global citizenship- 12.2.14
I wrote this blog during my recent visit to South America to visit my mother.
I am visiting my mother this week, in the hot, casually nonchalant nation that is my country of birth. My childhood was spent in the tropics, adolescence in Western Europe, and adulthood was (and is) the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
I have only been here for three days, and this is only my second visit since my mother moved back here two years ago from Europe, right after my father passed away. While this is the country in which I spent my formative years, it is also an alien place for me after decades of absence.
The country feels like less of a shock to me this time, and I know that next year, when I return again, it will feel more familiar still. And so, I want to capture my current observations, knowing that familiarity will dull the edges and smooth away the jarring differences of my initial re-introduction to my native land.
When you first arrive here from the Philadelphia area, you see the world through the lens of the Northeast United States. The infrastructure appears haphazard. Roads are narrow and overcrowded. Traffic feels harrowingly unregulated.
There is no appreciable enforcement of zoning laws. Maybe they don’t exist. Commerce happens anywhere. Garages are converted to retail spaces; doctors’ offices are tucked away behind kitchens, where fragrantly simmering meals are reminders to patients that the doctor will have to break for her much-deserved lunch. Large stuccoed homes neighbor crumbling wooden shacks that look barely habitable, and abandoned construction projects litter streets like so many broken dreams.
When you first get here and you look through your mid-Atlantic lens, shock gives way to incomprehension – and probably, for most of us, a vague notion of “how could they?” How could anyone live this way, so casually uncaring about the rules and regulations that make up a society, such as we have constructed?
It is upon further reflection, upon truly placing oneself in the shoes of those around you, that one starts to understand – the heart of this nation, its story, cannot be evaluated only through my US-sharpened lens. There is another truth, another story at play that I am soaking up – and appreciating for its unique rhythm, its beautiful cadence and, indeed, its humorous surprises.
My mother and I have been making the rounds, visiting family members scattered about. At each home, I am welcomed with broad smiles and tight hugs. At each home, someone, at some point, walks through the yard and picks fruit off trees for us to take home. And everywhere, we laugh. We laugh at the ineptitude of government officials, the moral turpitude of members of Parliament. No one shakes with moralistic fervor. No one calls for anyone’s resignation. Everyone laughs. They laugh because, at the end of the day, these are not issues that matter so much.
What matters is how to get an employee some help, because for sure her bruises are not caused by accidental falls. What matters is showing one’s family and one’s friends love and loyalty. It means honoring the generations that came before, it means delighting with pride in the escapades of the young.
We talk a lot in independent school education about teaching our children to be global citizens. In our privileged world, we often send students on international explorations because of our deeply held belief that we learn best by doing and experiencing.
I am here to say that, done thoughtfully, this premise is worthy and its truth unshakeable. Experiencing and living in a culture that is not one’s own will bring at first shock, maybe even a measure of disdain. But stay long enough and a different story emerges. Be open enough and a second truth appears. Relax enough and admit there is joy in other ways of being. And then, judge less, appreciate more, and start to imagine a more tolerant world.
Tuesday December, 2, 2014 at 03:37PM
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