Striking up a conversation with a Tibetan man in Tibet
This year I have been to country nr. 110 so far.
I can recall them each so clearly.
Like the drunken soldiers with their Kalashnikovs nonchalantly hanging on one shoulder staring confused at my diplomatic passport because they couldn’t read, at one of the many roadblocks in N’Djaména, Chad;
The kind Hmong family in Northern Laos who invited me into their home to share sticky rice and homemade whiskey;
The village doctor in Barra Kunda, Gambia who cursed me out because I asked him to use the syringe I had brought along from the US (as instructed by the NGO I worked for) instead of one he had lying around, to treat mine badly injured toe;
The border official who entered the train at the crossing of the Republic of Georgia and Armenia and made me swear I would not go afterward to Azerbaijan. Armenia and Azerbaijan are arch-enemies;
A conversation with a cowboy and horse whisperer in an all-white NRA-friendly bar (the stickers were there) in Cody Wyoming to complain about Washington being unwilling to respect their way of life;
Seeing some hundred people picking up a stilted wooden house and moving it because of a fight among neighbors in Tabapounie, a tiny hamlet inhabited by Miskito Indians on the south Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.
Listening to a long lecture by Chinese authorities that I’m forbidden to talk about the Dalai Lama 14, but I’m free to mention the first 13 Lamas, before getting special permission to go to Tibet;
The look on my face and that of my black American colleagues when we entered a restaurant in Dakar, Senegal that was decorated on the inside with tons of confederate flags;
Being told by my Japanese friend to wait a couple of minutes for the green pedestrian light before crossing the street at 11 pm in a quiet Nagoya (Japan) neighborhood with absolutely no traffic;
And, eating rotten shark flesh (Iceland), drinking horse’s milk (Kyrgyzstan), snacking on roasted locusts (Chad) and reindeer sausage (Alaska), struggling to eat a still-moving octopus on my plate (Korea) and how can I forget not being able to swallow the slimiest food ever, the Nigerian ogbono soup.
Over the course of my travels, I have pursued a deeper understanding of people and why they behave or think the way they do. We’re too busy scrolling aimlessly on our electronic devices without time to reflect on what it all means. Without travel, we are sentenced to consume information that has been “handpicked” for us by algorithms catering to our predisposed feelings of paranoia and predispositions. We’ve boxed ourselves into ways of thinking that are intolerant of dissent.
I have always believed, that the more we know about each other, the better we become. The potential of becoming desensitized to real human experience in a virtual world could be very real. This is especially true for living on an island with an island mentality. We need to be proactive and exit our bubbles.