During that time I encountered mountain gorillas in the wild and guerrilla fighters. I explored how refugees from Africa found their way to Nebraska and journeyed with some home back to South Sudan.
I floated across where the Blue and White Nile rivers begin in Ethiopia and Uganda and witnessed the marriage of the two rivers into one Nile in Sudan. I climbed inside Egyptian pyramids thousands of years old and sat silently in the orthodox churches of Russia. From the horseback riding into the cold mountains of Mongolia, to scrambling across the Great Wall of China, it has been a magical journey.
As I passed through 13 countries, my daily budget bumped up to $25 a day because of a weak dollar. But never did I feel lacking. The people I encountered along the way made sure I was looked after, taken care of and respected. What can I write that gives honor to the countless moments of kindness I experienced from ordinary people? A bottomless sense of gratitude radiates within me and has left me humbled.
A Frenchman asked me in China, “Can you explain the lack of curiosity Americans have about the rest of the world?”
I didn’t have an answer for him at that time, but I wish I could bring him to Nebraska to the ordinary towns that carried my weekly column. I wish he could meet the many schoolchildren who read my blog.
I am so proud of my hometown.
Numerous times I have been approached at store counters or downtown local cafes and asked if I was that guy who writes the travel column in the paper. This is generally followed by how much they enjoyed reading the adventure and what they learned about the world in the process.
You see, I think the Frenchman missed the boat. Americans are curious about the world, the ordinary parts they can relate to. But they tire of reading about only the negative moments that all too often grab the headlines. The stories often leave us confused and afraid of the world.
How do I honor these lessons of kindness? I honor them by sharing my experiences.
The other day I was visiting with a parent of a first-grade student after one of my school presentations. The entire school had been following my journey during the past year via the Internet in Denver, Colo.
“Can I tell you about my daughter Emma?” asked the parent.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Emma came to us last Christmas and told us she didn’t want any presents for Christmas. We were a bit surprised, so we asked her why.”
Emma replied, “Because Dean Jacobs said happiness doesn’t come from things. It comes through the experiences of life.”
“We honored her request, and had a beautiful Christmas experience together. I just wanted to thank you for the important lesson you gave our daughter.”
Stopped in my tracks, my eyes welled up with tears, just like they did in Ethiopia when the United Nations refugee plane flew back over the tarmac to wave goodbye with the wings of the plane, tilting them from side to side before disappearing into the blue sky.
With that, any doubts I ever had melted away and were replaced with a sense of peace.