Becoming a Nomad

My first adventure began during the hot summer of 1988 in soviet Tallinn, Estonia. Holding my mother’s hand, I waited to board the big-winged metal bird that would carry me from my new home to my beloved birthplace of Almaty, Kazakhstan. I was five years old, my backpack was larger than I was, and my eyes were filled with wonder. In 1988, the world was safe and this child was going to travel. My mother, recently single, handed me off to the ‘pretty stewardess lady’, and I was on my way.

My adventure did not stop there. Over the years, traveling became my companion, solace, and a mechanism of choice for overcoming adversity and challenge. If it was time for a new car, I traveled. If I had boyfriend problems, I traveled. If my life was in pieces, I traveled and picked up the pieces as I went along.

These nomadic tendencies usually involved me physically moving in space, but there were times when it was the movement of others that impacted me. Such was the case one spring day in 1998 when I cried in a long distance call center as my mother, a fresh US immigrant, was consoling me from the other side of Atlantic. Her voice, traveling through a myriad tubes to my lone phone booth, sounded unusually hoarse and distant. On that April Fool’s Day, she had made an unfortunate joke of telling me she would be coming home soon.

Years later, I joined my mother in a land of opportunities, the United States, and a fundamental shift had occurred, heralded by the purchase of my first car. This 1991 white Buick, a caravan of the streets, had no luxury upgrades such as air conditioning or rear transmission box. Still I would drive it down Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles, Miami’s Russian enclave, seventeen, sweaty, and smiling.

I was not always smiling during my travel adventures. One day in particular is cut into my memory like a Norwegian fjord etched deep into an upland plateau. Eight months into my twenty first year and four months after basic training, I was about to land in Afghanistan, terrified, as our C-130 took a nosedive directly above Bagram airbase to avoid the unfriendly fire. When I stepped off the plane and took a first breath of arid Afghani air, I stood in awe of the white-headed Hindu Kush mountains hunched up above me. My beloved birthplace of Almaty, Kazakhstan, was three countries away.

Traveling was awe-inspiring for me ever since. Six years after that touchdown, I was standing in front of Darwaza-i Rauza — the gate to the Taj Mahal — trembling. The bleak winter sun shone on my hands absent-mindedly, distracted by its own reflection in the polished Rajasthani marble of intricate Persian motifs. Behind me, the sacred Yamuna flowed and her murky waters were calm enough for a deity to cross over. It was there, on the foggy and messy streets of Agra, India, that a seed of a new lifestyle was gently planted.

It took years for the seed to grow while I was becoming more aware of the subtle shifts in my mindset. As I followed a certain path — military, MBA, management — I increasingly dreamt of escaping the corporate routine. Stable, successful, and burned-out, I found myself at the border of Hong Kong and mainland China on my thirtieth birthday as a deadpan officer handed me my well-worn American passport. Traveling through rural China, I spent some time with Eva and Ray, an established Taiwanese couple that moved to China in search of a more grounded, albeit less traditional lifestyle. I drew strength I needed and the fortitude to proceed from the contented twinkles in Eva’s deep brown eyes while she prepared a daily pot of fragrant green tea on our unhurried mornings together.

Still it took two more years for travel to become the dominant force in my life. On my last day at the office, I bade farewell to familiar faces and started a new adventure to find a happier, fuller life. The secret, I hypothesized, was to pursue the fire that burned deep within me and give it all I had while I had it.

Now, my backpack is larger than I am, and my eyes are filled with wonder. In 2015, the world is safe, and this woman is going to travel. My fear, recently tamed, hands me off to hope, gut, and love, and I am on my way.

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I’m a travel writer, photographer, and a wanderpreneur. My work appears in Lonely Planet 2016 Literary Anthology, Upward Magazine, Matador Network & others. Learn more about me here


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