The Journey series
This week’s Mustard Seed carries on with the wealth of experience I gained from my late 1970`s European tour. I firmly believe our teens, our countries, and our society would be better served if the senior year of high school was spent abroad.
Short, packaged tours don`t expose people quite the same way. Vacationers tend to bring their own culture along with them. In LeHavre, France I got stuck behind two rather slow obvious tourists. I overheard one remark to her companion, “Aren't these children clever. They all speak foreign languages.” They were, of course, speaking French.
In Athens, a woman dressed in black high-heeled shoes, a polyester dress with large purple polka dots, and a wide-brimmed straw hat bound with a navy ribbon waddled along ahead of me down the stone path leading from the Acropolis. I overheard her Brooklyn accent declare, “I don’t like it here. Everything is broken. All you see is ruins, ruins, ruins.”
I myself, despite travelling away from home for several days, didn’t appreciate how far away I was until crossing the Firth of Forth as I drove to St Andrews, Scotland. This is that place in the atlas! It was no longer just an amusing name on a map. And I was there.
In Germany I gained an appreciation of history. We happened upon a mill house on the 500th anniversary of the date etched into the stone dedication plaque above its door. This place is old! Nothing I`d encountered in North America put me in such awe of time. Columbus hadn`t even set sail for America when that building was erected.
I experienced the divine and mystical in cathedrals I visited throughout Europe. I was brought up attending one of the oldest and grandest churches in Vancouver but I suppose there hadn’t yet been enough prayers prayed there to impart the holiness I sensed in those grand structures. There I sensed an inexplicable serenity and comfort.
We kept heading east. A few weeks after arriving in Iran my sister’s appetite for adventure wore thin, as did our wallets. She travelled home with what money we had left and I found a job teaching English to replenish my pockets.
I rented a house with four fellow expat teachers. Two of my room mates preferred drinking beer and two preferred reading. I was alone in wanting to meet the locals. I learned enough Farsi to greet people, thank them, and shop for groceries. On weekends I ventured in different directions as far as time allowed.
One weekend I stumbled across a small village where each family lived in a one-roomed house built of mud bricks. Each also had half an acre to grow rice. They all greeted me with great enthusiasm. The men guided me to the home of a man who also owned two bee hives. Each hive produced five kilograms of honey twice a year. This made his family wealthy! The owner showed me his bees. He smoked the hive and very gently moved the bees about, petting them and holding them out for me to observe more closely. He retrieved a frame of honey and broke off a small piece for me to try. Other men showed up bearing trays of different foods. We sat, ate and drank tea. They smiled and chatted. Everyone was very happy. In that village I experienced simplicity.
Sending our teens to such places for a year would serve them better than buying them the latest smartphone or laptop. No amount of study with the best of technology can match experience. Living without the amenities, conveniences, and comfort of home would help them appreciate, respect, and live better with them. I know our trip made my sister and me better people.
Next week: More Wealth.
Peter T Elliott