Travelling creates an awareness of the goodness in all people
Why do we travel? What pushes us to fly for many hours, sometimes around the whole world?
Before any trip my heart always beats joyfully and I can’t fell asleep in anticipation of something unusual, new and exotic. I know that after the trip I will be slightly different. For me, travel is a way to better understand myself. I love to meet and talk to new people and observe them in their own worlds.
I remember when I was a young girl in the Soviet Union. We lived behind the Iron Curtain. Only a few of us could travel. Only privileged people from the Communist Party and famous artists or scientists were allowed out of the country. Travelling was like forbidden fruit, and therefore seemed so sweet.
My mother-in-law, Antonina, made an absolutely incredible journey in those days. For her outstanding landscape design for a new suburb of Irkutsk, she was awarded a trip on a cruise liner to Italy, France and Spain.
Time stood still as we waited for her return. When she came back, she gathered together a big group of her relatives and friends. We drank strong black tea with freshly baked cakes. We were thrilled and nervous. Our imaginations raced beneath the slow rituals of sipping and conversation.
Finally she turned off the light. On came a small projector and the magic began. We stared in fascination and wonderment at the slowly changing slides on the white wall. They were bright and colourful scenes from everyday life, but so different from ours. We saw views of cities we had only heard of and paintings and sculptures from museums that both intrigued and puzzled us. We gasped at how different it was from our dull, grey life in Siberia. For us it was more than a slide show, it was a small but remarkable window into another, unknown world; a free world with smiling people. It was alluring, teasing and oh so distant. I couldn’t even dream of travel at that time. I had no foreign passport and it was very hard to get one.
We bombarded Antonina with endless questions: “What kind of people are they? Are they the same as we are? Are they our enemies? Do they really want to have a war with us?”
She replied patiently but with passion. “No, they are the same as we are. They are very curious about us. They are interested in everything; our lives, our country, and communism. No, they don’t want war, and wish us well!”
I think of Antonina so long ago, answering each of us with a smile. She had been to the other side, and returned. Even then, I sensed travel had changed her.
Travelling has made me the person I am now: free, tolerant, sensitive, understanding, accepting and respectful of other cultures and religions. It came from countless small incidents.
Like watching people from Buddhist countries who never shout, who never argue on the street, who are always calm and friendly and polite. I asked myself the question, “Why are they like that? How did they learn this? Can I become like this?” And I tried to change myself.
Now I can’t be mad or angry in public any more because when I get angry I remember my conversation with a lovely, calm Thai woman from our hotel. She told me that she deals with many demanding people and if she starts to get annoyed at some of them she does not give herself thoughtlessly to her emotions but calmly analyses them. She mentally separates herself from them and concentrates on her breathing.
“My heart beats so fast I have to breathe deeply. I look at them from a place deep inside myself, a place of compassion.”
I remembered how a very old Balinese man with a toothless smile helped Bill, who was fumbling with his sarong. He reached his thin arms around his waist and deftly tied it, so Bill could join the service.
Late for an appointment, I also recall our elderly bus driver in Thailand beaming mightily as he jumped to the pavement. To my huge surprise, he took me by the arm and walked me to the nearest traffic light, pressed the button and waited until we started to cross at just the right time through the crazy traffic. He did it all with such joy and a sincere desire to help, radiating positive energy and good intention. It was both caring and sweet.
He did not expect anything, he just wanted with all his being for me to be safe and find our destination. His attitude touched my heart. If each person put a piece of his soul, even the tiniest, into what he does, the world would become a much better and kinder place.
For me, travel is a mosaic of small lessons that create an awareness of the goodness in all people. You create this picture of humanity as you go through life, and tolerance and appreciation are your palette. The colours are everywhere.
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at ninalondon.com
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