Monday, August 8, 2011

Why we Travel

For quite some time now The New York Times has been running a Sunday column titled "Why We Travel." I've been impressed and heartened by some of the deep felt sentiments accompanying the photographs that have come in from readers all over the world. I look forward to sending some of my own. (see the link here):

Having grown up in a small New England town and then raising my stepdaughters in an even smaller one, I was often dismayed to discover how little intellectual curiosity there seemed to be among the denizens of these burgs to explore, to reach out, to understand different cultures and places, to learn. When it came time for me to go to college I couldn't wait to get out of dodge. My kids, on the other hand, had no desire to leave their comfort zone. I was totally flummoxed.

Some of my favorite reads are travel books, thus the moniker "read around the world." I've had the overwhelming good fortune to land in a career that has allowed me to keep my eyes on the prize. I save money for one thing, after food and housing of course, and that is travel. So I was speechless the other evening when I mentioned to a person of influence in my library world that I was leaving next month for Africa. He looked me dead straight in the eyes and asked "why?"

I tried to read between the lines and see if that was a joke. Sadly it was not. I'm inept when it comes to cocktail party repartee and, though I'm seldom at a loss for words with my friends, I'm afraid I didn't have the quick comeback that I should have used. I managed to explain that I travel to learn, to grow, but failed to remind this supposedly bright person that Africa is the cradle of civilization from whence we all emanate. Long before there were Christians, Muslims and Jews trying to anihilate each other, there was life on this continent and I want to feel it in my very being.

I remember standing at the Forum in Rome where Caesar spoke and simply crying. I couldn't believe that I was actually there in such an historic location, walking where these people I knew from history (and Shakespeare) had actually stood. It's an overwhelming sensation, one that I won't stop seeking until I run out of money and stamina.

A perfect example of how we stretch our boundaries with travel is the email relationship I've forged with Sineta George, the owner of the bed and breakfast where we will stay in Dakar, Senegal. She's been reading my blog and even asked if she could use a quote of mine on her website. I was thrilled. For over a year now we have exchanged information and photos. The day we arrive, we will already be friends.

Don had a thank you letter from his granddaughter recently. She just graduated from UCal with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and he had helped send her to Sorrento, Italy to attend a dance workshop this summer. It was her first time out of the country, an experience she described beautifully as "freeing." This twenty one year old could teach some of our older, wiser brethren a lesson in opening minds.

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