It was approximately one year ago today that I returned home from celebrating Memorial Day weekend in Dubai, UAE. Because of the amazing error fare from Etihad Airlines back in December 2014, several thousand tickets were issued to various locations for about $200 roundtrip! I was incredibly lucky to have insomnia that night and without hesitation purchased the tickets for myself and my younger sister.
What made this trip so special was that I had never traveled with my family before. I had gone on so many adventures and taken so many trips, but various reasons always kept my family stateside. Although only my younger sister was able to go at that time (they all have passports now!), I knew it would be such a special occasion. See, she’s 8 years younger than me and has followed in my path for most of her life. As her big sister, I’ve taken so much pride in nurturing and supporting her. It’s without a doubt our relationship has shaped both of our lives dramatically. She’s even in college right now studying to be a nurse just like I am. And her curiosity and passion to see the world mimicked mine when I was her age. I felt so honored to be able to guide her on her journey as she ventured out into the world.
The five months leading up to the trip were full of so much excitement and anticipation. We would talk on the phone for hours about the how we’d be dancing on yachts, getting gold facials, riding camels in the desert. In fact, I’m sure the experience brought us closer than ever. When the time came we packed our bags, put on our matching travel shirts, and headed for the airport. Little did I know I was in for an eye-opening and life changing experience in my relationship with my sister.
When you’re the big sister, it’s almost effortless to take charge and make all the plans. Especially when you’re the seasoned traveler on the trip. When we got to Dubai we quickly discovered things aren’t always accessible to you when you’re under 21. At the time my sister was only 18 and was unable to enter any party or event where alcohol was served (including the amazing Saffron brunch). Her youth and beauty also found her the center of attraction of several Arab suitors. On the day of the brunch when we discovered she couldn’t enter, I made the decision that I would leave my friends and have brunch with my sister elsewhere. I couldn’t imagine leaving her alone in Dubai by herself- mainly because my mother would have freaked out- but my sister wouldn’t hear of it. I remember the way she looked me in the eyes and said “No, you’re going. I can take care of myself“. Of course I laughed and shrugged her off. A man had literally just asked me if she was available to be courted-and did I mention how my mother would react?-
I, as the big sister, wanted to take control of the situation, but my sister firmly stated she could take entertain and defend herself. Instead of the brunch, she would visit the aquarium, and when she was being solicited she would kindly reinforce that she was a lady and expected to be treated as such. I was astonished, who was this woman I was with? Where did my baby sister go?
As the trip went on, I was in awe as I found myself under her leadership. I would sit by while she would figure out directions to our next destination, or as she would instruct our taxi driver of where we were off to next. She walked confidently and inquisitively as we explored the city, often telling me to stay close or don’t get lost (LOL). At restaurants, she would turn to me and suggest something appetizing on the menu. She would ration our money and advise me on which gifts to purchase for our family. My sister was self-sufficient. She was bold. She was aware. She had grown up and become her own woman who was comfortable in her skin and in the world.
In wanting to be her guide and show her the world, I had almost missed her evolution into herself. I can truly say this trip showed me who my sister was, as a woman and as a traveler. In any mentoring-type relationship, it’s not only important to instill the tools, we need to be willing to let go and watch them work. When we left Dubai, we left as more than sisters, we left as friends. And to this day, I’m still learning a thing or two from my baby sister.