Monday, July 14, 2014

A Month Abroad: Some things are the same everywhere

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea[1].  -Douglas Adams

            One of the major ideas that has been bouncing around in my mind through my travels this summer is probably unsurprising to those who know me well or who have heard me preach more than twice. I’ve been thinking about the ways in which we are all so very much the same. Surely, humans are all unique and beautiful in their own ways, but we also share a maker and there are things I’ve noticed are the same no matter where we go. I've found it refreshing and encouraging to see the things we all have in common. When it comes down to it, no matter what color we are, what language we speak, what sort of weather we're accustomed to . . . there are some things we all have in common.
We all know I'm a sucker for most members of the animal kingdom. When I'm away I miss my dog, my cats, my chickens, and even my fish. I miss the cats more than any of them, but they are all part of the family. When traveling, I always have a keen sense of what sort of animals are around and what they're up to.
In Scotland, I noticed that people really love their dogs there. They have beautiful, well kept and well behaved dogs there. What's interesting is I don't recall seeing many mutts and I certainly didn't see any strays. And I don't remember seeing a single cat while we were there. Just many lovely, pampered, and pedigreed dogs. At the core though, it was clear that people there love their pets like we do here. 
Turkey was interesting. There were cats EVERYWHERE. There were some street dogs too, but not the scrawny sort of street dogs you see in some developing areas, they were relatively well fed and kept, even though they were strictly speaking, strays. The cats were as well. There were a few mangy ones who would have made rescue folks in the states shudder, but they weren't starving or abused. Outside of nearly every house was a bowl of cat food for the street cats and nearly all of the cats were friendly and ready to spend quality time with whomever was willing to pet them. We asked someone about the cats and they said many people have pet dogs inside but never cats. They like cats, but not in their house. I like dogs, but not in my house. Go figure. 
I reflected back on my time in Guatemala about 9 years ago and remembered that the street dogs and cats there were scared and sick, as well as feared. But nearly every home had chickens and other birds, and the luckier families had other livestock. They weren't pets, exactly, but they had a lovely, symbiotic life with the people there. 
You know how when you're in a crowd and your phone rings so you pull it out of your pocket and realize that it was someone standing next to you? Yes. That is the same everywhere. 
And where people used to pull out cameras to take pictures of the Hagia Sofia, these days, the sanctuary there is a sea of iPhones and Galaxies snapping away with their fake shutter sounds. 
Dads cooing to their babies and holding their little girls' hands while they chat and exasperated moms yelling at whining kids. Proud new moms with their babies wrapped tightly to their body and dads barking commands at their rambunctious sons. They are the same in any language or accent. Be they wearing a kilt or a burqa, these families are familiar. Sense of family changes little when you cross cultural lines. The values of the families differ, but the general life of the family is essentially the same nonetheless. 
Every where I went this summer, there was pride in home. In Scotland, we were received by a number of churches and pastors who were so excited to share with us what they were doing. One of the guys in our group wound up joining in an impromptu jam session in a pub with some locals. In Turkey - a country where in many areas tourism is taking over all other trades - we were met with such pride and joy in the sharing of peoples' homes and lives that we were overwhelmed. Everywhere we went, we were met with the introductory question of "Coffee, tea, apple tea?" (Which is not a question of if you would like one of these things, but is a question of which do you want because you're definitely getting one.) Even in a rug store at the grand bazaar, the endearing elderly man running the shop insisted that we have apple tea while looking at the wares. One man described with great pride how his family's livelihood changed from one based in agriculture to one of hospitality toward visitors to the country. There was not a hint of resent in his story at all. 

This all sort of made me wonder if part of our problem getting along with people of other cultures and ethnicities and nationalities is that we so often focus on the differences rather than what we have in common. Differences are what make us unique, but we tend to focus only on those. When there is no balance between appreciation of uniqueness and commonality, the result is fear. We fear that which is different and unfamiliar, but we're bored by too much sameness. 

Today's travel question for you is: What have you found that people seem to have in common all over the world (or at least in a very different place than whatever is home for you)?

[1] Adams, Douglas (2007-12-18). The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy . Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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