At the one year milestone of our journey, Darren writes about what he has learned so far from our around-the-world expedition. In Part 2 of this story, Darren shares some of the ways he has grown personally during the journey and his reactions to what we have seen and witnessed to date. Part 1 of the story can be read here.
In Part 1 of this story, I focused on just a few of the things we have witnessed as we have been traveling around the world for the past year in an effort to raise geography awareness. Now I would like to discuss of the personal effects of what we have seen.
My Personal Growth
You cannot take a long term trip like Trekking the Planet and remain unchanged. For example, we have learned to live in a smaller space. We recently spent 32 days traveling by ship across the Atlantic Ocean. The 200 square-foot cabin on our ship seemed downright spacious compared with the shoe boxes that we have stayed in at various stops along our journey. Along with less space, we find that we do not need as much stuff. When you need to physically carry (or pull) all of your own gear, you cannot help but constantly reevaluate what is crucial and what you can do without. We sent items home on four occasions – in Hawaii, Singapore, Germany and Florida.
Trekking the Planet has made us far less “fussy”. It is not possible to have everything just the way you want it when traveling, in general, and definitely when traveling “off the grid”. I found I have much less patience with people who complain about a trifle. That is because compared to so much of the world, those of us in the West live like kings and queens. We have also gained an appreciation for what we have in the United States. For example, when staying in the developing world, you do not dare wash your toothbrush off with tap water (it could make you sick). During many of our stays, we lost power. In one city that we visited in Nepal, there were planned outages where the power goes off at predetermined times (our hotel even had these times posted since they were different for each day of the week).
We have been amazed time and time again by the kindness and helpfulness of strangers that we have encountered around the world. It has been our experience that people seem genuinely pleased to meet someone from the U.S. In Sweden during our trek on the Kungsleden trail, we met a father/son team from the Netherlands. During the day, we passed each other several times while we each took turns taking breaks. At one point, the father stopped us as we were passing by and asked where we were from. You should have seen his face when we said we were from the United States. It was a like he had discovered a rare species or found a precious gem. We had the same experience in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where an elderly man came to us (not knowing exactly where we were from) and, in Uzbek, apologized for the rain that day and expressed his best wishes to us. While taking photos at the Shah-I-Zinda mausoleum later that day, we caught the locals taking pictures of us!
Finally, the world got bigger during this trip in the sense that we are now interested in so many more subjects. The fact that we have visited and developed friendships in countries, such as Nepal, Kenya and Jordan, has caused us to care about what happens there. Now, when we run across an article about these places, we are much more likely to read it. I think that interacting with students, both the ones who are following our journey and the ones we have met during our school visits on the road, has helped us to see the world differently and through new eyes. No kidding, the students of a 7th grade class in rural Kenya asked us no fewer than 50 questions about the U.S. during our recent visit. In a way, I believe we see things more clearly now.
On our Trekking the Planet journey, we have been nearly always on the move, packing or unpacking, seeing sights or recording our reactions, eating or sleeping. On land, we have not stayed in one place for more than five nights in the last year. When this trip is over, I am tempted to find a quiet place in the world and just reflect. But, this would be totally out of character for both Sandy and me. We tend to be very active and want to continue to make a difference somehow.
With so many problems in the world, it is easy to simply throw up your hands in frustration. What can one person (or a couple) do, given the staggering number and size of the problems facing the human race? Even trying to select a few options is difficult. Where should we even start? However, after thinking about this problem for a while, I decided that I do not need THE answer, only the next step. Wherever this step puts me, the next one can only be clearer than it is now. Right? But, what is the next step?
With about two months to go on this journey, this question is one that Sandy and I are spending time discussing. So, honestly, we are still working on the answer. Hopefully, by the time we return home at the end of March, we will have some ideas of how we can continue to make a difference going forward.