Thursday, August 5, 2010

For The Good Of All

Lately I have been doing a lot of thinking that was partly spurred on by my niece going to Africa on a mission. No, I’m not talking about a Blues Brothers kind of mission. She has a college scholarship through her church that requires her to go on a month long mission every summer. The first year she went to Honduras and last year I believe she went to Germany. This year she is in Zambia, Africa and is working at an orphanage in a small town. Her flight touched down in Johannesburg, South Africa the day after the World Cup final match and the next day she flew on a puddle hopper to Zambia and then took a bus to the town that she will be staying in and now she is more than halfway through her time there. Personally I am quite proud of her for going all over the world to help out in whatever small way she can. She could have easily bowed out and declined the scholarship once she found out the conditions but instead she embraced the challenge of experiencing different cultures and people which a lot of young people will no longer attempt to do these days.

As I thought about that I also thought about a young employee at my job that recently graduated from Tulsa University and has decided that before he settles down into his profession of choice he wants to go to South Korea for a year to teach English. After that initial year he may even go to Argentina for an additional year. His case isn’t necessarily as altruistic as my nieces is but still, the idea of doing something like this at such a young age intrigues me and has had me wondering if I could have done something like this back in the day. I mean, you get to really learn about a culture incredibly different than your own and not in the false touristy kind of way where you never really connect with people on an individual basis.

Sure, I’ve seen different countries and different cultures but that was mostly when I was in the Army and although the slogan always said it wasn’t just a job but an adventure it was usually the other way around. For some reason I feel that it’s not the same but I really have no realistic idea why. I mean, in Germany although I did go to some castles and such I also would go to restaurants, record stores and so forth and try to interact with people. When I went to Spain for a week I have to admit that it was a tourist place and there wasn’t much of an attempt to see the “real” Spain but at least I can say I went there. During the first Gulf War in Saudi Arabia I had a handful of experiences with refugees and workers from other countries (as well as a very brief meeting with 2 Iraqi prisoners of war at a field hospital) but I can’t say I got to know them at all. Then two years ago I was able to go with my wife and our son to her native country of Peru where I did get to meet and interact with people in a real life setting which was very cool.

Regardless of why or where I’ve gone I always attempt to understand that foreign countries are just different and that I can’t compare them to where I am from or what I am used to. I feel that you just have to accept them for the way they are and enjoy the experience. Otherwise, why go in the first place? It seems to me to be pretty silly to go to a foreign country and then only try to be around people from your country that speak your language. For instance, a few years back while mindlessly flipping through tv channels I came across one of those “Judge” shows on which an older couple was suing their travel agent because they didn’t have a good time on their trip to Mexico even though they ignored her advice and told her to book them at a specific resort. One of their prime complaints was that while there they came in contact with too many Mexicans………………… I mean, really? You don’t want to see or hear people from that country? That’s one of the great problems with people from my country. They want to go to foreign lands and see many wondrous and beautiful things but only if the people there can speak English to them and have things done in the (North) American way.

Ah well, since I’ve strayed from my original thoughts I guess it’s as good a time as any to end this meandering and go to bed for the night. Before I know it my son will be waking me up but at least I can go to bed dreaming that perhaps he can one day do good things and learn to accept people and cultures for what they are, not where they are.

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