Monday, October 3, 2011

Learning From Them

Columbia - Ciudad Perdida - Friendly guard
I get asked by a lot of people, "Why do you travel?"

Traveling can be done for many different reasons. Each person or situation warrants a different reason and results in a different experience. You may want to relax; you may want to learn about History; you may want to hike every mountain in the world; you may want to dive every coral reef. Of course, I want to do it all. 

Above all, I have always been curious about how other people live. I travel to LEARN. Whether they are in the million dollar apartments in Paris or the slums of Mumbai, I want to see it. More than that, I want to experience it. This is not to say I necessarily want to sleep amongst the fleas in Mumbai, but I do want to see it all and, if possible, I want to understand it a little. Don’t get me wrong, I am not some bleeding heart liberal who wants to give food and money to every poor person in the world. But I am interested in the logistics of life in other countries.

What I have learned is this: 

In some of the poorest countries, they seem the happiest. I have gone to festivals in Bolivia or in Malawi where people are enjoying themselves fully. They are dancing and singing and clapping. They don’t need an expensive band and fancy food. They have each other and their mood creates the party. In a couple instances, I joined them, and it was so delightful. 

This Korean guy gave us booze!
People are generous. I have had people at bus stops with nothing more than the clothes on their backs offer me food. In Albania, where nobody spoke English, they gave us mandarin oranges. In Egypt, where nobody spoke English, they gave us bread. Me, with my backpack that costs more than a years salary. They gave ME food! This taught me to be a little more generous, even if it was only crackers or bread or fruit. 

People are helpful. You may go into your journey with the stereotype that Italians are loud or French people are snobby or Germans are abrupt, but really, when you get down to it, people are very helpful (and mostly very nice). When we were wandering around in circles with our backpacks looking for our hotel in Paris, we didn’t have to even stop anyone. They stopped and asked US if we needed directions. When I was looking for my hostel in Rome in the middle of the night in an unsavory neighborhood, people were helpful, even the unsavory looking ones. When I arrived in Salvadore in the wee hours of the morning, a homeless looking guy walked me home. I am not saying to completely let down your guard, but we, and especially the “we” who live in bigger cities, sometimes forget to help our fellow man. 

Crowded subway in Beijing
People get close to you: This is something we (in the US) don’t deal with very much, but people in many other countries have absolutely NO personal space. They will stand right on top of you with their sweaty armpit right near your face. It’s okay. Get used to it. Next time, it will be your sweaty armpit in their face. 

People make do with what they have: We saw outdoor “churches” in Africa, because they didn’t have a building big enough to house everyone.  They sang hallelujah to the skies and it was beautiful. I am not a religious person, but I wanted to join them. 

So, I learned a little about the logistics of life in other countries. I still have a lot to learn. But the main point I have taken from traveling so far is that people are good. Yes, there are wars and strife and fighting. There is starvation and pain and hate. But the evildoers are the minority. You cannot judge a country (ours included) by its leader or its government. You need to meet the people. The people are the key. 
And the people are wonderful. 

So go, plan that trip to _____ that you have always wanted to take. Don't be afraid. Go to the market there and talk to the locals, even if you don’t speak the same language. Taste their strange food and ride too close to them on a strange vehicle. 

Live their life for a minute. Do what they do. And learn from them. 

What have you learned from traveling? What stereotypes do you think people have about your state or your country before going there? Do you think they find it to be true?

1 comment:

  1. I have learned that people, in general, are veyr helpful. I have learned that attempting to speak to someone in their native tongue can really establish goodwill (although I know it is not possible to learn every language out there, of course). I have learned that I am so gosh darn lucky to live the life I do, and that I don't appreciate the basics of life like electricity and clean water nearly enough.

    great post, as usual :)