Thursday, June 03, 2004


تغرب عن الأوطان في طلب العلا و سافر ففي الأسفار خمس فوائـد
تفرج هم واكتســــاب معيشة و علم وآداب وصحبة مـــاجد
فإن قيل في الأسفار هم وكربـة و تشتيت شمل وارتكاب الشدائـد
فموت الفتى خير له من حياتـه بدار هوان بين واش وحــاسد

الإمام علي كرم الله وجهه-

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes to this world was mom and dad’s face staring at their newborn baby, and the next thing was probably a world map! There were maps all over the house, in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom. Physical, political, and all sorts of thematic maps were framed and hung on the wall or tucked under glass tabletops. The plastic ball we used to play with and the lamp on the comodino beside my bed were in the shape of a globe, and even the jigsaw puzzle I enjoyed putting together was of a world map. For some reason, world geography became an integral part of the house.

As kids, my siblings and I would enjoy sitting around and quizzing each other with geography questions. We used to memorize the entire capitals of the world and know the colors and symbols that each flag consists of. Maps, flags, and prime political figures were our passion. In no time we were experts. My parents, aunts, and uncles would sometimes refer to us for specific information, and if we knew the answer, the widest smile of self-esteem would be drawn on our faces and if we didn’t, the desire to enhance our knowledge would be greater than ever.

I remember my geography teacher asked the class once to draw the map of the world without looking at it. Of course, I already knew it by heart and I also had the advantage of being good at drawing. So, in a matter of few minutes, I’ve drawn a fairly accurate map with all the oceans, continents and major cities of the world labeled. The teacher sure was surprised and the students filled the classroom with their oohhs and aahhs. Similar tour de forces would be achieved until I got quite blasé about it.

As a kid, so naive and unreflective, I wasn’t quite aware of the importance and benefits of travel. As I grew older, however, I became to realize that traveling is more than making a journey over a long distance. It’s a way of stretching your mind and embracing everything that’s new and different. It is about stepping past the borders you grew up in to submerse yourself in a new lifestyle.

The person who doesn’t knead with the people of the country he is visiting. If he doesn’t intermingle with the new sights, smells, and sounds. If the traveler goes to Egypt and doesn't master the art of bargaining or goes to Agra and doesn't feel jealous of Mumtaz Mahal; if he goes to Arabia and doesn't get touched by the calls to prayer, or goes to Brazil and doesn’t get the itch to dance the Samba; if the traveler doesn’t experience firsthand how others do things differently and returns from a place exactly the same way he entered it, then he sure did something wrong and have missed the whole purpose of being there!


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