travel & cross-cultural connection

Friends greet each other in Kisumu, Kenya.

Friends greet each other in Kisumu, Kenya.

It's no secret that I love travel -- I love seeing beautiful scenery, bathing on beautiful beaches, walking through exotic city streets.  But what I love the most, by far, is connecting with someone local:  learning about their culture, seeing the best of their country through their proud eyes, discovering that we are more alike than different.  And if we manage to do this without speaking each other's language, even better.  

Many years ago, when I was in my early 30s, I traveled with two girlfriends to the south of France.  There, in this little town of Avignon, we met up with a group of friends.  We met them through a young man from Peru, who was selling Peruvian jewelry in the town square; after my girlfriends and I had dinner, he invited us to join him and a group of his friends to share a bottle of wine and some music.  So there were were, sitting against one of the great walls of the Palais des Papes until about 4 in the morning, drinking wine, and singing songs like "Take me Home, Country Roads" along with one of his friends who magically produced a guitar along the way.  The best part?  None of us could speak in each others' languages:  our Peruvian friend's companions only spoke Spanish or French; luckily he spoke all three, so he could translate all of our jokes to each other.  

It was a magical night.  And while I never saw them again after that evening, they still often come to mind.  I can't remember what we had for dinner that evening, or even what I was wearing, but I can remember details of the faces of the people I spent time with, almost 20 years ago, with crystal clarity.

I can't help but think that if we all had more interactions like that -- where we are forced to communicate, where we're open to learning about individuals, and their backgrounds, hobbies, what they think is funny -- we'd start to be open to the races, genders, nationalities, religions that they are members of as a whole.  I'm not sure how to manufacture those sorts of interactions outside of travel, but dammit, I'm going to figure out a way.

I've been thinking about this since seeing this cool little comic book story my friend Malaka a couple of days ago. In it, Malaka, who is half-Filipino and half-Egyptian, tells the story about the first time she fell in love:  it involves teenage angst, a North African beach, and a kite.  It's so charming, and exactly what I'm talking about, above.  (And to see more of her comic books about growing up biracial and bicultural, check out her other Instagram feed, I Was Their American Dream.)

May we create numerous ways to connect with people who are different from us this year.  


Soundtrack:  Me voy by Ibeyi, featuring Mala Rodríguez