Posted by A Colin Treadwell
Posted in: Musings From Colin Treadwell
“We are the world. The world is you and me.”
– Jiddu Krishnamurti
Most of the people I know who work in the travel industry are fueled by a deep-seated belief that travel is good not only for yourself, but for the world.
That’s the kind of transcendent meaning that helps give a person the strength to get out of bed every morning and fight the battle of earning a livelihood. It helps to believe that what you do has some value beyond producing a weekly paycheck.
I believe they are right. Travel is good for the world. It promotes friendship, goodwill and understanding among the peoples of the world. Friendly encounters between foreigners happen every day millions of times around the world. And all those events added together are a significant part of what makes the world what it is day by day.
Perhaps it is not as clear to those who have not discovered the joy of travel, but it doesn’t take long when encountering people in other countries to touch upon your common humanity, the basic human essence we all share.
When you realise your commonality with people in other countries it makes it hard to think of going to war against them. No one said it better than Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
Travel expands your frame of reference. It jars you out of narrow views and makes it hard not to feel some feelings of friendship or affection for people you may have seen as foreigners.
The same is true in reverse. When we visit a foreign country and treat people well, generate good feeling around our presence, that will be part of how they think of your country. It really does promote understanding and world peace.
The world situation is a conglomerate of millions of individual situations. While you can’t singlehandedly turn around the world situation, you can make a difference within your own sphere. And that difference added to the actions of millions of others is something huge.
There is no way to calculate the effects of your actions. We hear stories of people whose lives were changed by the kindness of one person. A single act of kindness can reverberate from person to person and spread far and wide.
This is happening around the world every day. Though it may not reach the headlines, it is one of the most important things happening. When they say “love makes the world go round,” there is something to it.
For every cruel act we hear about on the news, there are millions of people just conducting their lives in their own spheres, getting along with their neighbors and taking care of their families. This is the rule. The violent news story is the aberration.
Every time you spread goodwill among people in a foreign country you are helping. Not only people in the travel industry, but also individual travellers can claim this higher purpose. When you travel you are a personal ambassador for your country. Whatever goodwill you generate between yourself and someone else spreads some good in your corner of the world.
Today’s instant global communications and rapid international transportation put us closer to our international neighbors than ever before. It is more important than ever to conduct ourselves as good ambassadors when we travel abroad.
There was one trip I always remember for the way the experience shattered my stereotypes and helped me become a better ambassador.
I travelled to Egypt soon after a grisly terrorist attack had scared many people away. When I left home many people thought it was unsafe. Once I got there, however, it felt fine. There were security officers always visible at the tourist sites and never a sense of danger. The Egyptian people were welcoming and grateful for our presence because their tourism businesses were suffering.
Then one afternoon in the giant metropolis of Cairo I got separated from my group and lost my way. Not only could I not read the street signs, I couldn’t even recognize the letters of the Arabic alphabet. I was like a helpless child, unable to speak the language to ask for help. I was sorely embarrassed that my group would be looking for me.
When I first realized I was lost, I was in a fury, wandering in circles trying to figure out where I was, marching right through the middle of the chaotic Egyptian traffic, oblivious to the crowded vehicles. And people were letting me pass.
I found someone who could speak English to ask directions to the hotel and was soon headed in the right direction. Gradually my mood calmed as I walked along many blocks of unpaved streets, past rows of concrete block buildings with open fronts and dirt floors. All the time the thought of danger was at the back of my mind. At one point I found myself in a particularly seedy area and wondered if I was still on the right track.
I approached a young Egyptian man in one of the roadside hovels for help. The fear of danger flared up in the back of my mind as I approached this unknown man. How did I know he would not kill me? I was obviously out of my element with no protection. But the moment our eyes met I found myself looking upon a very kind young man. There was no trace of malevolence. He showed me the way to the hotel. I felt ridiculous for my fears.
I realized at that moment that the Egyptians I was encountering were innocent compared to me. I had grown up seeing actors every day on TV shooting each other. But the Egyptians I encountered knew nothing of that. If they had TVs at all, they had little programming. They weren’t fed violence by TV on a daily basis as I had been. I know they have violence in their world too. But in my encounters with Egyptians, my feeling was that they were more inherently peaceful than I was. Suddenly the tables were turned and I felt protective of this young man.
When I finally reached my hotel, I realized that not only had no one menaced me, no one had even made a rude gesture toward me. Even as I was marching through the middle of traffic, people tolerated me.
I was not a good ambassador for my country that day. And yet, I can’t say I made waves. The Egyptians had taken my presence in stride.
What I experienced that day helped me to become a better ambassador in the future. I had been thrown out of my comfort zone and encountered real Egyptians on their turf without any protection. And I found I didn’t need any. I found that the most dangerous thing I encountered in Egypt was myself.
It was one of many travel experiences that have shown me that people in other countries are mostly decent, kind people, just like back home.
I hope you meet some of them on your next trip.
Until next time, I bid you farewell and happy travels.
Your humble reporter,
A. Colin Treadwell