The late afternoon sky occasionally has had a flock of geese heading south, and for the last couple of months I have glanced upward wishing I were going with them. Well, it seems that time has come where the longing inside will be answered with the action of stepping onto the plane and heading south, with a one-way ticket. This doesn’t mean I won’t return; it’s just that the date of return remains a mystery.
Recently, the Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad issued the following statement: “America’s ignorance of the world is now a national liability.”
It’s true. We are playing catch-up in this area. Especially when you consider that 80% of the citizens in the United States don’t even own a passport. But rather than spend my time and energy on being ‘right’ about this issue, I’m more interested in addressing my own shortcomings. And challenging young minds -- and some not so young -- to go explore and find out for themselves.
It has been my own experience that our perception of the outside world and the reality of it do not quite line up with accuracy. We are fed daily reports of what’s not working, of tragic experiences that break our hearts and leave us feeling unsafe and vulnerable. While these may be reported facts of a place, they are only one moment in time, in one particular place. But what happens is, these reports begin to skew our perceptions of the world, and it becomes easier to conclude the world we live in is not safe. I’m not talking about whitewashing horrible events, but stating they are only a moment in time. What never makes the news are the countless ways I was taken by the hand while traveling in a strange land to make sure I boarded the right train or found the correct hotel. Or the generous offers to come into the home of a stranger to share tea and chat.
In November, 2000, I quit my job as a manager, sold my house and decided to follow my dream of traveling the globe. In April of 2003, I came back to Nebraska after being gone on a trip that covered a span of 22 ½ months and 28 countries. This was a journey of discovery, of foreign lands, customs and cultures. It was also a discovery of myself. Since my return to Nebraska, I have grieved and regrouped from the unexpected death of my father and taken some time to reflect on my last trip and on what lies ahead for me. It has been the longest I’ve been in one place for 15 years. I can feel the restlessness begin to creep into my shoulders. It leaves me wondering if I will ever be able to “settle down.” I have accepted the fact that I have an insatiable curiosity about the world and the people who live here.
Now I will embark on a new journey, which in some ways is really the rest of my original journey. My first trip was supposed to have included Central and South America. On January 24, 2004, life will begin anew, starting first in Mexico and then continuing south through Central and South America. I will live on less but have much more. My life possessions will be carried on my back and my heart will be worn on my sleeve. I will live on no more than $15.00 per day, including food and shelter. I have a deep trust in the journey. Besides, the journey chooses you, and those wise enough to understand this surrender early. Along the journey, I will encounter many experiences and countless people. I will attempt to engage in a dialogue with those I meet, and my desire and my plan is to share those meetings with you.
I have one primary question to ask those I meet: “If you could say one thing to the American people, what would it be?” I don’t know what to expect, but this is one of the greatest joys of traveling to a new and different place. I will be reporting back to you, my readers, along the journey. I have decided to call the answers to my question “Letters to America.” I invite you to share with me a moment in time, from the people I meet to the heartland of the U.S. And just maybe we might discover something amazing about the world and ourselves.