Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pushing the limits

Have you ever had one of those moments where you float outside your body, look down at yourself and think, “How in the world did I get here?” I had one such moment last weekend, as I found myself perched on top of a precariously overcrowded, rickety old city bus, which was careening dangerously down a mountain pass toward the Kathmandu Valley, all the while playing a funny game of chicken with the cars and motorbikes going the opposite way.

Now, normally in threatening traffic situations where I am not in control of the vehicle, I either a) tense up and whine softly to myself, b) demand that the driver change his ways (usually, this reaction is reserved for Sam), or c) close my eyes and pretend to be somewhere else; but in this particular instance, as I held onto the bars originally intended for luggage, I was so distracted by the stunning beauty surrounding me that my grip actually loosened. I was conscious that there were mere feet between the wheels of the bus and the sheer drop of the cliffs, but I felt only awe at the intense green of rice paddies glowing in the afternoon sun against a horizon of purple mountains (majesty!). Maybe it was the fact that my fellow passengers (all locals) seemed not to have a care in the world and chattered cheerfully with each other, but I felt completely at ease and happy to be in the “fully air-conditioned” section of the bus, as one man put it. As I let the endorphins of this experience rush over me, I thought, how in the world did a shy little girl from the comfortable suburbs of San Antonio, Texas, come to be in this unique moment in Nepal?

The thought amused me at first, but caused me to reflect over the next day or two on the incremental decisions that brought me there. It wasn’t that I woke up one day in my childhood bedroom and said “I think I’ll go live in the Middle East and trek around 3rd-world countries now.” Rather, it was the slightest nudges at the boundaries of my life that over many years expanded my comfort zone. I am able to trace the origins of my adventure-seeking back, I think, to a decision to transfer from my small private school, where my 9th grade class had 50 students, to the local public high school where my 10th grade class had something like 800 students. This was difficult for a 14-year-old, but manageable and worth it. Next I got it in my head that I wanted to tryout for the dance team (I had befriended several dancers and saw their lives as exciting and glamorous). And then there was the decision to buck the Texas A&M-trend that my three older siblings had solidified and attend Baylor instead. This was truly key, for it was at Baylor that I met Sam, my traveling buddy and partner in trying new things.

After graduation, we married and moved slightly further from my family (about a 5-hour drive), and in less than 2 years we were living all the way on the East Coast. After a visit to Cambridge I got the crazy idea that I wanted to go to Harvard. And after living in the bustling and diverse Boston-metropolitan area, it was much easier to imagine myself living a new culture altogether. Enter Abu Dhabi and the chance to travel the world. And now, even our traveling destinations have become more rugged and challenging as we go along. Starting with Switzerland, then on to China, then to Egypt, Jordan, and Nepal.

If you had thrown me direct from San Antonio to Kathmandu I might have curled up in the fetal position and waited it out (in fact, this was my basic reaction at age 14 when my family went to Nairobi on a mission trip, but that is a story for another time). The point is that it’s satisfying to realize that things aren’t as scary as they once were. I still like my comfort zone, but that zone is a whole lot bigger than it used to be. And this brings freedom. Freedom from fear, and freedom to throw my head back and feel the wind and sun on my face as I ride on top of a bus.

More pictures and commentary to come...


  1. I'm so excited to see the first posting about your trip to Nepal. Of course, as always, you are writing it with such beautiful, descriptive words. Love the picture. I look forward to the next chapters and photos. I think the travel bug is a bit "genetic" considering my own worldwide travels in years gone by. Never made it to Nepal, however. I do remember your "fetal position" in Nairobi!

  2. Haha, on top of the bus? Not sure how I didn't catch that right away...thought maybe there was a luggage rack inside the bus (like on a train). I feel the same way. I've expanded my comfort zone living so far from San I just need the kids to grow up so I can travel the world.

  3. Beautiful post, Shannon. So thoughtful. You seem to know yourself so well, and are comfortable with yourself. It's lovely!

  4. I am enjoying your blog Shannon! I am usually so busy with my young children that reading blogs isn't something I generally take the time to do, but I have been curious about your move across the world, and I was drawn in after viewing the pictures of your Instanbul trip on Facebook. I wanted to see and read more about your life today and your travels abroad. It's great to read about your journey, and to understand how you all ended up moving to the Middle East.

    I too, love to travel, and am very intrigued by your and Sam's accounts, and wonderful photos of your life abroad. You both do a beautiful job of weaving stories and insights about yourselves(which your readers can relate to) into your posts. Rather than lists of facts about your current life, you are reflecting on how your past has influenced your present. It makes for very fun and interesting reading!

    I really enjoyed this post about how the borders of your desire for, and tolerance of adventure has gradually grown and stretched through the years. It's a great picture you have painted and so insightful. You've always loved writing and do it beautifully.

    Your "foodie" posts are also awesome...Nathan and I got a good laugh from your cornbread account! I hope the cupcakes turned out better!Nathan and I love fine food experiences too. While in Las Vegas we had a most amazing meal at Michael Mina's at the was incredible. We described the 5 course seasonal and chef's favorites with wine pairing as an amusement park for experiences in flavor abounded and delighted. It was very fun!So, I appreciate your posts about food...and will have to try some of the places you mention if we ever get the chance!

    It's fun reading your reflections on your growing up years since I was there for many of them.:) So glad I got to be one of the friends you made along the way throughout your moves! Love you!

    You may remember that my parents and I lived in Israel when I was 4. My Dad was studying abroad learning Greek and Hebrew at the seminary in Jerusalem. We took many trips around Israel and Dad went to Egypt while we lived over there. What I wouldn't give to have a blog complete with digital pictures and accounts of all of our cultural experiences during that time! It is such a treasure that you are recording these memories and cultural experiences, and a gift to your family and friends now and in the future!

    Your blog is great. Thanks for sharing!

    Miss you!