I’ve just come back from three weeks on the road. Not the longest I’ve ever been away, but a bit longer than the median since starting this job. It was two weeks of fairly intense proposal-development work in Jordan, followed by another week of pure vacation someplace else…
About once each year I spend a few frequent-flyer miles to buy a ticket for my wife so that she can join me for part or all of an international trip. Usually, due to deadlines of one kind or another, I’m not able to take vacation at those times and so she simply goes where I go for work (she’s an aid-worker-turned-stay-home-mother). But this time the stars aligned and it worked out to actually take vacation.
It was the first time in about 8 years (since having children) that this has been possible. Truly an opportunity not to be squandered. She met me in Amman, and from there we traveled to a place she’d always wanted to visit: Istanbul.
There is plenty to like about Istanbul. Interesting sites. Lots of history. Good museums. Great shopping. Decent food (I’ve been ruined by Thailand – food anyplace else is just okay). Istanbul is the convenience and ease of travel of western Europe, some of the color of eastern Europe, some of the je ne sais quoi of the Middle East… I stood in the Aya Sofya and felt as if I should probably go back and re-read Foucault’s Pendulum.
It was the first time in a very long time that I turned off my Blackberry, and – even more challenging – abstain from “thinking about work.”
Well, mostly abstained from thinking about work. Even sleeping in, lingering over a third cup of coffee at the breakfast buffet, it was impossible to not keep up – out of the corner of my eye to the TV on BBC – with the deepening crisis in Sri Lanka. Even just checking gmail and my blog stats, it was impossible to miss the Yahoo! headlines about survivors of Cyclone Nargis or the Sichuan Earthquake one-year on, or demonstrations on the streets of Bangkok.
Not checking messages is one thing. Actually dis-engaging is quite another.
Even sightseeing, I found I could not leave behind my training as a photographer, anthropologist or aid worker: I started out in Southeast Asia, but in the past few years my work has taken me increasingly to the Islamic world = as a curious student of human behavior, even on vacation I could not steal myself from trying to learn – if only informally by observation from a distance – more about Islam = every time I lifted my camera, what I followed through the literal lens was also filtered through my anthropologist/aid-worker lens. And while the images are surely of Istanbul, as I look through them there is an obvious emergent theme.
Back now at my house in a suburb of Seattle, I’m almost out of jet-lag. I check my work email. My inbox is hemorrhaging red, ‘unread’ messages. I settle back into the routine of meetings, reports, reasons to run to Starbuck’s, the latest office drama. It’s amazing how quickly the well-rested feeling of vacation can evaporate. But then, in some ways, I never totally left.