When I crossed the border from Botswana into Zimbabwe in 2009 I had travelled to 50 countries. This odyssey is chronicled in my book The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries. I feel fortunate to have been able to see so much of this beautiful planet, but really I planned it that way.
Ever since that first trip to Europe as trombone player in my high school jazz band, I was bound and determined that I would always have a cash reserve to pay for that next plane ticket and that I would never let a job get it the way of traveling. As such, any kind of “career” was out of the question. The act of travel was just too important.
Most people take vacations; a week in Cancun at some all-inclusive fenced in zoo, a few days at Disney World, a bus tour to Branson. Travel is different. Travel is no vacation. The root word of travel is the Latin “travail”, which means, “to suffer; to endure”. That 58-hour third-class train from Bombay to the southern tip of India qualified, as did that 46-hour hard seat-class number out of Shanghai. But with all the hardship comes a deep appreciation of humanity that I feel many Americans have lost in a fog of cynicism.
That Filipino farmer, who opened his door to strangers at 10:00 PM, then butchered one of his three hogs the next day in our honor. That Nicaraguan campesino, who butchered his only cow to feed a bus load of strangers. That Indonesian hotel owner who whipped up an herbal concoction that his father passed down, that instantly chased the bug from our ailing bellies. That New Zealand Green Party MP, who left us to watch her home for three days after meeting us just 12 hours before she left.
There is something in travel that brings out the best of humanity, something in nomadic living that brings us closer to the Creator. When we settle into one place for too long it seems that petty bickering takes precedent over bigger battles and a mindset of “our bio-region is better than yours, our place is the most special” predominates all discussions”, and fear-based cliques decide and cement the status quo even as they claim to be the “alternative community”.
There is something innately corrupting about sedentary living. At it’s most basic level, maybe it comes down to the notion of having to constantly guard all your stuff from the interloper, policing your all-important property against intruders, becoming a full-time paranoid in what is as we all know, a very dangerous world out there.
The paradox is that when I am traveling in a foreign land I often feel safer and more welcome than when I am home. Travel has schooled me to have empathy for the poor, especially the black and brown poor because their version of poor is something that 99% of white folks will never understand. Travel has taught me to live simply with few possessions- like most of the world lives. And it has instructed me in the area of self-sufficiency: how to build a simple building with no power tools, how to grow food in average soil, how to save your own seeds, how to do laundry in a river, how to cook over fire, rain or shine. In short, travel has taught me how to live.
More importantly, travel strengthens my faith in humanity. There have been times in my life when I have felt it necessary to get out of the USA because of the negative energy and cynicism which seems to have come to define the thinking of folks across the political spectrum. I have no answer as to what produces this cynicism. Is it a white middle-class disease of affluence? Is it a powerlessness that derives from life in the belly of the military/industrial beast? Is it 40 years of right-wing talk radio telling us to be suspicious of the motives of the individual while resigning ourselves to the “inevitable” corporate takeover of our government? I don’t know the answer.
I hope that you will all keep the faith. No more bad dreams.
Dean Henderson is the author of four books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Das Kartell der Federal Reserve & Stickin’ it to the Matrix. You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @ www.deanhenderson.wordpress.com