Looking Beyond the Travel Book

By
More by this author
At the pubescent age of 13 my parents sent me off to Russia…without them. Heading to a foreign country, without the comfort of parents should seem daunting to a new teenager. For me, maybe it was ignorance, but I couldn’t help smiling as I held my new passport knowing that I was going to leave my country for the first time. A quick hug from each parent was all I needed before heading down the long hallway to the plane. The flight attendant greeted with a smile and some variation of “Welcome aboard!” but her too big smile gave away that she was really thinking some variation of “I hate my job.” I quickly found my seat (dang, not by a window) and noticed a friendly, genuine smile on the man to my right. I said hello, then took out my Bible and a journal to keep me occupied for the 10 hour flight. When the friendly man saw the Bible sitting on my lap, he asked if I was a Christian. This opened up conversation, and I learned that he was Buddhist. We then engaged in the sharing of our faiths with each other, the thirteen year old version of me found every word this man said intriguing. He told me about Nirvana, and I told him about Heaven. He raved about Siddhartha Gautama, and I expressed my love for Jesus.
I’m sure the people trying to sleep around us did not appreciate our continuous jabbering. I liked this man despite our differences. He was interesting and shared pieces of his story with me. He listened when I talked, asking insightful questions and answered some of my own. Most thirteen year olds would never want to get on a plane alone, and all of us throw in iPod earphones before the person next to us strikes up conversation. Yet here I was, thirteen years of age sitting on a plane heading to the former Soviet Union, not sleeping during this 10 hour flight but rather talking to an elderly Buddhist man.
Two years later I found myself lugging a monster backpack up the slopes of mountains in Colorado. For one week it was just me, the wilderness, and 12 other people whose faces I had never seen before. The only name I could remember was David, because he picked up a walking stick for himself, and handed me one as well. We got into a rhythm of pumping our arms in unison, leaning over and using the sticks to push our weight forward. Between our raspy breathes we introduced ourselves. We covered the basics: where we were from, our family, some hobbies. That night by the campfire, my conversation with David strayed away from easy topics, to topics that required going underneath the façade of a person. David elaborated some more on his family, and then he suddenly stopped. The fire light danced across his face, revealing pain is his eyes and a tear streaking down his cheek. There was a tremor in his voice as he told me about his younger brother’s death. Though the words seemed impossibly inadequate, I said I was sorry. We then sat in silence, amazed with the surrounding mountains and how much we had shared after knowing each other for one day.
Treading through a sea of languages I take solitude after sitting down at the farthest picnic table in the courtyard at the youth hostel in Germany I was staying at. I open my journal, eager to document the new sights I had seen that day. Just as my pen touched the paper, the table rattled as an elderly man sat down across from me. He asked permission to join me after he was comfortably seated, and if he was quite I had no objection to his intrusive company. After writing one sentence, I found my eyes lingering on the wrinkles dispersed across the man’s face. In my exhausted state, my immediate though was “I thought this is a YOUTH hostel…” but there was something intriguing about the man so I closed my journal and asked what brings him to Germany. In perfect English, Rolf responds that it is his home country. He was visiting the area to talk at a conference about his book. Entirely interesting I pushed my small journal to the side and listened as he shared his story about his months in a prisoner’s camp during the Holocaust. A classmate turned in Rolf and his professor after hearing them voice their disapproval of the Nazi regime. Sitting at the picnic table I chose because it was the quietist place in the courtyard, I heard the story of a fearless man giving me an inside perspective of a time in history that no textbook could’ve ever showed me.
As a thirteen year old girl, hopping on a plane heading to Russia isn’t terrifying, but the thought of not getting on that plane is. Taking that long walk down the airplane hallway got me a seat next to a Buddhist man who opened my eyes to other world religions. If I had been too afraid to leave the comfort of my parents, or too shy to respond to this man different from me in every way I would of slept in those 10 hours instead of learning about a different culture. Removing the façade that is so easy to hide behind enabled me to really get to know and connect with David. I knew him better after one day of talking that I do some of my friends after years of exchanging empty words. Choosing to sit at the distant lawn table in Germany lead to me hearing the most amazing story, but I was so close to burring my head in my journal and paying no attention to the man sitting across from me. Closing my journal and talking to Rolf was not what I planned on doing that night, but turned out to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. There is no solid plot or direction in our life, and if we try to pursue our own plot then we miss out on some of the most important chapters. Removing yourself from your comfort zone and embracing the stories of the people around you gives you much more interesting story.





Join the Discussion

This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

gmoney said...
Apr. 21, 2009 at 4:21 pm
Awsome!
 
Mahathi said...
Apr. 16, 2009 at 5:03 am
Wow!
 
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback