What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled from home?

In 2007, I had the opportunity to spend the summer in England.  I volunteered for a Christian organization, and it was one of the most incredible, humbling, blessed, frustrated, growing times of my life.  While there, I also had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Venice (it was fun — I spoke my English and my traveling companion was a Mexican . . . we mostly spoke Spanglish).  The final week of my trip, I traveled to Istanbul to meet my boss’ Iranian colleagues there.
“Culture shock” was a bit of an understatement.
My boss informed me that I would be flying to Turkey hours before I flew to Turkey.  I was actually on the computer, researching movie times because I wanted to go with our neighbor.  My friends — a Mexican man who could have passed for Caucasian and who lives in Juarez and runs a halfway-house of sorts; a Mexican man from Mexico City who worked as a social worker; a Mexican woman and university student; and a Bolivian woman who is a lawyer — had traveled on a mission a couple of weeks prior, and I was the youngest person and only “foreigner” — although most of my colleagues were Armenian, Iranian or Indian, they all lived in England.  My boss called me to his office and told me that he wanted me to see the work they’re doing in Istanbul, and that I needed to pack because my plane was leaving that afternoon.  I must admit that I was secretly a little upset, because I happened to have a crush on the neighbor because I had other plans.  Nevertheless, I went to my room and packed some things, and was soon on the A3 to Heathrow.
On the plane, I sat next to a Turkish woman and her family.  We smiled, but didn’t speak during the flight.  We arrived around 3:30 a.m., and I began to look for my host.  My host had an Iranian name, and I had no idea if the name was feminine or masculine.  So, I wandered around aimlessly, reading all of the signs (none of which read my name).  After about ten minutes, I went to an employee and asked if he could broadcast my host’s name over the PA system.  He did.  No one came.  I had the address of the church, so I began to consider hailing a taxi and sleeping at the church (once I later saw the church and its location in the city, I realized that this would have been an incredibly bad idea).  Fortunately, I caught the eye of a woman standing near a pillar.  She held a sheet of paper in her hand and turned it toward me.  Oh.  Apparently the name was feminine.
She introduced herself as “Nawsheen” (not really, but it means “Sweet”) and we left the airport, meeting a man on the way.  He was to be my host (and will hereafter be referred to as “Abdas,” which means “Servant of God”).  The three of us sat together in a taxi and tried to talk in broken English (this is the part where I realized that I really should have studied Persian more intensively . . . because “Salam, hale shoma chitori” was not going to cut it).  I began to smell the sea, and asked if there was water nearby (I would also like everyone to note that I blame this ignorant question on jet lag).  They told me they didn’t have water in the taxi, but I could have some at the house.  Wow.  Looking back, I wonder if they thought I was seriously that spoiled.
We survived the cobblestone streets and arrived at my host’s flat.  The entrance was dark, and after walking down a short hallway that led to a flight of stairs, we needed to use our cell phones to illuminate our path.  We climbed the stairs and arrived at the flat.  Abdas’ wife and son were sleeping, so the three of us talked quietly.  Nawsheen was to leave the country the next day (I can’t remember for how long or where), but before she left, she said that I would have to return when she was home so I could stay with her.  Her parting words were: “I love you.  I don’t know you, but I love you.  God bless you.”  Actually, she said “God bless you” in Persian, but I cannot remember the wording and Google has failed me.  It’s a shame that I can’t remember, because I used the phrase rather frequently (like when I couldn’t think of anything else to say).  And Abdas gave me a glass of water and showed me to my room.  It was about half the size of my own room, and the bed had no sheets (aside from the fitted one on the mattress).  At first, I thought that was weird.  Until the heat became so unbearable I slept on the tile floor.  There was also a bowl of pistachios next to my bed.  Over the course of the summer, I became a professional at opening pistachios.  Since it was past 3:30 a.m., I immediately went to sleep.  And was woken promptly at 5 a.m. by the loudest, most foreign sound I had ever heard.  It started outside my window, and then echoed throughout the city.  It was the most haunting, beautiful sound I had ever heard (one day, I even called my parents so they could hear it).

Needless to say, I didn’t exactly sleep that first night.

I met Farzana, his wife, and Arsalan, his son, the next morning.  Abdas set out a variety of breads, goat cheese, honey and fruit for Farzana and me to enjoy for breakfast.  Over the course of my visit, I also discovered a new favorite type of bread (which I have since been unable to find anywhere else) — Abdas brought home a flat, stretchy bread that he had purchased.  It was rolled up, and we simply tore off the amount we wanted.
Abdas and I walked to the church, where I met Miriam and Peter, two Iranian Christian children who had come to Turkey without their families.  We left the small sanctuary and went downstairs to clean a classroom.  The building was made of cement and stone, and was easily cleaned by Peter, who took a bucket of water and dumped it on the floor.  He used a broom as a mop, something I’d never seen before.  While cleaning, we pointed at different objects in the room and named them in our native languages.  And that’s when jet lag hit me.
It hadn’t affected me when I arrived in England, but I suddenly found myself rather nauseous and tired.  After staring at the same pile of crayons for several seconds, I told Miriam and she found Arsalan, who walked me back through the streets to the flat.
Later, I explored the streets.  There were no women visible, but rather men of all ages.  Some sat and played board games, others merely leaned against buildings and talked.  None of them were discreet in their ogling, which was highly disconcerting.  I kept my eye on the green plastic awning that identified the flat, and meandered through the streets.
One afternoon, I accompanied some church volunteers and children to a local park.  We walked through the streets and took the train, which runs through the center of the street — you have to be careful, because there are no guardrails or barriers to separate the train from the road on which everyone walks.  The kids played and I spent the afternoon taking photos and speaking with a Canadian, Sarai.  She and some friends stayed in a hostel near a mosque.  For lunch, we had sandwiches and a yogurt drink (which everyone devoured, except for me, who gave it to a child).
One evening, I went with Farzana to a friend’s home for worship practice.  There was a Chinese-Canadian man there, who played guitar with one of the Iranian men.  A man who reminded me of Richard Gere pointed at my bag, spotting my passport.  He suggested that I leave it in my room — but what if something happened and I needed it?  The yogurt drink from earlier was passed around, as well.  The Chinese-Canadian took a sip of it and grimaced.  Having already tasted it, I downed it as quickly as possible.
I also had my first experience shopping at a bazaar.  One morning, I went to the flat of some Iranian women.  While one, a very tall and beautiful model, took her time getting ready, another made breakfast for me.  I had an egg, tomatoes and watermelon.  Finally, we set out for a shopping district, where I haggled for a red blouse and skirt.  There was also the taxi driver who whistled and honked his horn, and slowly drove down the hill so as to watch and harass my friend and me.  There was also the taxi driver who watched me walk past, then drove to the next intersection and parked, leaning out his window until I passed again.
In the bazaar (which was housed inside a former mosque), I purchased a panel skirt and top for belly dancing.  When I went to try it on, I had to be careful to close the curtain just right, because there was a mirror half in the dressing area and half in the rest of the store, so anyone watching the mirror could have seen someone undressing.  We haggled until I purchased it for far lower than it would have cost in the United States.  On another trip to the bazaar, I also purchased a hip scarf with coins.  And one evening, I tried apple tea (which I highly recommend).
Then, Farzana’s Muslim parents and brother visited.  It was my first interaction with Muslims, and I was nervous.  They spoke better English than either Farzana or Abdas, and we talked a bit while I helped Abdas prepare dinner (he grilled chicken on a tiny grill that fit on the ledge of their balcony!).  We also watched a Persian show.
The next day, I threw some of the leftover chicken to a tiny black kitten, who had somehow become trapped in the stone courtyard of a deserted house next door.  The courtyard offered no reprieve from the hot sun, and I was worried that it would starve to death.  So I threw chicken scraps (which were better than the pistachios I’d been chucking).  There were also some mongoose-like creatures that crawled across the roof and into the house every night — one evening, I’d had the opportunity to watch them because I couldn’t sleep.
There were also the bathrooms, with the shower heads that jutted out from the wall near the toilet.  There were no bath tubs, no shower curtains.  I was told that it was because only one person should be in the bathroom at once, instead of in America, where someone can shower and another can use the toilet or sink.  The water, however, was not very cold, and the reprieve from the heat lasted only until I stepped out of the bathroom.  Instead of the refreshing feeling of cool air on wet skin, it was more like the hot setting on a hair dryer.
Soon enough, Abdas was taking me to the airport, but for a moment, I thought we weren’t going to get there.  As the taxi climbed a steep, cobblestone hill, it suddenly stopped, and I prepared for the inevitable roll backwards and eventual collision with another car.  Fortunately, however, the taxi driver regained control and soon, we were at the airport again.  Abdas left me with 1 Peter 2:9:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Upon arriving at Heathrow, however, I soon realized that no one was coming for me.  Also, my phone had died because I didn’t think to check that Turkish electrical sockets were different from English ones.  So, I had my first experience finding a train, a bus and a taxi to take me home.  A few days later, I was on a plane again — but this time, I was bound for Eastern Standard Time.
I would like to travel farther away.  I would love to see the Middle East and southeastern Asia.
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