Happy Birthday to The Peace Train. Like so many others, I am participating in the blogswarm to celebrate - and promised Glenda I would write about Peace through Travel.
However, Monday and Tuesday saw a security scare that led to the cancellation of more than 100 flights. This seems to be an ongoing pattern since 9/11/01 - around holiday time, or peak travel periods, both the UK and the USA find some terror plot to foil and thus delay travel. Last September, The TSA issued this edict restricting Liquids, Aerosols and Gels (LAGs) on flights - a relaxation of an earlier, total ban on these same LAGs. I recall having my NARS Lipgloss confiscated as I went through security.
H. L. Mencken once said:
the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
And what better time to scare people than when they are about to get onto an airplane? A confined space, with 300 strangers, hurtling at breakneck speeds through the air. Why, anything could happen to you, right? You could get a variety of diseases. You could be sitting next to the crackpot who thinks he can blow up the plane using shampoo, or a tennis shoe.
Fear is the greatest enemy we have. Fear gives birth to hate, to resentment, to apathy, or to acts of unspeakable violence. Religious fundamentalists fear anyone who does not believe as they do, and lables them infidel or heathen. People with narrow political ideologies fear anyone who disagrees, and labels them unpatriotic. People without education fear "the man" because they are unable to get ahead in the world. Education is power. Knowledge and an open mind are powerful tools. But an open heart is everything.
For me, I find it impossible to hate anyone with whom I have broken bread. I do not hate Muslims - I've eaten at their tables, in Israel, when I lived there. And when my son was 13, my family traveled to Israel again as a Bar Mitzva present to him. One day, in the Old City of Jerusalem, we hired a guide for the day. He was a young Palestinian man, about 20 years old, spoke excellent English, and Hebrew - he was our for the day. He gave us the "non-sanctioned" view, but said that the people wanted a peaceful solution. He said it was the leaders who fueled hatred. Eventually, he left us at a fantastic restaurant - he was ready to go hang out with his friends (we invited him to dinner, but he was 20).
When we left the restaurant, we got lost - and wound up in the Arab Quarter after dark. There was our guide, with a group of about 15 young men his own age. And they walked up to us and said, kindly, that as American Jews, we were in the wrong place after dark - that it was dangerous for us to be in that sector - we could be robbed, or killed, for being rich American Jews. They did not want to do that, so our guide and three of his friends escorted us to the gate where the car park was, bid us good night, and we went back to our hotel.
When I create a trip for one of my clients, I have an underlying hope that they will spend time with local people. I cannot always arrange this in advance; but I do try. I don't do the "sun" destinations - those "package deal" spots that have so degraded local culture that they are "Mini-Miamis". I don't sell Mexico (except the Colonial Cities); I don't send people to the Caribbean; I rarely send folks to Hawaii. I create trips to destinations which are not "Westernized", where local culture remains intact, where people can really find out what it means to be part of this earth. And I have my own favorite places, and places I'm not so fond of.
When a person travels expecting nothing to go awry, they will be disappointed. Travel must leave room for the happy accident. I have clients who, whenever they travel, they keep their hand outstretched in friendship. This is good and bad news for me, because they now have friends everywhere, and it means I do less and less for them - they are always staying with people they've met. On the first trip I did for them, one day a planned excursion was cancelled due to rain. They were at their hotel, and saw another couple who appeared despondent. My clients went over to them and said "Hi, we're T & B, and we're going to rent a car and do our own adventure - join us?" That's what they do. They believe in peace.
I've lived in Israel; I've traveled to six of the seven continents; I've broken bread with local people everywhere I've been. And you know what? We're all the same. We all care about our children. We all care about our home, our neighbors, our community. We all have health concerns. We all want to put food on our tables. We are all the same. So how is it possible that we wind up making war on our brothers and sisters?
If you travel, please travel with an open heart. If you travel, consider the environment, and that your own ways of doing things might be different than someone else's, but your ultimate goals are the same. Don't impose your will, just travel with an open heart and you might be gifted with friendship.
Happy birthday to the Peace Train! Let's all get on it.