Traveling is Learning from Others
I always encourage people to get out there, travel the world, see new things, experience new people, experience new food, experience new culture. What happens is it helps you to grow and to be your best self. ~ Karamo Brown
So I’ve been living in Mexico for almost two months and over this year have spent almost four months in foreign countries. It’s been a wild and wonderful experience. I’m fortunate in that I’m different from most people, wherever I am is home. It really only takes being someplace for a few days for my mind to adapt to thinking this place is now home. After two months in Oaxaca my mind really thinks that way about this place.
Perhaps the most awesome thing about traveling is all the learning that occurs. In being in other places you see that things can and are done differently than they are done where you live. Traffic is different, public transportation is different, food, speech the way people treat each other, customs, manners, etc… it’s sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes wonderful but always a learning experience.
Tonight I want to talk about some of the things I’ve been learning in Mexico. First, politics, it’s an interesting time being an American in Mexico considering a lot of the political rhetoric that comes out of the Whitehouse these days about Mexicans and Latin American immigrants in general. I can tell you, Donald Trump is not popular in Southern Mexico and I have been asked many times if all Americans dislike Mexicans. I assure them that my very presence should demonstrate to them that it is not the opinion of all Americans, but I’m honest as well and let them know that there is a segment of the US who is very distrusting of foreigners in general and Mexicans specifically due to the immigration issue and the political rhetoric around it.
The immigrant crisis that gets so much attention in the US is actually a much bigger issue for Mexico and in particular Southern Mexico as the countries most of these immigrants are fleeing from are on Mexico’s southern border. The immigrant caravans flow through this part of the country from several directions heading for Mexico City six hours north of Oaxaca City. Southern Mexico is one of the poorer regions of Mexico and people here have great sympathy for others who are struggling financially, especially for those who also are having to deal with oppression and violence. Unfortunately like many Americans, people here wonder what the solution to the problem is and don’t have an answer.
There’s another reason it’s been an interesting time politically to be here. The outgoing Mexican president was really unpopular and generally considered corrupt. People here are sick of government corruption. I’ve had interesting conversations about the government and in particular the Mexican police force. Tourists generally feel good about the police here, police who are highly visible in their trucks, on their motorcycles and on the street corners with their combat gear and assault weapons. It takes a bit of getting used to, to regularly be walking by men and women holding assault weapons. Locals I have spoken to tell me that the police are very nice to tourists, but are really tough and not typically fair to locals. They tell me that the browner your skin, the more likely you are to be hassled by the cops here.
The country has just elected a new president whose largest promise and central campaign theme has been that he will eliminate corruption from the government of Mexico. He’s a populist, promising less corruption, more jobs, less taxes (hmmm sounds familiar). A segment of society is uber excited about the election of AMLO and see his presidency as a big change for Mexico. Others, although happy to be rid of Pena Nieto, are cautiously optimistic and a couple have pointed out to me that AMLO sounds a lot like Trump and they don’t see the big changes in the US he said they would. But time will tell and I really hope this is a turning point for Mexico, these people truly deserve a break. I’ve come to really care for the folks here. The people in Oaxaca have been incredibly gracious and patient with me. The are almost exclusively hard-working blue-collar folks who don’t have a lot. And as I’ve discovered all over the world, it’s very often those who have the least, who are the most generous and kind, Oaxaca has absolutely been no exception to that observation.
While in Oaxaca in language school I’ve had class with a lot of people. Most have been from the US but others have been from Canada, Japan, Scotland and Turkey. For me, one of the most interesting thing has been meeting Banu, from Turkey. She’s also a traveler and writes an interesting blog, Gap in Time, that she writes, get this, in English, Spanish and Turkish. It’s hard enough to keep up a blog in one language, to do it in three is a truly impressive accomplishment, jump over and check out her pieces on Cuba, they are really interesting. She is the first Turk I have ever met, I’m sure I’ve driven her a little nuts with both my ignorance and questions about Turkey. But it’s been fascinating to talk with her about the food, culture and politics of Turkey. What I’ve learned most of all is that I really don’t know anything about Turkey and so it has now bumped a bit higher on my list of places to visit. Especially since she turned me on to what looks like an amazing long-distance hiking trail, the Lycian Way. So I’ve talked with Banu about visiting Turkey, particularly Istanbul where she lives and then traveling together to Cappadocia before spending some time on the trail.
One of the great things about being in the company of other travelers is learning about how to travel better. We all have little tips and tricks we use, we all have different levels of finances. So when you start talking the information sharing is really wonderful. You learn about new places you hadn’t expected to want to go visit. You even find out things about Oaxaca you didn’t expect because we all find different things while out exploring.
The final thing is that when you stretch yourself out beyond your comfort zone, not only do you learn about new places, cultures and people but you learn about yourself. You answer a lot of questions about yourself. How self-sufficient am I? How am I under stress when things go wrong in a place where I know no one and don’t speak the language? How deep are my emotional reserves? How easily do I make new friends and acquaintances? How well do I roll with the punches? How much structure and planning do I need to feel comfortable? And on and on and on, it’s a beautiful thing. For all of these reasons I continue as often as possible in this blog to encourage, recommend and even implore you to find a way to travel, to get out of your own comfort zone and discover how difficult and wonderful this world is, I do this because I know it will lead you to happy days my friends. ~ Rev Kane