Sunday, September 16, 2007

Traveler's Guide to Insanity

My mom called today to tell me that she was anxious about her upcoming trip. She's going back to Iran and is worried about weight limits, itineraries and visitors.

"A strange thing is happening--as I get older, I feel I'm getting anxious and forgetful about my trips. It's very difficult."

I responded to this with silence, because only my mother would think this is a new phenomenon. She is perhaps one of the most neurotic travelers I know. Actually, she's generally neurotic--freaking out about everything from dinner preparation to just getting ready to go to a dinner party. As she continued worrying about her 'new' anxiety, I had to interrupt and remind her of the first trip we took North to the Caspian Sea after we moved to Iran.

Almost every family in Tehran spends some part of summer up North. It is a ritual. Unfortunately, my parents were not part of this tradition--unless they were talked into it by their friends. On this particular Tuesday, my father casually mentioned that we would be spending the weekend (starting early Thursday morning) with Mr. and Mrs. P and their family. My mom started running around the house frantically trying to get everything ready for our family of five to spend less than 72 hours round-trip from Tehran to their orchard in Rasht. You would think that we were moving to another city for good. By Wednesday night, she had wrapped, packed and piled enough clothes, down mattresses, blankets, towels, food and dishes to support a village after a disaster. Of course, I was her helper--running around, folding linens, packing clothes and cleaning up behind her as she cooked. By Thursday morning when she woke us up at 3:45 sharp, I had decided that I hated going North, and hated Mr. and Mrs. P for dragging us out of bed to go to their stupid orchard. We took turns showering and loading the car. By the time we were done, my baby brother was sitting on my mom's lap up front (they didn't require car seats in Iran), my younger brother was sitting on my lap and the rest of the VW van was full of household goods and supplies. There are not enough words to describe how resentful I was before my dad even got in the car. We generally did not have the opportunity to travel for fun, and from what I was seeing, I did not much like it. I had resolved to spend the next six hours sleeping no matter how much my seven year old brother squirmed on my lap. And just before I closed my eyes and drifted off, less than 200 meters from our house, my mother turned around and whispered, "Did you remember to unplug the mosquito killer? Well, did you?"

I tried to remember, and decided to just say 'Yes'. After all, there was no way my dad would turn around for me to check without ruining everyone's already irritable mood. And there is nothing I tried to avoid more than putting my parents in a bad mood.

Just like that, my mother had planted a seed or horror and paranoia in my mind, that blossomed into the most hellish travel experience of my life. For 72 hours, I had visions of our building burnt to the ground as a result of the little felt pad on the mosquito killer overheating. I could just see all of our neighbors standing around the remains of what used to be our building, wondering how this could have happened. I would be branded as an arsonist for my forgetfulness, when in reality it was my brother who was always playing with matches and burning things. They may even file a complaint against me and hand me over to the police and force my father to pay for all of their houses. By the time we made our first stop, I was on the cusp of a nervous breakdown, my eyes wide open in horror--causing our would be hosts to laughingly point out I was the most intense looking 12 year old they knew. That just added anger to my fear of being hauled to jail and disowned by my parents.

When we returned home, I was still wide-eyed and full of fear. I had not slept, I had barely eaten anything and all I wanted was to see our building still standing. As we pulled into our street, I stuck my head out the window and tried to see our house in the dark. There it was--four stories high, three units wide and covered in gray stone--just as we had left it. As I lay my sleepy brother in his bed, I looked around for the mosquito killer. I finally found it--with its cord wrapped around it, in the drawer in our bedroom--just where it was supposed to be when it wasn't in use.

I literally don't remember anything from that trip, and have no idea what Rasht (or any other part of the Caspian coast) looks like. When people talk about the beauties of the Caspian coast, I just nod and smile, assuming they know what they're talking about. But more than anything, I have to bite my tongue when my mom worries that her age is effecting her anxiety level and causing her to worry when she travels. The poor woman has always driven herself (and others) crazy when she travels--she's only noticing it more now.

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