Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thinking about Nepal

As our group prepares to depart for Nepal less than two weeks from now, I've been thinking about how the place has been more of an idea than an actual feet-on-the-ground experience up to this point. Whenever I travel someplace new, I spend a good deal of time reading about what I might see or do, planning for the day-to-day possibilities, and thinking ahead about opportunities for leaving the place with a different mindset--hopefully wider--than I had when stepping off the plane into a completely new culture.

Though "I avoid cliches like the plague" (that's a line from the mental floss journal I received for Mother's Day, by the way), life is a journey and the opportunity to travel from place to place during a lifetime is, for me anyway, one of the most exciting.

Every traveler will tell you that exploring new cultures offers a different reward, but I've found that upon returning home I've usually confirmed two fundamental truths:

First, that we should allow ourselves the room to do things our own way, however unconventional, since what we pressure ourselves into is often more a result of our cultural upbringing than what feels right for us. After visiting India, where children the same age as my own kids attend school six days a week and spend much of their remaining time balancing play and contributions to their households, I realized that my expectations for my daughters were reasonable--no matter how rough they claim their lives to be sometimes.

And second, that the world is much more complex and hopeful than we might believe if we consume only those events that are reported on the evening news. In every place, however affected by internal conflict, economic strife, or physical and mental decline, people find a way to strive for happiness--or at least some daily dose of hope. The women I met recovering in a make-shift cancer ward in Lusaka, Zambia, appreciated the small portion of food that was wheeled in on a cart each day, in part because they couldn't all count on a daily meal outside the hospital. In other parts of the world, that dose of hope comes in the form of a visit to a temple or a moment of silence at the start of a new day.

I guess that what starts as an idea ends as an idea. For travelers like me--and the students and faculty who will come along for this amazing journey to Nepal--the feet-on-the-ground experience is really quite brief. It's what we bring back home that lasts far longer.