I have something to say about travel: I like it. I want to do more of it. I want to go to as many places that I’m able to visit. When I was still a classroom teacher I imagined that I would spend the three months in the summer being exhausted by traveling. It didn’t work out that way and, having had four children by the age of 23, I mostly spent time driving children to soccer and ballet and taking care of my nieces and nephews that my sisters sent to me for prolonged visits. Not that I minded that, but it certainly made traveling much more difficult. Instead, my summers were filled with traveling to places like Tennessee and Iowa and places within driving distance of my Midwestern home.
Not exactly the “travel” I dreamed of as a young girl.
When I was a child I recall hearing adults ask, “Where would you like to go someday?” and the answer seemed a standard, “Africa” or “Europe” or “Australia”, but it never became more specific than that. In high school, I watched Out of Africa and proceeded to read Isak Dinesen’s book of the same title. My horrid impersonations of Meryl Streep’s accent notwithstanding (I haaaad a faaaam in Aaaafrica), I spent hours between the covers of books. When I read Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank I determined that I would begin drinking coffee and eating breads and cheeses for breakfast each morning and that someday I would visit Amsterdam. Then, as an adult, I heard about Belize and decided that I would definitely put it on my list as a place to visit. I remember joking about visiting Africa after the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy was released, but that was due to the fact that it was part screwball comedy and part documentary and was billed as “an epic comedy of absurd proportions”. (Mostly, though, I wanted to visit Botswana and search for empty Coke bottles in the bush.)
Yet, here I am at 41 and I just obtained my first passport. Not long after I secured it I wondered if I would ever go anywhere. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an invitation to visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia came from the ONE Moms campaign. Suddenly, I was going to go somewhere. I was going to visit a place that wasn’t surrounded by corn fields or amusement parks. I say that in the past tense, but really it is my future. This Friday I leave for somewhere far away, somewhere not in the country of my birth.
Now, everything I know about being an American, a mom, a woman, and an educator will shift. All the questions I didn’t have are clouding my brain. What are mothers like there? How do they get their children to behave or eat healthy food? What does it take to educate a child in Africa? How are African mothers like American mothers in setting goals for their children and hoping for their futures? What scares Africans about their country and government and how, if at all, do they express it? I will, as always, look for more in common than is different and seek out ways to hear and then tell their stories. Isak and Anne had stories. Everyone does.
I tell my stories regularly to all who will (blessedly) listen. That’s what journaling and blogging has done for me. It’s reminded me that my stories are similar to other mothers and it’s taught me, as a mother who blogs her life, that my experience is worth something. Maybe I haven’t gotten a chance to travel, but I hope that I have a wealth of knowledge to pass on to younger mothers as I have learned from those wise women who have helped me be the best version of a mother.
All the advice I’ve gotten from friends about traveling has proven to me that once you go way outside of your comfort zone to a foreign country, you come back changed and your perspective shifts and you wonder about what is really important. Have I been focused on the wrong thing? Maybe. Do I need a swift kick to the head in order to appreciate my life? Of course I do. That’s what I was thinking when I initially learned about this trip. I have thought of little else since that moment.
This photo of an Ethiopian mother makes me want to feel and see and hear that connection and know what her story is.
Everyone has one. I do. You do. Everyone does. I aim to find mothers in Ethiopia who will tell me theirs.