Last year when I started traveling the world, my goal was to learn about other people and places. I received greater gifts, though—more compassion for others and gratitude for my own life.
I’ve grown up in the U.S. middle class and never felt rich. Compared to what I’ve seen on some trips, though, I live like royalty! In Mexico, I saw tin-shack homes. Some lacked roofs, walls, and doors. Some had sheets for walls, and others had open spaces.
In Egypt, the people I feared the most weren’t terrorists, but the vendors! They hounded us everywhere. They touched us, put hats, scarves, and bags on us, and followed us onto our buses. Why did they pursue us like that? Because they were desperate—desperate for money, for food, for drink!
Some vendors even paddled out to our cruise ship in the Nile and attached their boat to ours with a rope. They stood up in their boats, held up blankets, and called out, “Hey, lady. Look!” They stayed four hours! After two hours, the calling stopped. Had they left? No! They were asleep–lying down in their boats!
After an hour, the yelling resumed. “Hey lady…” Then as a friend and I drank tea on the top deck, we heard a loud thump. What was it? A blanket! A vendor had thrown it from his boat up the four floors of the ship onto the deck. We didn’t want the blanket, so I threw it back. They yelled for an hour after that, and then after NO sales, unhooked their rope and paddled away. What a way to make a living!
In Mexico and the Caribbean, some people tried to earn money by having us take their photo. In the Yucatan, we saw several men dressed as Mayan warriors. I took a photo, and then was reprimanded and told that I needed to pay for it. I deleted my photo instead.
On St. Kitts, several men walked around with monkeys on their shoulders. I wanted to take a photo, but our guide told us that St. Kitts really had a monkey business. The photos cost money, so I declined.
How sad that these people beg for photos, and for what? A tiny sum for some basic item. Forget about moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They’re at level one—physiological needs like food.
Very few in these places live in self-actualization. As a self-supporting adult, I’ve feared not having enough, but I’ve always had enough to eat, and I’ve lived in homes with roofs, walls, and doors made from wood or concrete—not cloth!
My saddest travel time, though, was my recent trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I had seen photos of Hurricane Maria and its damage on TV, but seeing the after-effects in person was shocking. Many homes and buildings had no roofs or walls. Blue tarps covered buildings, and piles of debris dotted a park.
It had been 55 days since the hurricane, and most of the island still did not have electricity. Many people in the countryside didn’t even have clean drinking water. Ships came with food, water, and medical supplies, but rescue workers couldn’t deliver the goods because access roads and bridges were destroyed. Or, there wasn’t enough gas for the trucks to carry the goods.
My guide’s stories left me in tears. He was a dad of three and hadn’t worked in a couple months due to the hurricane. Five thousand people were displaced after the hurricane, and his family initially had 22 others living with them. They now had seven.
They went to a creek for drinking water and had no electricity. Can you imagine not refrigerating anything or having air conditioning in the 90+ degree heat and humidity of the tropics?
He said that when someone goes out for something, it’s a “mission.” They wait in lines of 200 at the grocery store, only for a few canned goods. They wait in lines of 150 at the gas station. They may wait all night and then reach the front and be told that the station’s out of gas.
He told us about the night he had four small cans of sausage to divide between all the people in his home for dinner. He went without so that his sons could eat.
He said that Puerto Ricans are strong and will come back from this. How long will it take, though, and how many will die or flee the island? One thousand had already died, and many had gone to Miami.
San Juan was like a ghost town. Streets were empty, and stores and cafes were closed. When we entered the San Juan Airport, no one was in the airport room—no workers or passengers, except one person sleeping on the luggage conveyor belt. Where was everyone, and where were our planes? We kept walking and finally found people and checked in for our flights.
I came home in tears after seeing so much damage. My small condo seemed like a palace. I had food in my fridge, and when I went to the grocery store the next day, I waited behind ONE person and got all fresh food I wanted. My car had a full gas tank, and I knew that when I needed gas next, I could get it at the gas station with no or little wait.
Thus, what did I learn from all this travel? Certainly about other cultures, but I gained a deeper level of compassion for those in need across the planet, and my gratitude rose for what I have at home. These internal gifts surpass any scenic view, and I pray that everyone in our global family can enjoy abundant lives of dignity and fulfillment.
Jennifer K. Jordan
For more inspiration, please visit the Inspiring Wisdom Today Blog at www.InspiringWisdomToday.com/blog/.
Photo taken by Jennifer K. Jordan in San Juan, Puerto Rico