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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Traveling Around Home — Any Takers?

They do things a little differently in other places
My sister handed me a book the other day that she thought I might enjoy and/or add to my used inventory at Dog Ears Books. The title is Bucket List Adventures: 10 Incredible Journeys to Experience Before You Die (I always think that’s the best time to do things, don’t you?), and while as I turned pages, I realized that author Annette White’s idea of travel adventures was much more ambitious than my own — Tokyo, Costa Rica, Jordan, etc. — some of her ideas on how to travel struck a chord with me. For instance, this section heading, “Immerse Yourself in the Culture.” 

When many arrive to a foreign destination they make the mistake of visiting without ever really leaving their own world. They choose the route of being a tourist looking from the outside in. … They are spectators…. 

… The deepest travel happens when you integrate into a community by actively participating, opening yourself to interact with the locals, and understanding the way they live. This can be as easy as actively participating in their rituals, eating traditional dishes from the region, or learning the history that makes the city [sic] what it is today. 

White has much more to say on the subject, but that was enough to get me thinking. I thought about eating octopus seviche in the Yucatan, trying cheese on my grits in Savannah, cheering the junior rodeo contestants in Willcox, AZ, and walking in the washes of Dos Cabezas with a ghost town neighbor. If you’ve followed Books in Northport this past winter, you know we made many good friends in Dos Cabezas, but even three years ago, as strangers, we made it a point of to explore the whole of Cochise County and to learn about its history and natural history, as well as attending public events from art shows to rodeos.

Letting down personal barriers, going beyond one’s own cultural comfort zone, meeting strangers on their own ground and on their own terms, listening and learning and looking to understand — it doesn't have to be as big a deal as crossing a swinging rope bridge over a yawning chasm.

Let me address the simple grits with cheese in Savannah. How much simpler can travel get? The outdoor restaurant was busy that late morning, and our server had probably been running ragged for hours. He was formal and attentive but distant, just doing his job. He asked if I wanted cheese on my grits. Automatically I said no, then stopped and said, “Wait! Is it good that way? Do you recommend it?” He said yes, and so I said I’d try my grits with cheese. Such a small "adventure," hardly meriting the name, wouldn’t you say? As it turned out, I did enjoy grits with cheese. But the food was secondary to my happiness when I thanked the waiter for his recommendation and saw his face break into a smile for the first time. We had broken through to each other and, for a moment, connected. Even if I had hated cheese on my grits, I would have be glad to order my breakfast that way for the sake of the waiter’s smile.

During our ghost town winter, we met people who live very differently from the way we live in northern Michigan — those who carry guns on their hips (only one neighbor but a nice man), those who hunt (as do some of our Michigan friends, though we don’t), and those who are happy, for one reason or another, with the political direction our country is taking these days (which we, I admit, are not). I will emphasize that there is no more unanimity among Arizonans than there is among Michiganians. Nevertheless, we were on Arizona turf and not looking for arguments. We were the aliens, the strangers, visiting and trying to get to know another (diverse) culture. 

So now, looking back at the Southwest from the familiar Midwest, I wonder how it would be if more of us approached each other at home as if we were travelers in a new land, listening rather than arguing, trying to understand, extending a hand in goodwill rather than standing back with arms crossed tight against our chests. 

One of my winter projects in Arizona was studying Spanish, and for weeks I made good progress. Then an unexpected, though brief, hospitalization threw a monkey wrench into my routine, and I never did get back into it with the same discipline. No matter. I really did have enough of the language to order my Sonoran hot dog in Spanish. Only timidity held me back. Why? Why so timid, self? I was disappointed in myself. Finally, however, at the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, a nice man stopped to admire Sarah and began speaking to her in Spanish. My opportunity! “Se llama Sarita,” I told him. His daughter’s name was Sarah. I admitted that ‘Sarah’ was my dog’s name, too. 

It was only a moment, like the waiter’s smile, but that moment made my day. Could we do more at home to make each other’s day? I’m going to try to keep that in mind over the season ahead. 

Dare to cross the bridge?


Dawn said...

Excellent idea, to live as though we are traveling in our own space. Because, you are right, we are much more polite and open to ideas different than our own when we are traveling. We are more adventurous, more curious, more welcoming.

I was thinking along these lines, though not this exact idea as I learned the news of the three Americans freed from N Korea this morning. Part of me was disappointed at the apparent success of Trump, and then I scolded myself, because in the end all that matters is that three families are whole again. It doesn't matter which administration made it happen. I am trying to keep a more open mind, and have been working on that for the past month or so. It's harder than I imagined it would be.

P. J. Grath said...

We are watching and listening to the hearings on television this morning, Dawn. I was very opposed to this nomination but am now starting to think that Haspel is (1) intelligent, (2) experienced, (3) prepared, and (4) seems to have learned her lesson about interrogation, torture, informing Congress, etc. And having someone like that in the position seems better than having some inexperienced dolt in the job.

Thank you for commenting this morning. It is hard to open our minds -- and our hearts -- when we disagree with others, but if don't open to them, how can we hope that they will open to us? Seems to me someone has to go first, or the standoff goes on forever, and I do not want to see my country ripped apart.

Kathy said...

I really enjoyed reading this and contemplating how important it is to break out of our comfort zone and connect with those who are different from us. Cheese with grits is a little thing, but it really made a difference in meeting that server in his own world. It can be hard to be with those who think and act differently. Sometimes--as with your initial reaction to not having cheese with grits--if we just wait a moment we can open to something new and unexpected. And learn a lot. Thanks for sharing this blog post. Beautiful.

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Kathy. I wonder if some of us are more open when traveling, maybe others more open at home. Whichever way we are naturally, though, it seems we should be able to transfer some of our openness to the other realm. It can feel risky -- but then, risk can be exciting and energizing, right?