Same Basics with a Different Twist

by Tamara A.

Volunteer with Peruvian girlsPerhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.  -Maya Angelou

It is easy to point out differences.  Different skin color.  Different clothing.  Different food.  Different languages.  Different religions.  The world is filled with incredible diversity.  The number of unique cultures within our global community is fascinating.  Learning about the various traditions that exist outside of our own country and see the differing ways of life is a great way to expand our perspective.  However, while I think it is very important for us to learn about and be tolerant of those things that differ from community to community, it is perhaps more important for us to recognize the underlying humanity that unites us all.

On the surface, our differences are obvious and sometimes are all that people see.  It is getting beyond this level, beyond the superficial, to understand we are all rooted in the same basics that some people struggle with.  Whether an individual lives in Sub-Sahara Africa, the mountains of Chile, or rural Mississippi, each individual exists with the same needs, desires, and emotions as the next person.

I made my debut on the international scene at 12 years old.  I signed up with a People to People group to visit Australia. (A good start to get into traveling; Australia is different enough from the US without having complete culture shock.)  That is pretty much when my addiction started.  It had since grown to a full-blown problem where I think of amounts of money in terms of plane tickets and am basing career choices on my ability to have time to travel for weeks or months at a time.

Originally, it was my eagerness to take in the different cultures, traditions, foods, etc. that fueled my desire to keep exploring new parts of the world.  However, as I continued crossing borders and started to see places that had extreme differences from my American culture, I became addicted for a whole other reason: seeing the manifestation of the same human needs and characteristics every single location I visited.

One time this really became obvious was during my stint in Peru.  For my 3 months there, I worked in a small town called San Isidro with children from the ages of 6 to 15.  The initial observations about this community and these children revolved around the poverty that existed, the harsh working conditions for these families, and the lack of adequate housing.  As I spent more time with the children, I started to realize that the things that initially shocked me about their community were not the things that they focused on.  The more that I got to know them, the more I realized that they were exactly like children that I knew and worked with in the United States.  Strip back the housing, clothing, language, etc., and I was left with a handful of preteens and teenagers that complained about their homework, got crabby if they didn’t get the snack that they wanted, and were mostly preoccupied with the fellow classmate that they were currently “in love” with.  That’s when it dawned on me.  Kids are the same everywhere in the world.

And the same is true for the rest of the humanity…no matter what the age.  We all need nourishment.  We all need shelter.  We all value family.  We all have happy moments and sad moments.  There is a lot that unites us.  We just need to embrace that rather than those things that separate.

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