Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Musings & Conclusions About Our Peripatetic Year

Now that our peripatetic year is over, I’d like to share some of my reflections on it.

Travel is part education part experience. At its best, it transforms us in ways that aren't always apparent until we’re home. You can't spend a year travelling and not come back a changed person. All those new experiences, those challenges you had to face and figure out, those insights into the way different parts of the world work – that has to make you into a different person.

I honestly feel that change begins with the people you encounter along the way. While there are vast cultural differences in the world, with lots to learn, when it all comes down to the core of who we are … there’s not so much difference. People are still people everywhere; warm, kind, generous, willing to help ... they ask questions of me and find my life interesting just as I do theirs.

 I am so thankful for all the people we met along the way. The people who touched our life, coming into it however briefly, just touching the edges, yet leaving a lasting impression. They expanded my world. I find myself thinking of them, hoping never to forget how they enriched the experience. 

Here are just a few:

  • Yut – a former saffron robed monk turned tour-guide in Siem Riep in order to help support his elderly parents. His gentle spirit. His quick laughter.
  • Alex – a tour company manager in Kenya. His trust in us when our payment to him was delayed by the bank.
  • Mary – Alex’s wife. A most gracious hostess. 
  • Agnes – our landlady in Paris. Her stories. Her easy-going nature. Her je ne sais quoi.
  • Anton – African tour guide/driver. His extensive knowledge. Working tirelessly to ensure our trip is all that it can be and more.
  • Thomas – our art history lecturer in Berlin. His ability to make what could be a stuffy lecture infinitely fascinating and informative.
  • countless waitstaff, hotel staff, and cabbies – the thankless jobs done with a smile. They provided an invaluable service and are the ones who truly made our year easy and relaxing.
  •  jungle guide, architecture student, leasing agent, boat drivers, and many others - their names I've forgotten, but not the time we spent together and what they taught me.
Being taught, input as we called it, was a big part of our experience. Erwin and I love seeking out grocery stores and markets in foreign countries; they’re always fascinating places to get "input" about people and their culture. The prepared food sections are generally mouth-wateringly spectacular, even if I don’t know what I’m seeing and smelling. And maybe I don’t want to. But, I’ll always take a sample when offered. Besides that’s what vaccinations are for right?

Yet sometimes when encountering a different culture, there are moments when you see something and your brain goes… “Huh?”

I still haven’t gotten over the cultural disconnect I felt (my preconceived notions) upon seeing…

  • a cell phone appearing from the folds of a Maasai shepherds red shuka
  • a satellite dish atop a straw hut on the shore of the Mekong river
  • a billboard in faraway villages for a north American product
  • a person of colour speaking a better German than I ever will (sorry if that sounds racist)
I also became conscious of how isolating, by comparison, our North American lifestyle is. Maybe not so much at home in Torbay, but certainly in the big cities we've lived in. The notion of “it takes a village” is not trending pop-psychology, but how things are done. Have always been done. The extended families or clans living, working, and playing together, looking out for one another; a powerful sense of community. I kind of envy that. The support that one can draw from that.

I got huge lessons in appreciation. The women working in the garment factories of Phom Penh, or building a mud hut in Kenya, or those wearing the full burqa; they will never know my range of freedom, they will never have my level of prosperity or education or even health. They will never be allowed to explore and grow like I do. I've also noted that many parts of the world men’s and women’s lives are quite firmly separated into gender-specific tasks. Men work and socialize with other men; women work and socialize with other women. Are they aware of the gender disconnect or inequality? And if they are, could they even do anything about it?

I've discovered a lot about myself too. Limitations that I thought I had but didn't, as well as short-comings that still need some work. I care more about certain things, and not so much about others. I have waaaaay to much stuff. I've felt the discomfort that comes with being looked at because I was different. I was in the minority. I stood out in the crowd. Hopefully I've weakened the obliviousness that comes from always being part of the majority.

I've gained confidence. We've spent this last year travelling; criss-crossing Europe, into Asia and Africa. Hiked in the jungle, meditated in incense filled cathedrals, came face to face with wildlife on the Serengeti, navigated unknown cities; in short, we did some pretty awesome things. And because of that I've greatly reduced my fear of stepping out of my comfort zone. What’s the purpose of life if not to break out of your comfort zone or becoming more adventurous? After accomplishing so much, I know I’m going to feel a lot more confident in my ability to achieve anything I set my mind to.


Finally, I think I've learned to adapt more readily. We dealt with over-crowded trains, slow buses, wrong turns, delays, bad street food, soaked feet, and much, much more. After a while, I learned how to adapt to changing situations and new realities. I learned to alter what I’m doing and move on. Life throws you curve balls and gets messy sometimes, but you go with it. Do your best. Why? Because if travel has taught me anything it is that it all works out in the end, and even if it doesn't, there’s no need to stress. Because I know I will cherish this year-long adventure forever no matter what went or didn't go according to plan.



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