Out of the zone

Jiab came home from her guitar lesson the other day, coming in as she often does slightly tired from the walk back from the city center, with a guitar almost as big as she is ported on her shoulders like an oddly-shaped backpack.

As she recounted her morning, however, she told me of a mildly unusual happening.  She was leaving the tourist-packed city center when she heard Thai being spoken. She discovered that the source of her native language was a pair of Thai women about her age who were visiting. Jiab approached them, and the women excitedly began a conversation in Thai. They told Jiab they were on a 10-day excursion of Spain and Portugal with a group, in Granada for two days.

Jiab explained that she lived here, having moved from the US. The women were surprised, both by Jiab’s retirement and her choice to live in Spain rather than the US. When Jiab asked if they had any questions about Granada she could help with, they inquired as to where they could locate a number of specific name-brands in stores. Jiab politely explained that she was not really into name-brand labels and could offer little help, and after a short bit, they parted company.

By the time Jiab got home, she said she has been thinking about the encounter with the Thai women. Jiab wondered why, with all the things that Granada uniquely offers, the main focus of the women was obtaining brands that were easily available back in Thailand. They also seemed so mystified that Jiab would choose to live in a place so different from Thailand, or even the US.

In truth, we encounter this mindset a lot, though usually it is from American friends. Basically, the source of the cognitive dissonance is the unspoken question the Thai women had: “Why would you seek out something different from what you are used to, especially if you were comfortable?”

If you are waiting for me to give some profound, philosophical answer that explains why some people like difference, others don’t, I’m sorry.

I only know this: some people prefer the safe feeling that the “familiar” brings, like the assuredness of traveling the known path that becomes itself a friend and companion on the journey, while others relish the tingling feeling of uncertain adventure that comes from a breeze on the back pushing one’s sails into uncharted waters.

I don’t believe one is better than another; each person has to find where they are happiest. Expats are already self-selected to be people who venture out, but even among this group there are those who travel to build mini-colonies of their homeland and those who (as they used to say) “go native.” Jiab and I try to be more on the assimilation side, even if our Spanish skills clearly mark us as not from around here (or anyplace where Spanish was spoken well).

Consider Jiab’s taking guitar lessons. She never played guitar before, but living in one of the classical guitar capitals of the world has inspired her. She has struggled, finding that her natural rhythm with a tennis racket doesn’t easily transfer to having a musical instrument in hand. She has gotten frustrated with her slow progress. Yet, almost every night I hear her plucking away in a closed-door room in the back of our apartment, alternating between mastering “Happy Birthday” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” with an occasional Pink Floyd riff for good measure (and no, that’s not a joke; she’s actually playing “Wish you were here”).

I can’t tell you how proud I am of her for challenging herself, and exploring her musician side. When I hear an occasional sour note from down the hall, I silently root for her till I hear her redo it right, and then my admiration and pride swell. To me, it’s a marked sign of progress the cat no longer leaves the room when she plays.

The benefits of Jiab’s musical foray has also geometrically expanded. We’ve gotten to know her guitar teacher, who is not only interesting as a person in his journey from Brazil to Granada, but he has invited us to his own performances on rooftop venues and recitals in 16th century chapels. We have gained a greater appreciation of music, although it doesn’t take much effort to appreciate a classical guitar and cello rendition of Vivaldi while sipping Spanish wine.

Jiab’s bravery in sailing the rocky shoals of creativity has also personally inspired me to explore on my own.  I am a consummate non-fiction writer, but I am stretching myself by attempting to write a play. Even more (and Moorish), the fuentes and carmines that help create Andalusian Mudejar ambience has nudged me to start building small-scale fountains of my own (I don’t think Granada is ready for Don Jim’s fuenteria quite yet).

The irony here is that, in describing how Jiab and I get out of our comfort zone, what I am really saying is that our comfort zone IS not being in a comfort zone. We relish challenge, things that are different, and new experiences that let us discover new things about ourselves.

Maybe we should get out of our comfort zone and spend a day just quietly “doing the usual.”

But not today…we have a couple of new things to try!

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