HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I originally had the idea that I’d launch this website today, at the start of the new year. “New year, new me”. Isn’t that what people always say? So new year, new site right? Not really. Whether it’s a new website or a new resolution, you don’t have to wait to start a good thing. Rationally, the earlier you start, the better. I wrote a bit about “starting” in my first blog post which you can check out here.
In this post I want to tell you about a trip I took to Jordan a few of weeks ago and my experience unexpectedly bonding with a fellow traveler named Lily. The crossing of our paths reminded me of three things that I believe are worth repeating as we jump into 2019. While certainly not groundbreaking revelations, I hope the story will resonate with you in some way.
THE ROAD TO JORDAN
A few of weeks ago we had the second FIBA break of the season. As always, I took advantage of the precious extra days off and looked for a new place to getaway and explore. After some deliberation, I settled on a three day journey through Jordan. I’d spend one day exploring Jerash and Amman, the next day hiking through the ancient city of Petra, and the last day roaming the Wadi Rum desert.
I generally like to travel alone at my own pace, but given the circumstances and short window of time (i.e. minimal margin for error) I decided to join a tour group. It was the right decision for a last minute trip to an unfamiliar destination. I appreciated going with the group. It offloaded the potentially stressful responsibilities of logistics and planning. All I had to do was wake up on time, remember to charge my camera batteries, and not be socially awkward.
The trip was unforgettable and one of my favorites of 2018. But I won’t bore you with travel details and facts that you can easily find with a quick Google search. Instead, I want to tell you about a different experience. One you won’t find on the TripAdvisor forums. I want to tell you about meeting Lily.
To be honest, I worried about Lily from the moment I laid eyes on her in Jerusalem. I initially wondered if she had found the wrong van or was mistakenly separated from her travel companions. I thought surely she wasn’t traveling alone.
She’s a small woman. One might even call her frail. She stands slightly hunched with wild, frizzy greying hair. I’d later learn that she is in her late 60s. She has piercing eyes and wears either a broad, teethy smile or a stern look of concentration. She walks slow and a bit unsteady, but with determination. Still, everything she wore looked like it weighed her down. Her backpack, her hiking shoes, even her jacket looked like a burden waiting to be lifted.
Looking around the van on that first morning, most passengers were in their mid to late 20s or early 30s. A pair of doctors from Italy. A couple of nurses and two travel bloggers from Canada. There was also one woman who must have been in her 40s or early 50s on vacation with her son.
I impatiently waited for someone to jump on the van last minute and take the empty seat next to Lily. A family member or friend. Someone that would help her with her bags or make sure she doesn’t get lost. But that person never came. The driver-double checked his roll call and we departed for Jordanian border.
Lily quickly became the running joke on the tour. Why? She was late for wake up times and departures. She forgot items in her room. She had strong opinions about the food. But what really stood out and seemed to irritate the other group members was that Lily asked a lot of questions, she moved quite slowly, and she had a knack for getting lost.
It reached the point where our guide, Ibrahim, would punctuate the start of each trip segment with a quick sarcastic quip. “Do we have Lily everybody?” “Lily, what time are we leaving?” “And where are we meeting after, Lily?” This led to some general feelings within the tour group.
LILY IS ANNOYING
In Jerash, I noticed she wanted to know everything. She asked questions incessantly. So many that the tour guide started giving her short answers or simply ignoring her to keep the schedule moving along. She would then turn her attention to other group members, locals or anyone in the general area that would take a moment to listen.
At one point while hiking through Petra, Lily peeled away from the group and disappeared into the mountains and valleys for hours. For good reason, we were all concerned. Petra is full of empty trails, deadly drop offs, and unrelenting heat. The guide couldn’t even muster a joke about the situation.
Then in Wadi Rum I watched as she clung to others’ arms and inched ankle deep in sand towards the top of steep dunes. After a few “lost Lily” episodes, the guide had asked the rest of the group to keep an eye out for her. Anything to keep Lily within eyesight and limit schedule delays. In an understood silence, we each routinely took turns with the responsibility. Given the relatively quick pace of the tour, some were more enthusiastic (or reluctant) than others.
GETTING TO KNOW LILY
I never felt like the guide’s plea for help applied to me. From the outset of the tour, I regularly found myself walking with Lily. It happened naturally. As one of the only other solo travelers, I often lagged behind the group. I’d get lost in my own world reading information plaques and capturing photos. I didn’t feel any pressure though. I knew I could catch up to the group. Worst case scenario, I always knew the rendezvous point and time.
Lily’s and my paths always had a way of crossing during these carefree wanders away from the other members. Each time played out the same. She would ask a few questions, we’d chat a bit, I’d remind her of the departure time, and then she’d ask me to snap a photo with her cell phone. Then as if we both understood we had places to be, we went our separate ways.
These short encounters were how I got to know Lily. They taught me that I’d misplaced my worry and concern. The more I observed, listened and asked questions, the more I understood. The more I saw a little bit of Lily, this small, older Russian American Jewish woman, reflected in myself. I walked away from the trip wanting to be a little bit more like her.
THE TRUTH IS...
Lily endlessly asked questions because she is insanely curious.
I quickly recognized the algorithmic precision of her inquiries. They were in no way the random questions used to make small talk. Not the type of disjointed questions you might expect to break the silences when you’re on a tour with a group of strangers. I assumed and later confirmed that she works in the sciences. She has been a software engineer in the Bronx for more than three decades.
Lily knows exactly what she wants to learn. She mines down to an answer in a beautifully iterative fashion. And once she reaches some level of understanding or loses interest, she coldly abandons and moves on to a new line of questions. She follows that curiosity like a trail of breadcrumbs even if it leads away from the group or means getting “lost”.
Lily was never lost. Maybe the group just perceived her as so. Something funny happened after she disappeared for a few hours in Petra. In the middle of a 45 minute hike up to the Royal Tombs, a local merchant asked Ibrahim if he was missing someone. He was, but as we looked around at each other half relieved and half dumbfounded, none of us believed it was Lily or that she could have hiked this far alone.
While Ibrahim was almost ready to give up and call park security, it turns out Lily wasn’t even looking for our group. She had wandered off and in the process, beat us up the trail to the Royal Tombs. Along the way she talked with this woman who sold souvenirs and told her about our group and our guide. Lily told her she’d walk ahead to see the ruins and then come back to the path. If the woman saw Ibrahim, she was to tell him that Lily was there. When I returned from shooting photos of the tombs, there she was holding on to Ibrahim’s arm at the trail.
Lily did not rush.
I understood this the first time she held my arm. No matter how hectic the pace of the itinerary, she did not hurry. We had just finished a camel ride in the Wadi Rum desert. As I was shaking the saddle soreness from my legs, the rest of the group went ahead to drink tea. It was supposed to be a short rest break before we reconvened and departed the desert for lunch. Before I could turn and join them, I felt her hand on my forearm. The only thing I remember in her heavy Russian accent was “walk with me”.
During those moments with her holding my arm, I understood that Lily didn’t need help walking or balancing. There was no strain in her hands. She held a loose grip that felt as though she floated in stride beside you. As we walked, she admired the group of resting camels that'd just carried us across a long stretch of desert. She looked at them longingly as though she had a line of questions she knew only they could answer. She just smiled. We continued to the tea tent in a peaceful silence. We arrived with more than enough time to drink tea, take more photos and even use the restroom. I thought to myself, maybe all this time we were not helping Lily keep up, but instead she was trying to help us slow down.
BE MORE LIKE LILY
Getting to know Lily during my short trip to Jordan gave me three important reminders. She reminds me to be unapologetically curious, to not be afraid to get lost and that it’s okay to slow down. As one of the last trips I took in 2018, these were timely reminders heading into a new year.
The thought I’d like to leave you with is this. Upon first meeting Lily, it was easy to instead mistake these three as annoying, concerning and inconvenient. How many times have you had an experience or an encounter with someone that started off this way? Lily was honestly the last person I thought I'd relate to on the tour through Jordan. She turned out to be one of the most interesting people I met along the way. Sometimes all it takes is a little empathy or a small shift in perspective to see a completely different picture, or in my case, a completely different Lily.
Thanks for reading! Wishing you all blessings in 2019!