It’s a funny business, this leaving the comfort of your own little bubble and venturing out into the world. Traveling to strange worlds, visiting foreign countries and meeting people who are not like you.
You just might change your perspective on life, humans and this tiny little blue planet we all call home.
I am writing this on a flight from Jeddah to Dammam. A local Saudi flight. It is fascinating, humbling and amazing on a whole lot of levels.
Let’s start with the facts: I may be wrong, but it looks like I am the only girl traveling alone through this airport. I am one of the very few white people here. And I am definitely the only short haired, white, unveiled chick traveling alone.
An old man, dressed in the classical Saudi white robe and red and white head scarf, blind on one eye and seemingly hard of hearing, just shouted something at me from the table next to me at the Starbucks (yes, of course there’s a Starbucks at the domestic Jeddah airport. It’s right across from the Coffee Bean and the Tea leaf.) I told him I don’t understand arabic, and he proceeded to ask in half-decent english first where I was going and where I was from – then he asked whether I was a man or a woman. I smiled and told him woman. He gestured to my hair and asked why it was short – I laughed and told him it was a lot better in the heat. He didn’t smile, but his nod was one of approval. Or at least of confirmation that he understood. That I was different from anyone he’d really met before but it seemed like I knew what I was doing and I could just continue doing it. Fair enough.
Now, you know that look that a muslim man dressed in traditional clothing will get when he boards a plane in Europe? That sting of fear in people’s eyes? That moment of involuntary deliberation (that we hate to admit to!) – should I get on this plane? Before you catch yourself being incredibly judgmental and remind yourself that there are 1.6 billion muslims in the world and statistically and realistically speaking, all of them are peaceful individuals just trying to make their way to their destination. And that the only terrorist you’ve been affected by was a white christian one. And that statistically speaking most terrorism on US ground is performed by white christian terrorists too. And that news media is sadly affecting you beyond what you wish to let it do.
Well here I am, the only one not dressed like that person (well, sort of – I am wearing an abaya, but it’s a fairly colorful one), boarding a plane in Saudi. I’m getting some odd looks too, but more leaning toward curiosity. After the safety demonstration, a prayer is broadcast loudly through the plane, starting with “Allahu Akbar”. It has english subtitles on the screen and it is a beautiful prayer. For safety and swiftness of the journey. For the road being easy. For your family being kept safe and taken care of until you return.
Life is funny some times, isn’t it? How a 7 hour flight south-east of Norway changes absolutely everything? Flipping your world upside down, and reminding you that your perspective is just one person’s out of 7 billion individuals’.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” said Tolkien through Bilbo. And it is. You set one foot in front of the other, smile at another human being, and suddenly you find that your world view has shifted ever so slightly.
My grandmother called them “dannelsesreiser”. I’ve never found a good word for them in English. It means something like “the traveling you do to gain perspective and understanding.”
As the plane takes off and I watch the lights of Jeddah fade beneath me, and the stars pop out above, and the fully veiled woman in the seat next to me flips through an American fashion magazine, I stop, pause, and appreciate life’s odd turns, the mind boggling effects of change in perspective, and think to myself that if everyone just took a step outside their comfort zone a little more often, and dared to be the short haired white chick boarding a plane by herself in Jeddah, or the old Saudi man blind on on eye engaging her in conversation… Maybe the world would not be so filled with fear and hatred.
It is hard to fear or hate what you feel connected to.