The cold is of a dry, biting kind in the mountains of Kurdistan. The peaks outline the night sky, a pitch darker.
No stars, no moon, no lights. Not even man made, except for the blinding headlights of the army vehicle blocking the road. At least they offer some warmth, she thinks as she shivers in her light coat. At least the guns are pointed at the ground, not her. At least, the very least, she will have quite the story to tell when she comes home.
Home is a charming third floor apartment in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, where her sister, mother, and grandmother live and make pesto sauce from scratch. Home overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the city she has known her whole life. It is where her friends and native language are, her comfort zone, whose borders she leaves behind every time at the airport departure lounge.
In Claudia Matta’s comfort zone, girls who study nutrition and public health work eight to five jobs in air-conditioned clinics and go to the beach on weekends.
They do not fly to places called Duhok, Sulaymaniyah, and Kirkuk, to conduct workshops in remote locations on diabetes technologies.
But Claudia is not like other girls who study nutrition and public health. She is a Senior Diabetes Training and Education Specialist. The job description, she was told when she applied in 2013, would require ‘a lot of travel.’ She accepted. Why not?
Since she joined, she has been scouring the world designing and delivering workshops for medical practitioners. During the day she explains life saving treatments, lifestyle improvements, diabetes technologies, and Carbohydrate Counting. Then she changes out of her heels and into comfortable shoes, makes a quick phone call home and steps out into the city to discover something new.
She has stories of picking sea shells at low tide on the pristine shores of Muscat. Of getting lost in a souk in Jordan, and on a bicycle path in Windsor. Of zip-lining over Moroccan valleys, playing donkey polo in Marrakech. Wearing Pakistani garb in Karachi where she had the best barbecue of her life. Of discovering and falling in love with Caspian cuisine, taking the longest cable car in the world to a hidden Armenian monastery.
On her way, sometimes she finds street vendors selling exotic foods. Sometimes she learns a new word in a different language, sometimes she makes friends.
Sometimes she is harassed for being a woman, being alone. Sometimes she cannot walk outside at all and eats dinner by herself in her room.
In that room, sometimes the Internet is weak. Sometimes no heat, sometimes no electricity. Adventure is scary and sometimes, she misses home and stability. But I have known Claudia for twenty-five years; she has too much life and world left to see.
To walk Claudia’s way is to dare to be curious. To challenge conventions and prejudices, starting with our own. To cross borders and whatever journey we go on, take our happiness along. To look at work and life as experiences to weave into stories, that we can tell when we are safely back home, eating spaghetti with pesto sauce.
Follow Claudia on her travels and adventures on Instagram, under the name @lebaneseglobetrotter