You Are Ready
You’re in the bathroom flattening your hair at baggage claim. You pinch your cheeks for colour. You’re nervous to see her. You’ve come all this way for her, to give it a shot. Breathe in, breathe out. You throw your 8kg on your back and head out, grateful for the light load, but hoping one pair of pants is enough.
You’re winding your way through the streets of Old Jerusalem, following signs to a Jewish women’s hostel. “Why aren’t you Jewish?” they ask. “What is your life like without God?” they ask. “If you’re not religious, what holidays do you celebrate?” they ask. You are too confused by the questions to be offended or even answer.
You discover your ignorance and are embarrassed by it. You realise your Australian public school education and atheist upbringing left you totally unaware about ancient societies, theologies, and the Middle East. You madly google monotheism in order to participate in future conversations.
You’re pointing your index finger at the ground. You’ve learnt to tuck in your thumb after observing the locals. The cars pass pass pass until one pulls over. Da-rohm, you say. That’s the West Bank.. Are you sure? You nod and hop in. They live on a kibbutz and own a spirulina company. You accept the proffered sachets while asking what spirulina is. You’re not as alt-hipster as your Melbourne northern suburbs address prescribes.
They take you as far as they can. You are dropped somewhere surrounded by red rocks and dry earth. This is where she tells you she loves you, again. Your heart expands, again. You are in the middle of a desert in disputed territory, you don’t have a phone and cannot speak Arabic or Hebrew. Your primary concern is that your chicken schwarma has been in the sun all day. You realise how lucky you are to be an optimist, to simply believe that everything will turn out okay. You don’t know if it’s true for other people. So far it’s been true for you. You consider yourself lucky.
You are in Jericho. Everyone is welcoming and friendly. The lone person to make you feel uncomfortable is a man raised in the US who wags his finger in your face and tells you to smile. You tell him to fuck off and walk towards the safety of your Palestinian friends, who call you sister. You will not refer to them as Palestinians when you are talking to Israeli border security one week later.
You’re the only white person in this area of Amman. You smell because there is no shower in your hotel. Your neighbours from Cairo invite you to join them for the dinner they are cooking on coals in their hotel room. All but one are women. They want to dance, so the man leaves. The women remove their hijabs, turn up the volume and move their hips in ways you cannot.
You go all in while learning to play poker with a Ukrainian beauty and her Jordanian men in Petra. If you lose, you must ask for WiFi in an inappropriate place. The next day you cringe as you ask the Bedouin man if his cave has WiFi.
You send your mum a selfie.
You are alone and directionless in a foreign land. You’ve said goodbye to her. I don’t know what I want, she says. I need someone who wakes up happy, you think. Your couchsurfing host and her queer Russian housemates drink vodka with you. They offer refuge and you paint water colours with them and realise there are good people everywhere. You hope you are one of them.
You are continually astounded by the generosity shown to you by strangers at every point throughout your travels. You think of ways to pay it forward. For now, you offer your snacks to the woman sitting next to you on the bus. She smiles and accepts. The Pringles taste better now.
You are preparing for India as a solo female traveller. You made a decision, a decision you make again every day, to push. To push and to keep pushing. To push past barriers internal and external. Keep digging, you tell yourself. You are ready.