Let’s begin in the company of women and end with a single man (not Colin Firth in that Tom Ford movie).
My relationship with travel is …
Traveling is a very moving and transformative experience for me.
When I think about what traveling means to me, what it really means to me, I feel my insides swell with elation at the very memory of its sensation: of being introduced to a new place, of being the one foreign variable and re-learning my way in the world from a different orientation. Of course, it wasn’t always a happy-go-lucky experience, but it is something that I now find elemental to my being—I need to travel to feel alive, to feel like my best self, to be empowered to be the change that I want to see in the world. Sure, what ‘legacy’ I have to leave (at the moment) only amounts to annotated books and graffiti on the backs of receipts, but I’m hoping that—in my lifetime—it’ll flower into something more.
I think everyone at the inaugural Women’s Travel Fest had the same idea—jetsetters, retirees, aspiring travel writers and tour guides, and general travel junkies who are beyond ready to leave their desk jobs for a hammock in Samoa—all were looking to give travel a bit more priority in their lives.
I came to the event looking to answer that question (How do I make my job digital? How do I monetize my travels?), but what I got instead was totally different. I made mention of it in my post for Imperative: the most affecting part of the event, for me, was the panel on Safety, Sexuality & Conquering Your Travel Fears. I never really associated the words “travel” with “fear” before; the two just seemed so disconnected. Looking back, the moments abroad when I felt fear, when I felt my safety was being threatened, I kind of just waved off as soon as the fear passed and, effectively, kept calm and carried on. Probably not the best thing to do, which was why I was so impressed that the event schedule carved out a designated time slot to focus, unflinchingly, and confront the fears that we women have when we travel, and part of that time was allocated to a Q&A with Sarah Shourd, one of the three hikers taken captive as political hostages in 2009 just on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran. It’s important to note that, despite what the media sensationalism would have had you believe at the time, the events that led to their capture were unforeseeable. There’s no way you could’ve prepared in advance for something like that.
While the other two hikers, her now-husband Shane Bauer and their friend Joshua Fattal, were held in a cell together, she was kept in solitary confinement for 410 days. To be honest, I personally believe that only a woman could endure that level of torture and still manage to find some kind of humanity and tenderness in the process (unfair of me?), which she had in the form of friendships with fellow female prisoners, and she’d even developed some sort of relationship with the guards.
I heard her speak again last night (after her husband opened for a full house of—ahem—older folk with markedly strong political views), at the NYC book launch event for their joint memoir A Sliver of Light, told in the alternating voices of all three. One part that struck me sharply and poignantly was when she told the audience that, upon leaving the cell that she’d inhabited for over a year, she’d shouted down the corridor to the other prisoners, “I love you all.” How could you go through such trauma and have the last mark you leave on such a wretched experience be so tender?
The last to speak was Joshua Fattal. The passages he shared from the book ranged from humorous—and even uplifting, so much as they could be—to painful. What was weird for me about hearing them tell their story in their own words was that I found myself really caring for them without knowing them at all. Sarah and I had met previously (at the Women’s Travel Fest) and connected at more than one heartrending intersection, but I don’t know any of them. To care about them as much as I do both startles and confuses me, and I think it could be because, between the three of them, they lived out every traveler’s worst nightmare, every traveler’s greatest fear.
When I met them to get my copy of their book signed, it was like seeing old friends again. Sarah had introduced me to Shane, and I shook his hand and felt as though she’d told me about him for ages and that our meeting was much anticipated for a while, even though she and I are practically strangers ourselves. I just felt so overwhelmed in making that connection with them that tears welled in my eyes (as they would’ve regardless because I’m a perpetual wet blanket). I held Sarah’s hand for a moment and felt an outpouring of emotion, as if she were a gatekeeper to so many things that I’d kept hidden out of sight.
When I met Joshua, I told him that I loved his spirit. It was so lively and animated, and humorous (there was a ‘cock’/’crotch’ slip-up a time or two that made me slip a sharp burst of laughter into the already failing ears of the poor old man sat in front of me), and it amazed me that it still had that verve. He just looked at me, with piercing, quiet green eyes, smiled, and asked me if I traveled. I don’t know why I hesitated. “Yes, I mean, I try to…I guess…?” (Who the hell says that??)
This is what he wrote in my book: