I think with all cultures and religions there is a motherland, a piece of Earth designated to a specific group of people representing the assembly of common heritage and beliefs. As a Jewish American, my motherland is Israel. I always thought it would be such an enlightening journey to go to the land of milk and honey, the land of “my people.” I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Israel with Birthright. Before, I always thought to myself that if I ever visited Israel, I could die happy. I hiked Masada, touched the Wailing Wall, floated in the Dead Sea, trekked through the desert on a camel, and got bat mitzvahed. Yes, I really got bat mitzvahed. Are you kidding? What more could a girl ask for?
Traveling, like many great joys, is an infectious thing. Once you experience a different culture and language, you want to experience another, and then another, and then another. We live in one of the biggest countries in the world with every range of climate and terrain possible, yet, millions of Americans yearn to roam lands abroad, stuff their mouths full of foreign food, hear alien tongue, see real history, and basically be anywhere other than in the United States. It’s the cool thing to do, isn’t it? Why is this? It may be because as humans we constantly crave more. Better yet, we tell ourselves that we deserve more, many times for things that are not necessities, but luxuries. Traveling is definitely a luxury.
This New Year is special because we are ringing in a new decade. Not only can we reflect on the past year, but reflect on the past ten years and acknowledge the memorable events or things that happened that make our lives great. With me, almost always it relates to traveling. To me, seeing and experiencing different cultures and ways of life with my own eyes and not through a tv screen or hearing it through someone else is the ultimate luxury.
Ethiopia is a place I consider a motherland, the land of Lucy’s bones, (the oldest hominid bones ever found). Do not get it twisted, we all came from Africa. I served in the Peace Corps proudly, every day of my service. I fed hyenas in Harare, one of the holy cities of Islam. I gazed at zebras, baboons, and gazelles in the wild on foot. Only a 50 minute walk from my house into the countryside ripped the Great Rift Valley of Africa, (picture at the top). Incredible. I ate raw beef. Relax, it was mixed with clarified butter.
Serving in the Peace Corps was a life dream come true. I lived in the cradle of humanity for over two years. I told myself, “When I serve in the Peace Corps, I will die happy.” What more could I ask for? Apparently…still more.
This summer, I had a life changing experience that has been on my bucket list since I was a kid, fusing on the final leg of the tripod of motherlands of the world.
Ever since I was a little kid, I have been mesmerized by Egypt, the mystical land of pharaohs. Learning about Egypt in school, the pictures of the pyramids became engrained in my mind. For most Americans, the pyramids are the only connection we make to Egypt. Egypt is much more than this. Luxor is where the real history is at. Trekking almost 400 miles south of Cairo will take you to some of the most massive, most extensive, most elaborate graveyards; the Valley of the Kings and Queens. Behold the ancient world, and what a spectacle it is. Room after room after room of extensively detailed colored hieroglyphics, paintings, and messages, on stone. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was standing inside a structure that was built almost 4,000 years ago as the…burial chamber of a pharaoh!? I could not believe it. Hatshepsut’s Temple; more hieroglyphics, everywhere. At Karnak Temple I was captivated by mammoth stone structures towering over me. More hieroglyphics. Wall after wall and room after room of ornate chiseled drawings done by hand in stone, even covering the ceiling.
We then journeyed to Alexandria: toured the famous library, stayed with a local family, ate freshly butchered fish along the coast, lost a phone, found the phone, all with the help of a local who became our traveling buddy and savior.
Cairo was our last stop, and by the time we arrived, I was excited to see the pyramids, but I felt like I had seen so much already. My brain was twitching from the explosion of history. I didn’t think I could handle any more, but let me tell you something: my life completely changed when I saw the tips of the pyramids poking through the trees. Come on, you’re just casually driving on the highway and oh! one of the wonders of the ancient world just peeps out. Are you kidding? I could not. I really just could not believe it. I was in complete awe the entire walk through the Giza complex. My mouth must have been open in shock for a good two hours.
This trip was special. My cousin and I had the amazing opportunity to trek the Earth where our ancestors were once slaves. As I touched the cool stone wall of the pyramids, I thought about how the Israelites helped create this colossal, monumental edifice.
Over the last ten years, I am grateful to have visited different continents and experienced many cultures. Often, even in the middle of a task, I think about a place I visited, pause, and say to myself, “Did I really get to do that?” “Did that really happen?” As humans, we never seem satisfied with what we have and always crave more. We go about our lives wanting certain things so badly, and then when it finally happens, it whips right through us before realizing this remarkable thing that just occurred.
I always told myself when I visit Egypt, I can die happy, but now all I can think about is other places I want to visit and I feel ashamed. How many times in your life have you said, “If I could just —–, I could die happy?”
Take a moment to humble yourself, because damn, I sure needed to. There are millions of people who will never get the opportunity to travel abroad, nevertheless travel out of their town. Instead of thinking about things that if you did them you could die happy, think about reasons why you will die happy. Hold on to this. I came to the realization that of course I will die happy; visiting Egypt was just an added bonus.