I'm reading a book called Guests of the Sheik by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. It's a book written back in the 1960's about a village in Southern Iraq. The author and her husband lived in the village as active participants in the day to day life...the book is a description of her experiences, and the learning process as she moves from being an American outsider to a member of the community.
The book is wonderful, but what has attracted my attention even more is the realization that despite being an avid reader and a fan of PBS and BBC and the Travel Channel and despite having a group of friends that covers most of the globe, I know almost nothing about most of the world.
I know facts, I know statistics, I can identify languages and cultures and practices in an academic way. But I have spent my entire life in North America. I've been to all the states, most of the provinces of Canada and both coasts of Mexico. I've lived in the Northeastern US, in the Rockies and in the South. And yes, there are marked differences between people in Colorado and people in NYC. But the differences pale when I consider the far greater contrast between the person in Boulder, Colorado and the person in a village in China. Or between that New Yorker and a family in a coastal town in Egypt.
So why haven't I traveled more? Or at least, traveled off this continent? The reasons are many...as a child, we did 3 week family vacations to the states and provinces, visiting museums and historic homes and resorts. In college, I had the money and the time to travel further, but I was so focused on fun and the beach and road trips with my sorority sisters and classmates that I never got around to hoping on that plane to Europe or South America or Russia the way I planned to.
Then came marriage and babies, and now I'm a single working mom of three, two living with me, one with his dad, and the days rush by in a blur.
I thought of myself as fairly cosmopolitan until the life experiences of my more globally experienced friends and the contents of this book woke me up to the reality that I know almost nothing about what it feels like to live outside of my western world view.
Like most Americans, I'm afraid that I've believed, somewhere deep inside, that what was here was all I really needed to see. I am ashamed of this revelation. My paltry accomplishments in learning about other places are nothing -- they are mere academic exercises.
This summer, my girls will be away, staying with their dad from June through mid August. Perhaps it is finally time for me to break free from my narrow world and live some of the things I have only read.
A second job for a few weeks when they leave could be enough to buy my first exposure to the world I don't know. I cannot wait!!