Return to Life: Rich

Kathmandu Travel Blog

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4 weeks to the day back in the States and the re-acclimation gets smoother.  Like previous trips, over time the comparisons that are inevitable between the place you’ve been to and the place you are, start to fade.  It’s amazing to me that the knowledge that I can be anywhere in the world within 24 hours, takes quite an edge off of small, everyday stresses in my life.  It reminds me that we always have the power of choice.  There may be consequences to those choices, but to remind ourselves that we have the power to make our own choices does a lot to take away the feeling of powerlessness that often accompanies everyday challenges.

 

In talking to others this last couple weeks, and reflecting on my own experiences both in and out of the country, something resurfaced that was lost in my frustrating haze of responsibility and jet lag.

 

It doesn’t really matter whether or not you travel.

 

If you are at all inclined toward empathy for another human being and his/her plight in the world, traveling, whether within or outside the United States, will give you a variety of opportunities in which you can exercise that empathy.  If you are not particularly inclined to empathize with the plight of another person, much of the life-altering experiences offered will be lost on you; with the possible exception of appreciating what physical beauty or historical significance a place may have.  How many times did I run into people from the States who fit the unfortunate stereotype we have to a ‘T’; obnoxious, loud, demanding, inconsiderate and unaware of the culture they are in?  At least 50% of the time, counting both trips.  I’m not even sure why those 50% were bothering to travel and their existance counters my orginal rant.  Being in another country might as well have been a zoo or amusement park, and an unsatisfactory zoo or amusement park at that.

 

As well, I know many kind, generous and considerate Americans who don’t choose to travel, typically for reasons of economic or social burdens.  Those people may well empathize with the problems of others, even though they can have no idea what it’s really like for those others.  Just as those others have no idea what it’s like to be in their shoes.  One Thai I met said, “In Thailand it doesn’t matter if we speak the same language.  If you’re smiling and laughing, that is all I need to know.”  And I offer that that attitude is just as applicable to crying or grief.

 

What travel does do is offer the opportunity to appreciate the variety of perspectives--religious, cultural, social, theological, political, medical--each place has to offer, and takes us outside the everyday patterns of our own lives, including the patterns of limitations we place on ourselves everyday.

 

For example, I love to climb, but with extreme heights I have a heart-pounding, palm sweating terror.  I would tell people that any time it came up in conversation.  It became a part of other people’s definition of ‘Rich’.  And it became my own as well.  2 months into my first trip a friend and I drove past the then highest over-land bunji jump in the world•Goertz Bridge in South Africa.  She jokingly asked if I wanted to go.  In the split second I took to evaluate my answer I realized that I wasn’t living in that everyday truth any more.  Something had happened and though I was still afraid, it wasn’t a definition of me anymore.  I laughed a little at that realization and finally said “Yes.”  For years my brother tried to get me to bunji jump and I refused, simply out of reflex, repeating in my mind “I can’t do that, I’m terrified of heights.”  Do I still have a reaction to extreme heights?  Sure.  But once I conjure that memory of leaping from a bridge into a freefall of hundreds of feet, the fear simply goes away.

 

So if you have the opportunity to travel, I encourage you to take it.  And I encourage you to travel to a place as outside of your normal environment as you can possibly brave.  Sometimes it takes baby-steps and that’s ok; my first trip was to all English speaking countries because that’s all I was ready for.  When you get to this new place take a little time to learn a few phrases of the local language, even if they speak your own language perfectly.  Maybe, if you’re lucky enough to run into the opportunity, stay with a local family.  Be aware of your surroundings, of course, and don’t wander blindly into someone’s home, but you may be amazed at the friends you will make and the insight you gain into yourself.

nonna says:
Beautifully written and very inspiring. Your blog truly shares your journey with us.
Posted on: Oct 10, 2006
roamingduck says:
I have found it interesting reading your insights. They are indeed very profound!
Posted on: Jul 09, 2006
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Kathmandu
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