I was recently on a short business trip, and I was sort of dreading the whole trip, including the country of destination. I was aware of this, of course, but was still ashamed of myself when – upon hearing any piece of news related to either the project or the country – I would jump to the irrational conclusion that that might be enough to cancel the trip. Like I said, I was ashamed, but there it was. In the end, there weren’t sufficient reasons to derail the trip and I found myself, plainly and simply, traveling.
Among the coping skills I’ve learned as an adult, I put on a brave face and tried to seem un-phased by this non-turn of events. I believe I was doing this so well that I almost seemed callously indifferent. That is until we were in the car, driving on a sleek highway next to a sweet hillside that was spotted with airbrushes of orange and yellow. Oh my goodness – autumn!! One of my favorite seasons that is beyond brief in my beloved Lebanon, where the leaves don’t linger and fade, they opt instead to just drop at the first sign of wintery weather. I looked again to make sure it wasn’t just a type of boring tree, perhaps a breed that was too lazy to carry full-colour leaves to begin with (you may be puzzled by this notion since, as far as I know, no such tree exists, but that might just describe to you how un-excited I was about visiting this country). By that second look, my cynical callous indifference had all but withered and I found myself goofily smiling at this beautiful hillside holding autumn for me, for me to enjoy.
How ironic, I thought, that it would be this beautiful nature that would make me like this country again. This is when I realized that it wasn’t the first time. I could remember being on a bus from London to Oxford, upset and depressed by the usual gloomy, wet weather, when I looked out at a field with edges that disappeared over the horizon, and seemed to reflect a tinge of lush, rich, deep green onto the otherwise non-descript sky. All I could think of was ‘emerald’, and how, for the length of that field, I felt as if I was inside one.
I thought back to one of my many walks in Sri Lanka, when I would reach the point of saturation with all the dust, sun, heat and shriveled, dried up bark (which would give you the feeling that the sun practically peeled it off the trees and sucked the moist life out of it). Just around then, I would feel a slight, delicate cool, and would look up to find I was walking next to a majestically upright coconut tree, bending just so at the top out of its easy-going and kind shade-y character.
I would think of a perfectly smooth, wavy sand dune in Sharjah’s otherwise lifeless desert where I grew up, of a lake appearing like an oasis beneath the narrow, winding roads somewhere between Sanaa and Taez in Yemen, and so on and so on.
So there it was, a self-realization revealing itself to me for the first time, that it isn’t always my lofty notions of anthropological curiosity, courteous interaction with people, or self-disciplined motivation that keep me connected to places, and thus people. It was something much simpler all along and for which I can claim no credit whatsoever – but I'm happy to take a back seat to nature any day!