So last night I was invited over to a mate’s place in the complex where I live, then was asked to fetch my guitar for a few tunes.
I found myself playing guitar, singing songs, drinking and chatting the evening away in the company of a guy from Chile, two German girls, a Brazilian girl, a Germanic Aussie guy, a Pakistani male, a Pommy guy and an American girl (though we call her the Mexican). I had only just missed catching up with an Indian girl and a lady who is a fellow Jersey bean from the original Jersey in the English Channel Islands. Meanwhile across the courtyard, people from France and Sri Lanka were sitting on their balconies. (We even allow Kiwi’s to live here!)
Is it any wonder that it reminded me of my 14 years running a Perth-based backpacker hostel?
I reflected this morning on that trans-global mixture and thought to myself, ‘How lucky are we in this day and age of xenophobic nonsense being stirred up by the likes of Donald Trump, that we can share the nuances and subtleties of our cultural differences with nothing other than joy and friendship.’
We laughed about the complications of learning different languages. Everyone present knew at least a minimum of several phrases in other languages, while some of us could converse in two or more tongues.
If you’ve never had the chance to travel, the next best thing you can do to broaden your mind is to meet up with people from other countries, ask them about their culture, their language, and their beliefs and keep an open mind. You’ll find that beneath the apparent differences and even the humorous stereotypes, people are all basically the same, no matter where they’re from.
They all want to smile, to laugh, to sing, to socialise and to have fun with friends.
If only we could get that same message and feeling across to the extremists of the world and agree to live and let live. Whether you’re an atheist, or you believe in God, Allah, Brahman, Jehovah, Ra, Baha, Waheguru, Thor or Sir Alex Ferguson, as far as I know, and correct me if I’m wrong, none of those religions believe in the random destruction of the rest of humanity.
So my Christmas message for you is one that my parents have drummed into me from my childhood – “There are good and bad in all nationalities”. The sub-text is, ‘So don’t discriminate against people just because of the colour of their skin, where they were born or what they have been brought up to believe’. To discriminate is the act of a closed mind and I can assure you that you will have a lot more fun in life if you overcome the fear of the differences between people and instead learn to embrace them as part of your education and personal development.
In 2007 I remember sitting in Dahab at the Red Sea, chatting with our Egyptian dive instructors over our lunch break. Achmed and Abdul (yes they really were their names) wanted to know how their country was portrayed in Western media. They wanted to know what we thought of them and what we were being told by our television stations. They were genuinely lovely people and we had some really interesting chats, fantastic diving experiences and a wonderful time. As we travelled through Egypt we had guides called Sharif and Mohammed, who was a Coptic Christian. I can tell you that he was delighted when we called him from Australia several months later to wish him a happy birthday.
As a former hostel owner, raised in family hotels, I already had friends from all over the world who had visited me, but as I have travelled more myself I have made new friends in many countries and I love it. I’ve also learnt a lot of important things:
- I’ve learned that people can be happy whilst living even in extreme poverty, like the kids I saw kicking a football between two sticks on a beach in the Solomon Islands with no sign of an X-Box or an I-pad
- I’ve learned that people can re-examine their beliefs, like Nick the Russian Israeli who confessed to killing twelve Arabs because he had been brought up to hate them, yet wept as he told me he now knew that was wrong
- I’ve learned that children are fascinated with travellers and new technology, like the group of kids who posed for a team photo on the island of Tulagi and giggled with wonder when they saw their own image on the screen
- I’ve learned that a whole family plus babies and pets can balance on a motor bike in Cairo and Bali alike
- I’ve learnt that porters as old as 60 on the Inca Trail of Peru can run at high altitude carrying 25kg loads in their backpacks, and do it with a smile on their face
- I’ve learnt from our guide, Lewis in the Amazon jungle that you can find a specific plant to heal just about anything – though the pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know this!
- I’ve learnt that music unites people from the Samba tunes of Brazil, to the flute tunes of Peru or the airport band in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. One of my favourite stories is when I played with a band in Papua New Guinea and ended up helping them to score a regular resort gig for that band when they brought their instruments across by boat from one island to the other
- I learnt as our Yucatan tour guide, Maurizio pretended to sacrifice me to the Gods that the Mayans regarded such a ritual as an extreme honour to die for your community because your passing secured the sun and the rain for your people
- I’ve learnt that strangers can look out for you and help you without any thought of recompense, like our hotel security man in Cancun who warned us about the extortion Police further along the sands or our underwater videographer who pulled my partner out of a strong current in the ocean at East Borneo
- I’ve learnt that people love their families and friends everywhere in the world and that a stranger may just be a friend you haven’t yet met
I could continue on for days and still not recount or even remember everyone who has touched my life in an amazing way, so I’ll sum it up with this thought:
Travel and/or meeting other people from around the world will broaden your mind and lead you to new discoveries about our amazing planet and about yourself. Just open your mind and your heart.
Have an awesome festive season and may your God go with you.