Monday, November 16, 2015

Oh the Humanity

This is an article I wrote a year ago for a travel magazine that was never published.  
I'm posting it today in light of the tragedy in Paris.

In this day and age of ISIS and Ebola, it’s easy to lose faith in humanity.  Corrupt politicians and religious leaders are everywhere.  As are natural disasters and seemingly indiscriminate shootings.  How can anyone even consider traveling in times like these?   But, the real question is, how can we afford not to?

I’m as disheartened as anyone else watching the news.  The truth is, I don’t watch it very often anymore.  Because it’s always heartbreaking and I always come away feeling depressed about the things I can’t change in the world.  Fear stemming from hatred exacerbated by regimes resulting in devastation and destruction. Tearing the world further apart, rather than bringing it closer together. 

I’m just one person with a long list of things that I’m not good at or qualified to do.  And Secretary of State, nurse, executive director of an NGO and missionary are very near the top of that extensive list.  Leaving me feeling isolated and helpless to help solve the many problems of the world.  Although it’s a lie.   None of us are insignificant unless we choose to be.  Humans are industrious and adaptable, but never helpless.  

I’ve seen it in my travels all over the world and it restores my hope in humanity.   People are not the politics that govern them, nor the faith that guides them or the economics that may impede them.  In the words of Depeche Mode, “People are people.”  Though our politics, faiths and economics may be vastly divergent, we all share the same basic needs of safety, health and freedom.  We are all simply human. 

Which I witnessed first hand in Egypt in March 2011, immediately after Arab Spring.  Of course I didn’t realize when I bought the tickets two weeks before the revolution that I’d be a witness to history.  Nor did I realize how important it was for Egyptians to see tourists.  Especially at the end of their tourist season in the aftermath of change heading into a long unsure winter. The Egyptians I met on that trip gave me hope that real change, brought about by real every day people is possible.  And I gave them hope that the world still cared about them by simply being there and helping to stimulate their economy one Egyptian Pound at a time.  

I know it doesn’t seem like much.  After all, I didn’t cure anyone of a life threatening disease.  I didn’t change any policies.  But maybe, just maybe, I brought a smile to someone’s face.  Or bread to their table.  And at most, maybe something about me being there changed someone’s perspective on the world, if only for a little while.

When I was at a rug shop in Turkey, I know I did just that.  My husband and I were talking to the shop owner for quite some time about his hand made carpets and his kebab restaurant next door as our kids listened quietly and intently, the way they do when strangers are around.  That’s when he asked the inevitable travel question, “Where are you from?”  When we told him we were American, he refused to believe us and insisted we must be European.  Was it the temporarily obedient children?  Or because we weren’t wearing the stereotypical American uniform of jeans, sneakers and baseball caps?  It was neither.   “You can’t be American!  You’re not fat!”, he exclaimed.  Oddly, he was Turkish, and didn’t have a unibrow.  Go figure.  

On a trip to Italy, I expected that Italians wouldn’t look kindly upon us, traveling with four small children in tow.  I was positive that European children would be much better behaved than my extremely jet lagged American children I was forcing to march thorough the streets of Rome.  What I didn’t expect was for my children to be doted on everywhere we went.  For, get this, their good behavior.  Which to me, didn’t seem very good at all, especially while I was trying to force them to appreciate a foreign culture.   In their defense, they did appreciate the food in Italy a lot though.   

I was living in Morocco when a tsunami struck Japan in 2011.  I was devastated listening to the death toll and destruction.  I’d never been to Japan nor did I have any ties there. But, I had nothing but empathy. That’s when an old friend from high school contacted me about something completely unrelated.  Her uncle was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive cancer and didn’t have money for treatment.  Could I write something her family could use to fundraise on his behalf?  I couldn’t help anyone in Japan.  But this, this I could do.  And it didn’t even require me traveling anywhere except into the creativity of my own mind, to help someone who needed it.  Someone half way around the world from me that I’d never met.  

Sometimes traveling leads you to an exotic destination, sometimes it’s a dream of faraway places while you’re on a staycation in your own home.  Travel is an opportunity to think outside the box and go on an inner journey to the depths of humanity.    To realize that changing the world starts small from inside each one of us.  With an open mind, choosing love over hate, starting in our own communities.   And if we don’t make the journey what hope does humanity have?

ADDENDUM:  I have  Warning to the West by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn an extremely relevant book in these turbulent times in my reading queue.  


Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

This is a very good message, Marie. And it means a lot coming from you, who have taken your children to explore many different places and cultures. I've seen too much on Facebook about "we love Paris and its beautiful lights/parks/neighborhoods/cafes" etc. And too little sympathy for the people of Baghdad, Syria, etc. Travel versus tourism, and sympathy for people who look like us, I guess. It's partly human nature; I'm in no position to judge. Sigh. But good for you for making _somebody's_ life better and reminding us to look around because somebody needs our help.

Marie Loerzel said...

@Nancy-Your comment brought me to tears! And you're exactly right, why do we have less sympathy for people who don't look like us?

Penelope said...

You sound like that rare breed of Americans who are culturally aware and can fit in anywhere. If you didn't appear American, that is actually a compliment. People like you have a certain air about them that people in foreign countries recognize and appreciate. I've seen that happen over and over in Mexico where a certain type of foreigner fits in. It wasn't your well-behaved kids though that probably helped, but your and your husband's attitude. But then, you've lived abroad and imbibed another culture in a way that few Americans do, and that shows when you're abroad.

Mackenzie Glanville said...

so well said and written, I couldn't agree more. So many suffering in so many countries! You are a beautiful person x

Marie Loerzel said...

@penelope @mackenzie-Thank you so much!

Cathy Tittle said...

This was so well said Marie. I am in California right now with a lot of time on my hands and have been watching more news on TV than I normally do. One of the most touching stories I saw was about a Syrian family who spent two years jumping through hoops to relocate in the US.The man said very simply, "I am not dangerous, my family does not believe in violence and we just want to live in peace". He then went on to say with tears in his eyes that he was worried about his mother and family still in Syria. How tragic to be caught in the middle of all the violence, uprooted from your home and culture and relocated in a country that is foreign to you. I only hope that the people who live around this man (who spoke no English when he got here but has rapidly learned to communicate in a language not his own) remember that this country is founded on refugees and safe haven. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty says it perfectly:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door." (Emma Lazarus)

How appropriate that this inscription is on one of our most beloved landmarks, a symbol of our country's freedom, given us by France, a friend who now suffers from an act of senseless terrorism. But to turn against a culture or country because of a group determined to cause chaos and death condemns innocent people who are as much the victims as the citizens of France. All good people all over the world must unite with one voice to bring these isolationists down.

And that is my two cents as I see it. Excellent post Marie. Very thought provoking.

Marie Loerzel said...

@Cathy-Oh my heart breaks for that poor man. I can only home that Americans will embrace and welcome him and that his family in Syria stays out of harm's way!


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