Fatima brings out her atlas. She wants to see our walking route.
Her initial shyness has melted. Her light blue eyes dance with wonder and travel lust.
She’s 10 years old, and has flipped the pages many times. She knows where places are, and the seeds of exploration are waiting to bloom.
She has spent the afternoon soaking up details about our trip. She listens to us in English, and asks her father to translate into Farsi what she missed.
After dinner, Fatima brings out her window to the world. She has the same look we do. It’s the look of possibility. She longs to know this sweet planet we live on more intimately.
“Oh…be careful. If you look at maps too much, you may end up doing crazy trips like we do,” I joke, as I trace lines over borders, trying to erase them.
It doesn’t matter that the countries and cities are spelled in the swirling letters I can’t read. Our route is part of me, for good or for bad.
Fatima and I sit together on the colorful carpet, and zigzag our way through continents. She wants to know about Thailand, and India, and Tajikistan, and everywhere.
“She would like you to sign her book,” her father tells us, reading the anticipation in Fatima’s eyes.
We are touched. We blush. What words could we share with this lovely girl and her younger sister who inspire us as much as we inspire them?
We start, as always, with gratitude. We thank this kind family for inviting us into their lives.
I pause, thinking of the next words to write. Fatima lives in a place rich with human history, and a place cautiously holding onto a system I hope won’t hold her back.
“Find your way forward in this beautiful world. The Earth belongs to you!” I have much more to say, but they are the only nuggets of wisdom I can dream up after a long day walking.
I put down the pen, and hug Fatima as tight as I can. I want some of my wanderlust, walker’s courage and backpacker spirit to seep into her blood.
I give Fatima an extra squeeze. I want her wide-eyed innocence, enthusiasm and optimism to power the next leg of our walk.
We are generations apart, but we share map love. We walk in each other’s footsteps.