2017: Birthday reflections

For the last few years, I’ve committed to focusing more on my blog. It has yet to happen. I’ve been so busy with advancing academically, which entails spending most of my time researching and writing; the last thing I want to do is open my laptop during infrequent moments of calm, so this seems to have become somewhat of an annual creative process.  So what have I been doing all year?
Well, I started taking Mandarin classes. I’m completely at ease with writing (after a decade of Japanese). Pronunciation is another matter all together… I rather like a challenge though. I discovered the most delicious cucumber at Ippudo (yes, this is noteworthy), my cardamom bun addiction continues and I’ve pretty much moved into the library. In short, food, travel and books have consumed my entire year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, more specifically…
On travel:
It’s been a fantastic year of both personal and academic progress and some eye-opening travel. I miraculously survived India, though it did push me to the brink of mental collapse. I was horrified by the chronic poverty, disparity of wealth and shockingly bleak lives of ordinary women in the Northwest of the country, and I met some truly horrid people from the UK there too (and a few lovely ones). I seem to have been consumed by an Eat, Pray, Love narrative. How embarrassingly gullible. Fortunately, my visit ended with a trip to Amritsar where I had the privilege of visiting the holiest site in Silkism where, in my eyes, India redeemed itself.  Open to all: kitchens, faith and generosity abound.  Yet another reminder that spirituality doesn’t need a label/religion. I keep thinking of Kerala though… Maybe India needs a do over…
When it comes to thinking of potential trips, I rarely consider Europe, preferring Asia over most places. However, after far too much long-haul travel in the last year, I decided to visit Spain for Christmas. My Andalucian adventure began in Seville with gloriously-bright mornings, orange tree-lined streets, Catholic church doors adorned with Islamic script and nuns roaming around cobblestone streets, leaving me weak at the knees! Childhood memories of smiling nuns with perfectly pressed habits came flooding back.
After a few days, I hopped on the coach and headed to Cordoba, a former Roman settlement which became the famed Caliphate of Córdoba. The Mezquita, a former mosque-turned-cathedral was quite a delight both spiritually and to the art enthusiast that I have become. The mihrab, ornately decorated with gold mosaics and Quranic verses, has been well preserved and is well worth a visit. Walking through the Mezquita, beneath Islamic arches adorned with Christian crosses and exquisite images of Our Lady, I felt a peace and connection to all that is great, and a sadness that religion continues to be distorted and politicised, much to the detriment of humanity.  I attended a High Mass (one of nine services in a week!) in the chapel, which was an added bonus. Additionally, the Jewish Quarter was very nice and welcoming; the ruins of the synagogue showed the influence of times gone by with Islamic arches, Hebrew engravings and the odd crucifix within the building. Travellers wearing kippahs, thawbs and ‘local’ clothing engaged their curiosities in a welcoming environment. Yes, this city is quite a treat for those with an interest in monolithic religions and peace.
My final stop was Granada, a city I didn’t take to at all. However, the city’s cathedral is simply unbelievable (in scale, architecture, art and exquisite stained glass windows) to the point that I simply have to return…
I went to Petra! The lost city of Petra! I climbed mountains, people! When I visited Jordan, people were surprised that I had planned to visit the Middle East, let alone to travel alone. One acquaintance stated “it’s so close to Syria” without really understanding his comment. The entire world is in a state of turmoil, and has been for decades. Why do we permit ourselves to be consumed by fears and fictions? We have a proclivity to fear the unknown, it’s human nature. However, when we have a chance to increase our understanding of the world, of our fellow people, why do we consciously choose ignorance? But, I digress.. So, yes, I went to Jordan. It was not what I had imagined; it was lush and green with glorious mountains, valleys and was quite cold on certain days. Roman ruins, churches and mosques side by side, though as a non-Muslim, I was not permitted to enter the mosques, much to my displeasure and shock. Every time I read a Muslim’s only sign, I thought about my experiences in Iran. It both amuses and saddens me that I was greeted with so much tolerance in a country the world has labelled as extreme yet, here in liberal Jordan, I (as a respectful and curious person eager to learn) was not welcome in most mosques. Again, this false narrative of so-called “bad countries” is offered simply because it is politically convenient. Naturally, I respect the laws and customs of Jordan (and every country I visit), but I was disappointed.
I thought visiting the Holy Land would be a deeply spiritual and reflective experience, and I was right, but not in the manner I had anticipated. When I booked my trip to Jordan I, not for the first time, thought about visiting Israel. As I stood on Mount Nebo and my guide pointed out towards Jericho, and I felt incredibly weak and guilty. I tried to reconcile going on holiday to a place where Palestinians exist under occupation and status as second-tier humans and many Israelis live in fear. I’ve been to plenty of places where human rights violations are well documented; my own country openly sells weapons to Saudi Arabia, which are used in indiscriminate bombings of civilians in Yemen, for example (one of many). But there is something about the occupation of Palestine which gets under my skin. Maybe one day but, for now, I cannot in good conscience even consider visiting Israel.
And I still haven’t really talked about Jordan, have I? I slept outside for the first time in my life (which was surprisingly fun), I rode a camel through the desert at 6am and fell in love with the kindness and generosity of Jordan’s nomadic people. And the food! Would I return? In a heartbeat! I will definitely blog about my trip, hopefully before my next birthday…
And in a few weeks I will finally get to visit a country I’ve been fascinated with since childhood: China! I cannot believe it.
On friendship:
A friendship ended recently. I found this out on Saturday, when I realised that she has blocked me from elements of her social media. Apparently, this is what people do now. This is what “friendship” has become. Except, this isn’t quite how it works in my world. When did our relationships become so superficial, and why can’t we talk to each other? If you wrong someone, and they are strong enough to tell you (as I told my “friend”), be accountable. Perhaps I am too old to understand such actions but instead of feeling angry or hurt, though I did find it incredibly immature, I closed my eyes and remembered two of the most important things I’ve ever been told: 1. learn to accept the apologies you will never receive and 2. let go of what no longer serves you.
Not everything lasts forever, and that’s okay. Let go.
My dearest and oldest friend got married in September! It was such a beautiful day, with just 4 of us. Pure love, laughter and a real connection. Talk about having strength not to buy into the hype of a big wedding (which is great if you want that) but to focus on the love. Probably the best day of my year.
After almost 4 years apart, my dear friend Stephanie visited London (from the US) and, after 10 minutes of screaming in delight, it was like we had seen each other the day before. Cocktails, good ole fish & chips and conversations filled with memories of our lives as Parisians, hopes and dreams, struggles we’ve faced and the brightness of our present endeavours. And we have a Caribbean adventure awaiting us later this year.
And on that happy note, my new year begins.

1 Comment

  1. 12 July 2017 / 01:21

    Such a great post, Milla! Really enjoyed reading. I went to Jordan as well this year, and I am really interested in learning more about your experiences there. A Caribbean trip in the future?!!!! I can’t wait to know the destination. As you know, I am from the Caribbean!

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *