Once again I see the dangers of travel. Not the rare physical danger of airline or vehicle crashes; not the occasional danger of being robbed or becoming sick, but the every-day common danger of your heart getting to know people and places. People we would not usually met. Then each week, hearing of train accidents, deaths in the Middle East, and riots in India, earthquakes or floods somewhere I’m conscious of that emotional danger.
Geography was always of more interest than history at school. One could have a stab at answering questions if I knew a couple of other facts. Distance from the equator could give clues to temperatures or climate. Mountains, plains, rivers all added up to some understanding of a place that dates and historical facts didn’t – well for me anyway.
Now travel gives me a different perspective to places. Geography remains important, history and religion helps to understand people and combined with travel experience, they give me a sense of, not exactly ownership or belonging, but something like kinship, I’m attached, I leave a bit of me in every place and take some of them with me
This feeling of oneness is particularly acute at times of high emotions; small countries meet a goal; someone overcomes an obstacle; a national team wins; and in particular, really acute in times of national pain or pride. I watch TV, or listen to the radio, tears or pain or pride well up in my eyes too.
My first real experience of this came after I’d been to Ireland and then shortly afterwards ‘the troubles’ flared up again. I was devastated that the wonderful little city of Londonderry (or Derry, depending on the history or map consulted) was yet again the centre of violence. Streets I’d walked down were now dangerous. That people I had maybe spoken to or walked past were now dead or injured had me crying in front of the TV.
Turkey and Greece had earthquakes, people in Israel and Palestine were killing each other, years ago London had rubbish bins removed from the street for fear of terrorism, New York and the New Yorkers I loved were traumatised, monsoon floods in Asia, and Egypt, a fabulous country with generous people, is grief-stricken with deaths after buildings collapsed and Indian pilgrims die during a festival.
Whatever the cause, when I think of the diverse people I’ve come to know, love, empathise with, or judge, when I see their pain I feel helpless. After all, what can we do to ease the pain – nothing. The one thing that would help – having loved ones live again – is way beyond anything we can ever do.
However maybe travel-writing that gives the texture, flavour and smells of a place helps bridge that gap between us and them. After all scenery and monuments are the same on everyone’s photos. It’s our experiences that offer the difference.
Travelling, or reading about travelling, help us realise people are not like those presented in the headlines of our papers or in the sound-bites of radio or television. Young or old, male, female, Christian, Pagan, Muslin, or freethinker as a Japanese friend describes herself, we’re all part of the human family and when a family member is in pain we feel it.
99.9999999% of the people I’ve met are kind and caring, helpful and generous, and of no danger to me – or you.