone, including myself.

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June 3, 2014
What is “going” to a “country”?

Inevitably when people ask me “how many countries have you been to?” their follow-up is “what counts?”  It’s a really great question as both the idea of “being” or “going” someplace as well as the meaning of “country” are constructed ideas with multiple definitions.

I thought it would be fun to explain some of the different interpretations of these ideas and show how I count where I’ve been.

“Going”

The “how” of travel counting is often the more debated of the two - as it is intrinsically flexible (i.e without changing your definition you can return a different way and then count it, whereas once you define “country” it is essentially static).  The three most common definitions I’ve heard, from most required to least, are:

24-hours:  I have a few friends who only count locations that they’ve been in for more than 24 hours (or sometimes even more- maybe a week!)  They argue that it needs to be more than a quick jaunt and that the location really needs to be taken in.  My thoughts against this methodology is that 1. Some small countries don’t need 24 hours (Liechtenstein, San Marino, etc) and 2. So much can be done in 12 hours! Or even 5!  I’ve walked the beach of Old Town Colonia and posed with elephants in Chobe National Park – so if you tell me I haven’t been to Uruguay or Botswana, I’d be less than convinced.  In fact, there are more than 10 countries I count that I’ve been in for less than 24 hours!  These are mostly in Europe as I’ve done road trips with many stops.

Experience:  Personally, this is how I define “going” somewhere- Asking myself “Have I experienced the country?” or “Can I talk about my time in the country and relate to others who have been?”  Usually I say that I need to have eaten something and seen a famous site. 

Presence: Others say that having been physically located in a place, even in transit, counts as “being” there.  I disagree with this way because I don’t think that an airport really gives the feeling of a place, and politically speaking you haven’t crossed the border.  That said, sometimes when I get stunning views of the landscape while landing and then have some local cuisine at the airport restaurant, I wonder if it counts

“Country”

The more political of the two travel counting debates is obviously what is a “country”.  Despite common belief, there is no real definition of a “country” or a “nation” because different governments recognize various regimes as independent or not.  The perfect example of this being some countries refusing to recognize Palestine and others ignoring Israel.   But the three most used definitions in travel counting, from least inclusive to most, are:

Political: UN Member Nations:  The UN officially has 193 member nations in its main governing body.  However, this does not include a number of largely recognized states (some who are observers and a few other that are members of other UN bodies like WHO and UNESCO) such as Palestine, Western Sahara, and the Vatican.  I generally think that this is a good measure but being the political one, it is a bit slow to adapt to new movements, and also ignores locations that are so different from who they’re governed by (i.e Hong Kong and Macau which are technically part of China).

Cultural- Slight flexibility:  Again, the moderate approach is the one that I use myself.  I think defining “country” or “nation” in a more inclusive and flexible way is useful not only in travel counting, but also in general global understanding, cultural appropriateness, and modern identities.  I generally think of it on a per-country basis and make a judgement call then.  Usually though, my unscientific methodology requires 1. Some level of political autonomy 2. A quite separate cultural identity 3. Other historical and/or economic differences that would mean experiencing one part would not correspond to the other.  Some of these are more obvious to me, like Palestine and Kosovo, and others are more grey-zones like Puerto Rico.

Territories, states, and more:  It is common in extreme travel counting (those who have been to all UN Member Nations, observer states, partially autonomous locations, etc) to make lengthy lists of “countries” or “nations” that may include all 50 US States, all 7 Emirates in the UAE, each island of New Zealand, etc.  This means that lists may exceed 500 or even 800.  The most famous forum for travel counting: http://mosttraveledpeople.com/ uses a few counting techniques but also offers a list of 875 locations they describe as: territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces.  These are voted upon by their members for inclusion- but in my perusal of it, I’ve found it to be rather Western-centered with districts in countries like the US and Canada being all separate but not those in some major Eastern countries.

Overall- traveling shouldn’t be just about counting all the stops you make.  It is a fun way to plan your next trip or compete in a friendly way – but the real value in travel is the awe-inspiring sites you see, the differently similar people you meet, and the life long memories of experiences had!

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The map of the 81 “countries” I will have “been” to by next week

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 said: 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

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