1. Before Iran

I was told I should go Iran five years ago. In the six months leading to the trip, life happened.

Here is the first part of my trip, about the things I have learnt. This trip was a conclusion for all the other things that have happened to me and hopefully, a beginning for other things.

Prologue

This mistake was the cream of the crop of land that housed two years of “mistakes”. In 2014, I left a “proper” university graduate route for an apprenticeship. My second mistake was switching companies to help out a friend. But when the horizon looked like a prolonged mistake, I redeemed myself with the help of an old friend and made a return to the corporate life. With my last money in the bank, I decided, if I am going to make one more mistake, this will be worth it. So, in the last week of 2016, I booked a one-way ticket to Tehran.

The seeds of the trip had roots in March 2016 — I needed to get out. After four years of no travel and making personal compromises, I needed to see the world beyond the screens. Alas, when May rolled around, I was further away from this need and found ways to walk away from this barrier that was pulling me away. Soon, my life was the chorus of Snoop Dogg’s Gin and Juice, with my mind on my money and my money on my mind.

The person that you are from 5 months before and right now may not be a continuous person. At any one time, non-consecutive parts of us exist simultaneously.


Someone had asked months prior to the trip, “Will travelling solve it?”
I knew it would not but I needed to leave.

It was also in this year that I grew into my boots. Fate was the hands tying the laces that got too tight in the first half of the year. At times, almost asphyxiating. Yet, the only thing stopping me from keeling over was knowing I had made the choice. I chose all of this.

“To be sure, man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is meaning in one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can almost bear any how.”
- Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl”

At the edge of asphyxia, I persisted with my powerlifting training programme that helped me breathe three times a week, even if it was for a couple hours each time. Growing into my boots made me certain of myself as a person. I am the #girlwholifts, #builder, #writer, among other things. It was also in 2016, that I downloaded Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel, went on some dates and then deleted them.

Then, I signed up for a lifting competition for a sense of control over my life, met someone there, said I like you, warned him that I am not one to stay, and later said, “I love you too.” He became the person who asked if I had bought my tickets yet.

In December last year, I began to tell significant people that I was leaving — except for my parents. I merely informed these people because there is a voice inside me, that of an overgrown child who would not move out. This voice is fear. But pride is my trustworthy mover on speed dial. I am the homeowner and I know I needed to go, this trip would be my defining and pivotal moment.

It was an entire month of cajoling myself that I could make this trip because waiting spaces is where fear hangs out. Fear can exist with zeal but prior to the plane ride, someone had swapped my rose-tinted glasses with opaque ones.

I could not point out what I was afraid of (I knew what my friends were afraid of; they had asked, “Can you go somewhere not Iran?”) Perhaps it was realising that I could come to nought at the end of the trip; perhaps it was the fear that I would not make it back or perhaps it was the fear I would have to come back, or perhaps it was the fact that I realised how I have fallen in love. As much as I had told this guy, “Feel free to see someone else,” I also knew there would be consequences. I could deal with them later, I always do.

We were down to the last week of December. A friend had forwarded me her boyfriend’s parents’ Iran trip itinerary, I crowd-sourced the part of my journey after Iran and finally, my finger was clicking on the cheapest flight.

It was New Year’s Eve when I told my parents. Happy new year?


The Packing

I dealt with this fear monster of a child in bite-sized pieces, cajoling her out of the basement with pieces of crumbs on the staircase next to a to-do list.

1. Passport validity
2. Confirm visa requirements
3. Download Lonely Planet
4. Read some blogs
5. Read insurance reviews
6. Change cash
7. Wash the dusty old backpack
8. Dump the clothes I wanted into backpack
9. Buy toiletries
10. Buy art supplies
11. Book my first night
12. Update Couchsurfing profile
13. Send some couch requests
14. Look for more insurance options (I was looking for terrorism coverage and half of them refuse to list Iran)
15. Last coffee with friends
16. Get a new phone

At any one day, I would attempt only one thing because anything more was too much. The trip was the size of three years of annual leave. It made me weak in the knees.

On the last night on my bed, I woke up at midnight to pack my bags for the last time, took a nap, bought travel insurance four hours before my flight, and wrote my itinerary during my transit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for my mother.


The reason

Four years changes a person. Gradually and all at once. I began the journey knowing I am not exactly the same person as the one who traipsed across Turkey for a month. Four years ago, I was only armed with a Moleskine but this time, I had packed a watercolour set and extra sketch pads. I was determined to paint my way through this trip.

My father, in his bid to make himself interested in my trip, asked what was my focus for this trip. I do not remember answering him. I wanted adventure but at the core, I was looking for hope. The past two years had left me out of hope. In my strange understanding of the world, I believed I could find hope in foreign lands among strangers and in tongues I did not speak.

Four years ago, I met a girl who travelled to Iran and survived it with a smile. A week before meeting her, a French-Corsican man had told me I would love Iran. This foreign and misunderstood land became my beacon of hope.

Murphy’s cousin

At the same time, have I mentioned I have fallen deeply in love? In comparison to the younger girl who traveled alone with emotional baggage she managed to get rid off during long walks, I have found someone I wanted to exist with.

Riding along my fear and zeal for the road is the perplexity of love. People talk about their significant persons being their other halves. I, as a person who is proud to be standing on her own two feet, realised how love is not made of halves. This was perplexing. I wanted to go as much as I wanted to stay. On one hand, I needed to woo myself back to life with hope but on the other, I found an Us.

Thus, began my trip to Tehran via Kuala Lumpur, clutching a letter he wrote. Reading it on the plane left me with tears streaming down my face. Tears I could not stop. All the control and “bravado” I held on to for the entire month just melted away. Now that I was alone, I did not have to reason anymore. My tear ducts can be a bitch to deal with. It is a dam and there is no stopping it once it runs.

I found myself at a cafe in KLIA airport to draw this.

In some strange workings of life, to everyone I showed this to, they understood it completely despite our language barriers.