Monday, March 10, 2008

Foolish Wanderer: A Brief History of My Brother the Nomad

My oldest brother is traveling to India, Tibet and China for the month of April. This is slightly worrisome, given that he has a somewhat checkered traveling past.

His first trip abroad was a three-week journey to Australia. He'd had a stomach virus for several days prior to departure, and despite my mother's apprehensive flutterings, remained unconvinced that wandering alone into the outback was an unwise plan. Thus, we dropped him at San Francisco International, his scrawny frame burdened sherpa-like with several massive backpacks containing all the necessities to brave the wild new continent. My family and I waited, his own four-person cheering section, while he stood in line to check in. I pranced back and forth impatiently, eagerly anticipating the moment we could unload my troublesome sibling and be bound for the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory, where my parents could make good on their promise of a Cable Car Sundae for yours truly (no, I wasn't 12. I was 21. Yes, I have a problem).

I stood there, staring at the exit signs, daydreaming of clouds of marshmallow fluff, rivers of caramel sauce and mini chocolate cable cars riding through treacherous canyons of ice cream, when suddenly my brother swayed beneath his baggage, took a step backward in line, and unceremoniously collapsed. He fell straight backward, buckling onto the terminal floor, eyes rolled back, head lolling. My mother shrieked and ran - my father and brother raced immediately to First Aid. After a moment of reflection - curses...there will be no sundaes today - I joined my mother in dragging him off the ground.

The paramedic's verdict was that the flu had simply rendered him too weak to travel (or remain upright, for that matter), so his trip was delayed several days while he recuperated, though given the level of my mother's anxiety he was fortunate to leave her sight at all. Aside from several possibly melanoma-inducing sunburns, the remainder of his voyage proved uneventful. He brought back a crippling fear of the sun and a wide-brimmed hat which he subsequently persisted to wear on any remotely sunny San Franciscan days (yes, they exist). This charming accoutrement never failed to illicit incessant cries of "Hey mate, put another shrimp on the barbee!" from neighboring hoodlums.

On his next journey, a trip to Japan, my brother was looking forward to visiting the famed snow monkeys that dwell in the northern part of the country. Apparently, as it watched the curious young foreigner trudge through the snowdrift in approach, the monkey decided it was not feeling particularly cordial. It bared its teeth and lunged. My brother managed to escape unscathed, and much to my mother's dismay now enjoys regaling audiences with tales of the malicious Japanese monkeys.

His most recent expedition was to Egypt. Roaming through the desert for several weeks left him in such a state of such extreme dehydration that he found himself flat on his back in a grimy Saharan hospital tent, IV-fluid drip in his arm, surrounded by sand dunes with no English speakers in sight. My mother was duly hysterical.

Given this tumultuous traveling history, she is justifiably anxious as her first-born sets off on his next escapade, the most ambitious to date. She called me during breakfast the other day to vex about it. Eager to put the kibosh on her lamentations and thereby return to gnawing at my organic toaster pastry, I assumed my most confident tone: "Don't worry, Mom. I'm sure he won't wake up in a bathtub with his kidneys missing."

Damn. By the shrill screeching that followed, I can only assume that my reassurance did not serve its intended purpose.

Good luck leaving the country, brother. And keep an eye on those organs.

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