How Traveling East Taught Me Tolerance And Gratitude

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I sank into the comforter as though I was a heavy, soluble thing that could dissolve with enough time.

I had flown for the past eight and a half hours, making my way from Qatar to Hong Kong, without getting much sleep the night before.

The lamp hovering over my nightstand flooded my pillow reflecting off my hair, dyeing it an almost-blonde.

I remained there quietly, soaking in my own exhaustion. Tomorrow, I would be in Bangkok.

I grew up in the vibrant and equally boisterous city of Miami, FL. Eight years ago, when I was 14 years old, my father got a job offer for an overseas airline based in Doha, Qatar.

Though I didn’t fully live in Qatar, I spent my summers out of school and the majority of my winter vacations there.

My mom, my sister and I would each pack our suitcases and say goodbye to my hometown, leaving it behind in exchange for Qatar, Dubai, Malaysia, Germany or wherever the fates had us flown.

Admittedly, at first, it was a huge culture shock. The women were dressed more conservatively, but still beautifully, on the front covers of magazines.

Residents and visitors were asked to dress modestly (yes, both genders) out of respect for the culture.

During the holy month of Ramadan, you didn’t eat in public until after the fast was broken. Everything made sense and was asked of you kindly, and I never saw it as a burden. It was just something I wasn’t used to.

When my family traveled, it was luxurious. We flew in the business class cabins decked with fresh flowers, gourmet food, champagne and Giorgio Armani toiletries. Nothing was ordinary.

The airline had a reputation to uphold of being the world’s five-star airline, and it was evident in everything it did.

The table trays were a warm gingerbread color with a marbled texture. The chocolates were imported straight from France.

Everything was neat and organized, and the linen was always crisp. It was an opulent lifestyle.

Despite all of this, the lessons I learned through the destinations I was brought to were the greatest gifts of all. Without them, I would be unaware of what lies beyond my own country’s boundaries.

I watched the news and documentaries. I read books and newspapers, but none of that ever came close to actually being there.

I collected "theres" like they were tangible things I could string or put inside of a box, things I could hold, hang and dust off.

There was the crowded streets of Dhaka, walking through dirt and mud to buy lychees from a man on a corner. It was just me and my father that time.

As the sun was dipping into night and we walked back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but feel like we were too deserving.

We walked through the streets of a place with some of the poorest working conditions, watching it get strokes of the warm orange and lavender light of a watercolor sunset.

There was a soggy afternoon I spent on a bus, slumped against the window in Cebu, Philippines.

This is where I saw small children play with a stick and a deflated ball, all of them so overjoyed and unconcerned for that moment they were given. I didn’t understand it, and I felt my heart collapse softly in my chest again and again.

Some theres were beautiful and extraordinary. Munich at Christmas time was a world all its own.

My sister and I walked beneath the small pop-up shops selling gifts, like sweets and handmade ornaments. Soft-colored lights pooled on our faces, and we threw snowballs like it was the first time we had ever witnessed snow

We landed on our backs, giggling and flailing to make angels in absolute euphoria. And I think it had to be like this, juxtaposed so perfectly: opulence and poverty.

These different experiences — this constant string of learning, growing, living and being in moments I knew were fleeting — taught me about gratitude.

I knew something much greater than myself or any human had crafted our paths in life in order for these occurrences to happen. It fell together flawlessly, and was harmoniously filled with the wonderful and the tragic.

Apart from gratitude, having lived simultaneously in two very different parts of the world taught me tolerance.

I lived in America and heard people around me talk about the Middle East as if it were a catastrophic thing no one could contain. I had been there and talked to people who were kind, educated and humble.

It was disappointing that events covered by the media were brushing the population with the same stroke of being “barbaric,” “backwards” or “intolerant.”

Visiting a plethora of countries and being exposed to such an abundance of different viewpoints, ways of life and thinking have taught me that my point of view will not always be agreed with. It showed me how tradition can be such a part of someone’s life.

It showed me that religion, through all of its fragments, arguments, wars and prayer, remains one of the greatest — if not the greatest — mysteries known to humans.

It showed me how to respect others’ beliefs and traditions, and how to earn their respect for mine. The beauty of tolerance is understanding how to accept others for who they are.

This summer will be the last time I make the trip overseas and get to experience these different places. I am moving onto a career where I don’t have the same periods of time allotted to travel.

My father warned me about this before, when I was my stubborn teenage self who wanted to go home. He told me to enjoy it, that it wouldn’t last forever and one day, I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore.

But I will forever, undoubtedly, remain thankful for all the theres these past seven summers have given me.