Curiosity killed the cat. Curiosity made Eve eat the apple. Curiosity opened Pandora’s Box. Curiosity turned Britney Spears into a sickly sweet perfume. The notion of curiosity has often been associated with women and their insatiable need to make the world more complicated.
For centuries we have shamed women for seeking, wondering, and reaching for more. But based on my life as a self-titled Magellan and a woman, I can say that it is not a curse; curiosity is the key to travel.
Find the place that won’t kill the cat: When I moved to Tel Aviv, I wasn’t shocked by the language or the bank hours; I was overwhelmed by the cats. If you added up all the pigeons, squirrels, and empty Grande Starbucks cups from all over New York, you still wouldn’t have an accurate number for this feline phenomenon.
I’m not a cat person, so when I first saw a one-eared black kitten lounging on my luggage and the orange tabby guarding my front door like Buckingham Palace, I didn’t ooo and aww. I said, “yo fleabag, Fetty Wap, get the F off my bag.” But after nine months of living here, I have realized that the way people treat the street cats is the same way they treated me when I first moved here.
As an outsider with no local family, strangers gave me words of encouragement, offered me food, made comfy beds for me to crash in and treated me like I belonged here even though I just wandered in from across the ocean. Now the “Cat Hostel,” an abandoned truck filled with old furniture and a feast of tuna and pellets is my favorite tourist attraction.
Is that the sweet scent my Florentin home or cat pee? I will never know. But I do know that now when I travel, I will notice how the population treats their animals, how their compassion lends itself to stray creatures and humans alike. Taste the wood-apple (and all the other fruits): The first time I went to Sri Lanka, I observed. The second time I went to Sri Lanka, I expanded. And the third time I went to Sri Lanka, I ate. Everything. Over the years I have learned that there is no better way to understand a country than through its food.
I studied the history and religion through spices, sauces, tea and the preferred protein of each region. I understood how political shifts in power brought the Earl Grey tea, lamprais, and chutneys. My tongue had never experienced wood apples, mangosteen, and rambutan, my ears had never heard the Sri Lankan accent, and I definitely couldn’t understand any Sinhalese. But food has no language or cultural barrier. It is a universal form that communicates community, family and love.
I might not be good at memorizing dates or directions, but I eat everything when I travel. In the end, family recipes, fruit fresh off the vine and a look inside the fridge tell me everything I want to know about a place. Open the box: For a few years I had the same pattern: work in an office, go stir crazy after three weeks, open up cheapoair.com and kayak.com, book a one-way ticket, escape, return and repeat. Last year it clicked that I couldn’t always click “Book Tickets” to survive the 9-5.
I needed a side hustle to keep me sane, but I was conflicted; I wanted the title and respect that came from the office but I also wanted something that allowed me to give back to my community; I needed the monthly paycheck, but I also craved the freedom of freelance. I couldn’t understand why for some, routine was comforting, signing a contract for one job was thrilling, and being in their office felt like home.
I tried to force myself to be comfortable with that structure, but it would not work. I just felt stuck and caged. So alongside my day job, I trained to become a Pilates instructor. Now, when I start itching to break free of my white-walled box I go to the studio and show my students how to align their bodies, shoulders over hips. I don’t feel this desperate need to grab my airline miles and escape. I live two complementary lives so that each day is a choice, not a requirement. Opening another box and having a parallel career doesn’t lead to chaos: it only leads to more opportunity.
Don’t bring Britney’s Curious because everyone will hate you. But do always bring citrus spray, lavender essential oil or something calming for long plane rides. I know I don’t want to smell Roger's [in 4D’s] burp mixed with Cute Baby [in 16C’s] full diaper for the whole flight. After 13 hours, your skin will still be dry, your hair will still be greasy, but at least your nose will be happy.
By: Jannah Berkley
Tel Aviv, Event Coordinator by day, Pilates Instructor by night & natural ginger all the time.