Travel in itself is incredible: Visual stimulation makes us aware of a broader world; exploring a new environment deepens our olfactory senses; tasting local cuisine strengthens our taste buds. But what makes travel inspiring is not a superficial combing of a foreign space. To travel inspired is to engage in the local community. Learn about their customs, greet others in the local context, arise and sleep on their schedule. These interactions define cross cultural interactions. The shared experience changes everyone involved.
Three weeks ago I sat outside overlooking thirty five acres of pristine animal farmland- a few pastures that house three horses and countless sheep and goats, an expansive open field where a lawn tractor is its closest intimate partner, and dozens of acres overgrown with buckthorn and downed trees, which, over time, clearing them has become my greatest domestic escape. The effort to maintain the farm’s namesake, Serenity Farm, can often be anything but. It is a daily reminder that in order to enjoy the things we love, we must sacrifice other passions.
That day pondering life, love and the meaning of was the eve of my departure from an unimaginable amount of security, where when I want something, I get in my car and drive to the store of my choice and purchase the item that will fulfill my desire. Even better, I am privileged with the audacity to dream up some crazy idea, call it my destiny and pursue my passion with little interference. (It is important to understand at this point that the use of I and my is deliberate. This attachment to self can be a great implement used to plow the fields of our life, where the seeds of happiness and compassion can be planted and harvested for the betterment of all, but it seems instead, narcissistic seeds thrive because an attachment to I depletes necessary nutrients for prosperous cultivation).
As the sunlight of eve faded into tomorrow, I arose with the familiar sensations of leaving home; anticipation, excitement, bewilderment, hesitation. Even as the majority of my Passport is filled with Visas from the same country, I always find myself asking why- why leave the extreme comforts of home for something lesser known?
For people who do not have the urge to go; for those with an unfathomable amount of disinterest in cultures beyond their own; if your well-worn daily path imbeds you in a halcyon existence, understanding the why becomes inexplicably futile, but, strangely, it is completely accurate that when people come to know me they say, “I wish I could do that.”
An inexcusably hot, humid, rainy environment, especially for midnight, welcomed me once again in Cambodia. With a tangible to-do list in hand, I walked through the airport into the open air arrivals area scanning darkened faces of Khmer people eagerly awaiting their family member to appear out of the brightness; me, for friends of my own. “The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you did not even consider to ask” (a wise quote from the documentary 180 South). And even though a crystallization has been undergoing for five years, I was about to relearn the effects that not only I receive from traveling, but the impressions I impose on others during these cultural exchanges.
In Western cultures, it is commonplace for people of the opposite sex to interact freely in day to day life. We meet with limited concerns, share stories about trials and tribulations, walk close together, eat prolonged dinners in the same company, and engage in fun activities like going to the beach or being entertained at summer festivals. The opposite sex cohabitates seamlessly. Some cultures in the East, such as Cambodia, are diametrically different.
When I first met my female Khmer friend, she would only speak under her breath at the market, or one notable night, insisted she walk one hundred yards behind to prevent stigmatization. Her meeting me at the airport- good Khmer girls are not away from the home after 8pm- with her younger female cousin spoke volumes to how a cross cultural interaction can influence life. When we become too insular in our ways, myopia creeps in like hypertension. It is preventable, but without thinking about how our current actions affect our future self, we settle in to what is comfortable, blurring the ability to rapidly see a change and adjust for its negative effects.
In order to inspire others, it can be said we need to inspire ourselves. That can be done by overcoming the greatest fear of all: the fear of the unknown and deviating just slightly from your daily path. The opportunities that arise will deepen the meaning of your life, strengthening your current bonds and importantly so, nudging your new friend in an unanticipated positive direction.