The majlis: On mistakes and second attempts

I began my journey of mistake-making in the heart of Hoi An in Vietnam, where no one knew me.

On the first day of Vietnam Field School – a study-abroad trip I took earlier this year as part of my anthropology course at Australian National University – one piece of advice from my professor changed my entire outlook. "I give you all the confidence to make mistakes," he said. Listening to this gem come out of his mouth, I felt like a wizard had cast a spell on me. His words had a profound impact on me. For the first time in my life, I became thirsty to fail and make mistakes in my personal and professional life; I wanted to embrace sadness, fear, confusion and uncertainty.

I began my journey of mistake-­making in the heart of Hoi An in Vietnam, where no one knew me. The city is famous for its lantern festivals and as a place that can be mostly explored by foot or bicycle. I wanted to visit the ancient Hoi An market and be enchanted by the colourful lanterns over my head. One day, after class, I gathered my courage and went alone to the Hoi An market. I was scared to walk solo and I would speed up if I saw a gathering. I avoided all alleys and made sure I was surrounded by people at all times. I had written down the names of the shops I wanted to visit, but I was overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty throughout the course of this new experience. I couldn’t find the shops and kept taking the wrong routes. I gave up for the day and went back to my homestay. Even though I did not succeed the first time, I considered it a mini victory for at least taking the initial step.

I decided to go back to the market, but this time, I walked slowly and my heart did not beat as loudly. I found myself observing and taking in the surroundings, people, colours and smells. “We never bathe twice in the same river,” said Greek philosopher Heraclitus. It refers to how a person might go to a place a second time but will never experience it in the same way as the first visit.

I was more relaxed and content for the rest of my time in Hoi An. Vietnam was not the full stop to my mistake-making – it was only a comma. The quest to explore different facets of making mistakes would continue.

The second phase of the journey resumed in Queenstown, New Zealand. It was a windy morning and my friends and I were watching people bungee jump 43 metres off the Kawarau Bridge with a crew from the company A J Hackett Bungy. It was a scary sight and I would get butterflies in my stomach with every jump.

What really struck me was watching a 16-year-old girl outside the observation deck – she was shivering and kept screaming “I am so scared”. After 10 minutes of encouragement from the staff, she jumped off the cliff and owned her fear. Her actions hit home and I followed suit. I wanted to feel what it meant to conquer one’s fear.

I was overcome by terror and uncertainty with every step I took towards the deck. A staff member tied my feet and it was time to jump. I lost touch with myself; I went blank. She asked me to jump after she counted to three. I tried to jump, but I was frozen and couldn’t do it. I was reluctant and so many emotions were gushing through me. She counted to three again, this time, I jumped. One second of extreme fear, then I saw the beauty of the flowing crystal-clear river below. I was never the same person again. I conquered myself and this time, I gave myself the confidence to make mistakes.

Asmaa Al Hameli is a former features writer for The National who is now studying in Australia.

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