I hate mosquito nets. I really do. I understand why we need them. Yet, I hate them all the same and it would be Myanmar that would not only teach me this, but also push every single mosquito net button that I was quickly realizing I had.
Seriously though, who wants to sleep in the middle of your bed after fighting with a beautiful canopy of mosquito netting? Or constantly wake yourself up in the middle of the night when the mosquito net is draped across your forehead? So effective! I might have gotten the stupid thing closed after 45 minutes of near-exhaustion and near-tears, only to wake up with body parts against the net and still just as susceptible to mosquito bites. Be my guest mosquito; bite me even after my white-veiled war was won!
At the end of 24, I was justifiably allowed to have a small travel tantrum. The first I have ever had actually. I still slightly laugh and slightly cringe at the thought of the scene. Despite the humor of the situation now, Myanmar was a trip that was one of my most challenging.
Normally, I would say that I am fairly easygoing when it comes to travel. I normally can sacrifice a lot, be okay if I need to bail on that overly packed laundry list of things to do, and take a fair bit of travel absurdities. I adapt quickly and quite frankly, enjoy a challenge. Myanmar was dead set on proving the extent.
Electricity would go in and out. Having free Wi-Fi meant only when the entire town actually had internet connection. Most showers never drained all the way and seeing how the shower and the toilet were in one room, restroom breaks required footwear. Mattresses were rocks, disguised in perfectly tucked linens. Buses, even the extremely modern ones, did not fix the actual conditions of the roads. Translation: ‘File in, sit down, shut up, and sleep’ because the alternative is a little greener.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” What truer way to embody that than to travel. The best moments abroad always come from the trips that have unpredictable challenges. We don’t set out as travelers to make life difficult for ourselves, but it’s going to happen at the most unexpected times. In those moments, we become reactionary, no different from the ones we left back at home. It is human nature after all. We sit on street corners pouting, splurge on retail therapy or on a giant Italian pizza (and in no way do we plan to share), and sink into the lyrics of a bitter-sweet song.
We are no different than the reactions of the rest of the people in our communities and neighborhoods we call home. The difference is in what happens next. At home, we have help, we have options, and we have chances to simply walk away. When we are abroad, the moments that test us don’t go away. We have little available help, we have limited options (being bitten by mosquitoes not one of them), and we can’t simply walk away because we have encountered the steel pole head on.
We stop being travelers and start becoming problem solvers. We stop being nomads and start becoming therapists. And we stop being Life Know-It-All’s and start becoming simply human.
Myanmar offered a lot of lessons on human existence and culture, a journey I would encourage more to explore. Its most meaningful lesson was the one on my own humanism. It taught me to practice more mindfulness: to be present in the moment for the sake of the moment because I am human, no more and no less.
What lessons have you learned from a particularly difficult, but worthwhile journey? Share in the comments below or on one of Backpacks & Blackboards’ social media sites.