These days, I’m spending a lot of time working my way through journals, notes, and old blogs, trying to sum up four months of rough travel in South America to see what I might have to say to the world in another book. If you have been following this blog, you understand that my main take on foreign countries is that they are basically safe places, filled with people who have the same needs and aspirations as we in America do. You also know that these countries might not be as comfortable as home, and you’ve heard me grumble about temperature, toilets, local food, broken sidewalks… and who knows what all?
But, my bottom line is that if I, at the age of seventy-one, can hack backpacking and hosteling for long periods of time, all by myself, with limited cash…..then, something about our common fears concerning foreign countries is simply groundless. You all know what “common fears” I’m talking about: every one of those nameless, faceless terrors, summed up in the one word – Danger – all of which come to mind when we contemplate placing ourselves in the midst of any society that is different from our own.
Well, where do these fears come from, I ask? I’ll tell you where!
They originate with our fellow American travelers who return from an “exotic” place without much of a story. Frankly, nothing really happened to them to whomp up a good audience at the dinner table or the watercooler. Or, worse yet, they have nothing much to write an exciting column about once they return to their newspaper desk and the expectant editor who allowed them three weeks off to visit friends in Bolivia, for instance.
Yesterday’s St. Petersburg Times carried one of these inseminating sort of articles, which plant new terror in the heart of a reader, or confirm an already-existing terror about a poor, innocent country that is really not all that bad.
It’s a cheap shot! I know exactly how it feels to sit at my desk, back home, wanting to write something fantastic about my trip. Wanting to wow an audience. Wanting to sell my book. Wanting to cash in on the faulty currency of misinformation about the state of the world, so that I will look brave for staring it down. But, I would be selling my soul to add one more lie to the commonly-held myth that the world is, essentially, this terrible and dangerous place. AND, that, Praise be God!!!, we Americans just happen to live in the best of all worlds! Halleluhah, clap, clap!
I, too, am always glad to get back home! Things do look better here. But, it’s very likely that Bolivians are also glad to return to their hometown, as well, after roaming countries strange to them. We all like our own beds, our own kitchens, our own habits. Not all foreigners live on the streets.
Okay, let’s take a look at the article I’m venting about. Bill Maxwell’s regular column in yesterday’s Sunday St. Pete Times, headlined: “On travel, terror and living to tell the tale.” This is a form of Terrorism that we usually don’t think of as terrorism. But, it does destroy something necessary to the spread of peace among human beings. It reinforces the suspicion that poorer countries are places of lurking danger; that we might be mugged, or attacked for our differences; and that their smelly public toilets really place them in a less-than-human condition. The worst part of it is, that I have a strong suspicion that these were not this writer’s honest opinions. I believe the actual case is, that he had a mildly good time during this trip and that he probably enjoyed this visit to old friends, but he needed to beef up his story upon return.
Have you never been in that situation yourself? I’m in it right now. But, if I can’t find any more to say about my four-month, South American explorations, then shame on me.
My gosh, he makes such a deal out of being momentarily separated, at a La Paz parade, from his host family; out of his lack of the Spanish language; of how his gray hair and height sets him apart from the short, dark-haired people. This man is a world traveler, with many countries under his belt, so I suspect he was sensationalizing here, and reaching for pretty thin material, at that.
Plus, every traveler has to talk about the toilets. So many places offer this pungent shock value. But, they do the best they can with what they’ve got, and it’s so widespread that we “materialized ones,” with our taken-for-granted flush power, had better just take it in stride, rather than trying to save up for only our host’s, or our hotel’s, facilities.
What gets me is that everything he said in his column applied to me all of the time. Not just in Bolivia, but throughout the whole continent. I didn’t have a local family to run interference or to serve as translators, either. But, this was merely background for my everyday experiences. Yes, I might have fussed about being cold a lot and not particularly liking some of the food, but I didn’t couch the whole business as if it were a danger. I truly believe that it wasn’t personally perceived as a danger to him as well. until he needed to make a big deal out of his big adventure for the folks back home.
As a culture, we Americans palpate way too much for my tastes, and these trumped-up, first person reports are one of the reasons why.
To back up my own radical views, I invite you to read my first book about backpacking around the world, alone, for a year, throughout many such “dangerous” countries, as a senior citizen on a limited budget. You can find it on this blogsite. Or check out “Hey Boomers! Dust Off Your Backpacks” by Linda J. Brown, on Amazon.com, to see how it’s possible to fuss about international inconveniences, but not to terrorize with them.