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"Google, define comfort zone."
"Comfort zone. The place in which one functions with ease and familiarity."
Well then, by formal definition, my comfort zone measures at an approximate fifty-mile radius, ninety percent of which consists of farmland and sagebrush. It is endless stretches of fields, country backroads, and Grandpa cussin’ the referees between grumbles of “you call that holding, ref?” and “someone get this man some binoculars!”
At the moment, I’m about four thousand miles and a million foreign words outside of my comfort zone. It's my first trip beyond the border of the contiguous United States. I am alone, lacking in the necessary expertise, and safe in betting Grandpa’s vintage Simplot hat that I look about as out of place as I feel. Forget functioning with ease and familiarity; I’ve forgotten. How. To. Function. And while an international airport provides a kind of universality that keeps the unfamiliar at bay, the truly unfamiliar is yet to come, and it grows a noxious weed of tension in the pit of my stomach.
A man in uniform approaches me. He is almost bald but for a tuft of long, wispy black hair on the crown of his head. He’s smiling at me with a gap-toothed, tobacco-stained grin.
"Hola," I respond, aware of how awful my Spanish accent must sound.
I shake my head. "Un poquito. Muy, muy poquito."
He nods and smiles some more.
"Do you need help?" he asks in English, with a pronunciation that would rival the incoherence of my Spanish.
I shake my head again. "No, thank you," then revise, "gracias." I point in the direction I’m headed.
"Sí, sí," he says quickly, and then something else in Spanish that I don’t understand. He waves a hand at me—up and down the length of my body—and says, “Ay, que linda. Beautiful American girl.”
I give him a strained smile and say, “gracias” again, and then sidle ungracefully away from him. He remains in his greeting area, watching me go.
I'm in complete denial of how anxious I really am. And when the officer stamps my passport, I flinch a little. It’s too clean, too inexperienced to be handled so negligently. I recall the breath-stealing contraction of wild excitement I’d felt in my chest when that little blue book had finally arrived. It is my paper portal to the world—to experiencing life in ways I’ve never seen, felt, or tasted. The officer should know that such a fragile fantasy must be treated with care.
Then again, flipping reverently through the pages of a passport at home and touching down in a foreign country, standing there awkwardly while the officer on the other side of the bullet-resistant glass-clad polycarbonate compares your face to your picture to make sure you’re really you and not some felonious look-alike—those are two very different situations.
I calm myself by re-envisioning the view from the plane as we’d made our descent—the startling green-ness of it all; the charming contrast of the rustic, red-tile roofing and pastel-colored stone houses in the outer, rural regions of the city; the city itself rising up from the tangles of vegetation like a modern-day ruin, just waiting to be discovered. I remind myself of why I’m here and end up in a short conversation with the me that I was yesterday, telling the me that I am now to get a grip, pay attention, and have some fun for heck’s sake.
Finally ready, I heave the borderline of my comfort zone over my bolstered shoulder and march it into the unknown.