Fathom Questionnaire: Farah Malik
Name: Farah Malik
Hometown: New York
Occupation: Co-Founder/CEO/Designer — A Peace Treaty.
Favorite destinations: Beirut, Lebanon; Barcelona, Spain; Istanbul and Turquoise Coast, Turkey; Aeolian Islands (Sicily), Italy.
Dying to visit: Borneo Forest, Malaysia, Kenya, Zanzibar, Ivory Coast, Senegal.
Bizarre travel rituals: I do not know how to travel light. I have a true FOB (fresh off the boat) suitcase that could fit a small horse or a few humans. It's a running joke at our work, but when it comes time to move back the life I've lived elsewhere, this suitcase is a miracle, provided I can get it past the airline staff. I've mastered the art of sneaking in extra pieces and extra poundage. One of my tricks is to leave extra hand luggage slightly unattended behind the check-in queue so that the check-in counter staff don't see it. Once you are beyond that point, security is too busy scanning for content and size than counting pieces per person. Sometimes I stand next to another family of similar ethnicity and pretend that my extra baggage is theirs. My other tactic is to feign that I am a debt-ridden student and the books in my suitcase are extra heavy. Haggling begins at the airport for me!
In-flight relaxation regime: Listening to Bach or Neil Young on blast. This is also the time I empty out and re-organize my handbag — the re-compartmentalizing thrills and relaxes me to no end!
Always in carry-on: Monocle Magazine, dark chocolate, luxurious hand cream.
Concierge or DIY? DIY.
See it all or take it easy? See it all even if it means ending up on a hospital bed by the end (as I once did when I was told that I either had dengue fever or malaria — still undetermined).
Drive or be driven? Be driven, especially on the back of a moped.
Travel hero: Diego Bunuel of National Geographic Travel Channel's Don't Tell My Mother. He started as a war correspondent and now is the host and producer of a program that takes him to off the beaten path places and conflict zones that we often forget exist.
Weirdest thing seen on travels: I have somehow ended up in the immediate vicinity (within a block) of every political assassination that's happened in Pakistan in the last few years, as well as riots and bombings.
Best hotel amenity: sewing kit, nail file, foreign-language television.
I dream about my meal at an agriturismo restaurant somewhere in Tuscany on the way to Porto Ercole: gnocchi with garden fresh sage and rustic butter (the cheesecloth variety) and bistecca alla fiorentina with truffles. I also dream about the daal and chapati I had sitting on a hand-carved wooden charpai at a truckdrivers' food spot off the road from Multan to Lahore near the ancient Indus Valley region of Harrapa.
Everywhere I go, I check out the dessert shops (baklava in Syria; sweetmeats in India; gelaterias in Italy). I like to try regionally specific bottled spring water for the taste as well as the packaging. I also check out all variety of markets: farmer's markets for in season discoveries, flea markets for vintage jewelry and bags, supermarkets for snacks and beauty products.
When I arrive in a new place, I learn the lay of the land by taking a walk and looking for the public squares to gauge how life is lived. Are there as many women out and about as men? What level of hemline seems to be acceptable? What subcultures exist? Is the environment cross-generational? For example, how are elders treated? Seeing groups of old grannies and old men in public squares melts my heart. On this first walk my feet inevitably end up taking me down dark back alleys and the very neighborhoods that the guidebooks and locals warn against. I figure once I've tackled the spookier settings I can handle the rest.
I always bring home local toiletries, at least seven or eight pairs of shoes, cheese, a new bedspread (to remind me of indigenous handmade textile techniques that may be going extinct) and either honey, preserves, local flavors of crisps/chips, pickles or oil.
If I never return to Salerno it'll be too soon because my last trip to Positano happened to fall on a huge national public holiday. I ended up stranded because of the severe forest fires in southern Italy, which meant no trains and only limited buses were operating. Choppy seas meant that no ferries would leave for days. The only way out was by bus or car through bumper-to-bumper traffic blockages, no rooms or rental cars could be found for hundreds of miles, and queues for buses out of the region were operating on a smoosh-yourself-in-whatever-bus-comes approach. Needless to say, it was a mob scene. After not being able to make it on the eighth bus to Napoli, I finally rode the bus, standing, to Salerno in four hours of traffic. I slept at the train station in Salerno waiting for the next train to Rome, which came with an 18-hour delay. I also do not care to ever return to Dubai.
I travel for the simple fact that I feel most at home when in migration.