Travel Lessons

I believe there are few better teachers than travel.

I’ve lived in 12 cities in 6 states, in 3 countries. I’ve traveled to 27 states in the US, including the northernmost state and the southernmost state. I’ve been to 15 countries on 4 continents…. And I’ve barely touched a fraction of all this world has to offer.

So while I still have miles to go before I sleep, I’ve compiled a list of the top 12 things I’ve learned in all my travels:

1. I have so much to be thankful for.

   I’m not talking about material things. I’m talking basic standards of living that I take for granted – access to clean drinking water, running water, warm water; access to great public education, roadways and plumbing and a roof over my head. I’ve never had to go to bed hungry. I have a loving family, my relative health, all of my senses, all of my limbs, sound mental health, and my gifts. I’ve been blessed with countless opportunities to hone my skills, develop my talents, and carve a path toward success. My basic “rights” are not rights at all, but rather privileges I’ve been afforded, most of which I do not deserve, and most of the time I take for granted.

2. Our education system leaves much to be desired.

    To truly learn about the world, taking what’s spoon fed from elementary education isn’t enough. Why do we learn about the Holocaust but not the Khmer Rouge? Why do we romanticize Thomas Jefferson but villianize Malcolm X? Where is the rich history of South and Central America in our text books? Why can’t this generation spell properly? Why can no one count change any longer? We have a serious problem in this country that we seem to be totally ok with ignoring. When it comes to math, reading, and science, our teens rank 36th in the world. Thirty-sixth.

   It wasn’t until I got to college and sought out education on Asian history and African art and Spanish literature and African-American studies that I learned about so much of the legacy we don’t learn in lower education. Had I not had a desire to learn, however, I’m afraid I still would not understand white privilege or The New Jim Crow or Asian codes of honor or the offensiveness of the term “Orient”.

    Our children dislike school. They fight to go. Parents argue with teachers. Meanwhile, ask millions of people in the Congo or Nigeria or Ethiopia or Korea or Japan what their number one priority is, what their hope for a future is, and the majority of the time, you will find young people replying, “education”.

3. Money does not make one rich.

    Some of the most joyful people I’ve seen are people in “third world” countries. Some of the most broken and miserable people I’ve known are people on your favorite TV shows. I’ve seen the biggest smiles on the faces of people with little material wealth, and the biggest bouts of depression tormenting the minds of people who live in million dollar homes.

4. There is a Columbus Street in every city in America. (This may or may not be a slight exaggeration).

    You may not be paying attention, but I notice it every-freakin-where I go. 😒

5. There is so much beauty to be found in differences.

    One of the biggest fears is the fear of the unknown. We fear that which is different from us. Our fears lead to misunderstanding, lack of empathy, stagnation, and violence. There is so much to learn in examining our differences. They are what make us beautiful. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to function as a society Imagine if we were all good at the same things, or worse yet, imagine if we were all bad at the same things. The world wouldn’t just be boring. It would be downright dysfunctional. There is so much beauty in the fashion, traditions, music, art, architecture, and history of other cultures.

6. Music is the universal language.

   It doesn’t matter whether you know the actual language or not. In fact, much music is strictly instrumental. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you know, the right song can often speak to your soul in a way nothing else can. Music moves us. It is the oldest form of praise known to humankind.

   Throw on some Celia Cruz or Ibrahim Ferrer or Los Ilegales and see if they don’t make you want to move your feet. Listen to some fado and tell me you’re not moved to tears. Throw on some Mozart or Wagner or Chopin or Yo-Yo Ma and tell me you’re not in awe of greatness. Listen to Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Etta James, Billie Holiday, and try not to feel something. Listen to Jimi Hendrix or the Beatles or Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan or Bob Marley or MJ, Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder or Fela Kuti and tell me you can’t hear the message. Listen to a Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” or Handel’s “Messiah” and tell me you don’t get chills. And if none of those names evoked any kind of emotion in you, I’m not sure you have a soul. Music is powerful.

7. We don’t seem to be learning all of history’s lessons.

    Why 70+ years after the Holocaust are we still seeing news stories of mass genocides? Why 300+ years post slavery and 50+ years post Jim Crow do we still have a penal system that systematically creates a second class of black and brown citizens? Why 20 years after Rodney King, do we still see video after video of police brutality? Why 1000+ years after the collapse of Rome do we not see the impact of governmental regulation on society’s chances for success?

   I took a trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello recently. It was beautiful. It was ornate. It was a feat of genius engineering. And it was home to our country’s most shameful atrocity. A tour guide told the story of one of Jefferson’s most skilled and accomplished slaves who, despite his great accomplishments at Monticello **insert sarcasm here** he tried to escape to freedom on more than one occasion. His work at Monticello garnered him some wages – so much so that when he first ran away and ended up in Ohio, he had the means to buy some nice clothing and fake papers so that he could pass as a free black.

   However, the story goes as such: A police officer in Ohio was suspicious of a well-dressed black man in his town, so he stopped the man and asked to see his papers… He stopped him, simply because he was suspicious of a well-dressed black man.

I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Not much has changed…”

8. Our preconceived notions are often blindingly incorrect.

    Take for example, the French. I love Paris. To date, it is my favorite city in the world. I love the art and the architecture, the history and the rail system. I love the beautiful buildings and the awesome cathedrals and the breathtaking sky. I love the shopping and the eating and the language… and the people. Contrary to popular American folklore, the French were some of the kindest people I met in all of Europe. Proud, yes. Confident, yes. Blatantly rude for no reason, no. They sing good morning to you, for goodness sake. “Bon jour!”

9. Love is the most powerful force in the world.

    From Mother Theresa to Gandhi to MLK to Pope John Paul II to the headmasters in Ethiopia that run schools for orphans and the mothers in America working 3 jobs to send their kids to school – there are few forces in the world more powerful than love. And you don’t have to go far to see it.

   I remember talking to the janitor in my office building one night. I was working late. We were the last two there. I asked her about her day and her family. She was an immigrant with no formal education. She worked two to three jobs at a time… and she didn’t complain. She was happy. She was proud. Her daughter had just started college. She was making a way that she never had. She did what she did out of love.

10. Children can teach us some of our greatest lessons.

     In the Matthew 18, Jesus encouraged us to have untainted, pure, unbiased, childlike faith. It’s amazing what we can learn when we see things through the eyes of a child. Teaching Sunday school, I was amazed at how quickly they learn, how much they pick up, how open their ears and eyes are, and how much they just want to be validated and loved.

     Anybody who’s spent any amount of time with young kids has probably learned patience, understanding, forgiveness, and love. Any parent will tell you their children taught them about the immeasurable capacity of their own heart… and taught them to be more patient than they ever thought possible. Children become what they’re told. They become what they’re taught. It is our responsibility to teach them well.

11. People who have less appreciate more. People who have more expect more.

   I sold books door-to-door in college. I met thousands of families of all different backgrounds and socio-economic statuses, in all different types of neighborhoods and communities. What I found to be true, time and time again, was that the people who had the least in terms of material possessions appreciated what they had. They were more joyful about life. They were more thankful for their blessings. They were more hopeful for their children’s futures.

   To be fair, I found the wealthiest people were often just as kind. They made it; they didn’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone. But it was the group in the middle – the “upper-middle class” who appreciated the least, expected the most, and were constantly competing to keep up with the material possessions of the people around them. They were, in essence, the most miserable.

    In my travels around the world, I also found it to be true that the people with the least in terms of material possessions are often the most joyful, the most appreciative, and the most thankful. From our driver in Bali, to the mothers selling sugar cane on the side of the road in the Dominican Republic, to the guide leading us through the rainforest of Belize, they were grateful and happy and joyful and kind.

11. Two words: Spanish tortilla.

     I studied in Spain for a semester. I survived off of café con leche, Mediterranean olives, puré, churros con chocolate, and Spanish tortillas. Go to Spain. Eat one. You can thank me later.

12. I still have a lot to learn.

     That’s the funny thing about wanderlusts and sapiosexuals – the more we learn, the more we realize we have so much more to learn. There are still so many places to go, people to meet, places to see, experiences to be had. From the beaches of Rio to the falls at Iguazu, the bazaars of Marrakech and the Australian Outback; From Goree Island to the Taj Mahal, Cape Horn and the Berlin Wall; From the skyscrapers of Tokyo to the pyramids at Giza to the whitewashed walls of Santorini and the waters of the Dead Sea… There is so much more of this world I cannot wait to see.

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