Monday, November 17, 2014

It's near Italy, right?

About a year ago, I got a Facebook message from one of the girls from my Semester in DC in 2001 (AKA the semester where I spent 9/11 in the White House, watched a robot come into my office to dispose of a potentially harmful package days later, and could have possibly been exposed to anthrax along the way -- so you could say those of us who were in the same school program probably bonded a little more than usual.) She and I had not spoken or seen each other since that semester, we'd just been silent Facebook friends over the years. The message simply said she wanted to let me know she enjoyed my posts and it made her miss D.C.

...and that she now lived in Nepal with her husband and I had a place to stay there if I ever wanted to visit.

Well that's all I needed to hear. Nepal was not on the top of my traveling list, heck it wasn't on the list at all, truth be told. But one of my favorite things to do in life is to jump into something and just give myself over to the ride, throwing my hands in the air with abandon and just watching what happens.

So I decided to go to Nepal.

As I've mentioned before, I really know nothing about the country. I've heard of Kathmandu, and I've heard of Mt. Everest and the Himalayas, but I probably didn't know all three of those things were in the same country until recently.  

And I wasn't alone in my ignorance. Below are some of the questions I've endured from friends, strangers, and family: 

"Where's Nepal? Is it part of India?"
Me: "No, it is not. It's a separate country."

"Is that where the Dalai Lama is?"
Me: "Nope, that's Tibet. Different country." *makes mental note to confirm that Tibet is, in fact, a different country* 

"Then where is it?"
Me: "Near India" *makes mental note to check a map and confirm that it is, in fact, near India.*

"Isn't that a really long flight?"
Me: "Eh, I've flown to Japan and stuff and that wasn't bad" *makes mental note to check a map and confirm that that statement made sense at all.*

Then I had my parents ask me three separate times when I was leaving for my trip to:


Finally my dad sent an email that basically said "well your mother said it doesn't matter where you are going, we no longer have any daughters."

(This was in retaliation for the fact that my sister is missing Thanksgiving for a vacation with her family, and I'll be missing it to be in Nepal) 

Earlier, my mother took to reporting all possible threats to me regarding my trip.

"You know those hikers were killed in the same place that you're going, right?"
"You know they are kidnapping and beheading Americans all over now, right?"
"You know they are shooting planes out of the sky, don't you?"

In response to that last statement, I asked her if she was planning to shoot my plane down herself since she was so upset that I was going.

My dad told me later that she said she was "looking for a rocket launcher".....

Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

And if hearing Doom and Gloom from my mother wasn't enough, my travel doctor didn't help matters. When I walked in, she started with "what else could we possibly put in you??" referring to the many random vaccines and meds I've gotten through the years when I've gone to places like Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and Iraq. Turns out the winner that day was Hep. A and altitude sickness meds. She had a student nurse observing, so she started to explain to the student that "Dana is what is called an 'adventure traveler' which means there are more opportunities for her to end up in a hospital..." then shoots a sheepish look at me like, "um, I mean..." Harumph.

At least the helicopter evacuation insurance I had to have in order to go on the 4-day trek I'm planning to do in Nepal brought some humor. The exhaustive list on the insurance website that detailed "what qualifies as an Adventure Sport" brought up a whole slew of questions: Badminton is an adventure sport? What is "ski joring"? "Tramping"? "Capoeira dancing - non contact?" (and does that mean I'm NOT covered if I Capoeria dance WITH contact? ...) Why are "Sleigh Rides" on the same list as "Base jumping?" Where exactly can I "war game" on vacation? ...

And I'm not even sure I like hiking for 4 days, truth be told. Yet here I am, packing anti-diarrhea pills and headlamps and getting on this roller coaster nonetheless.

I was hanging out with some girlfriends this weekend and they were asking me why, again, I even wanted to go on this trip.

You know why? Because at the end of life you don't say "I wish I'd stayed home more and did less stuff." Whenever I've visited another country, my life expands, and my heart and world gets bigger. That country and it's people become a part of me and I take them with me throughout the rest of my life. And even if you don't travel overseas, you can still find unexpected adventures all over -- but you have to create the space for those things to happen. 

I've heard people explain experiences as if they are creating grooves inside our hearts or minds. And the more grooves you have, the more area you have to hold joy, because you have these deep places where you can feel things more profoundly. I probably didn't explain that well, but it made sense to me.

And I can't wait to put a few more grooves in my heart in a few days.