Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Coming Home

     Who would ever have thought that one could shower without making sure to keep their mouth closed? Not the folks who travel in the Third World. Ah, the sweet sound of a toilet that fills, flushes and empties clean. And toilet paper and a seat! Fresh pillow cases and clean sheets welcome me at night time. After each journey I spend time pondering the wonders which abound in my house. How about the pleasure of selecting a restaurant to go to that evening? That is another wonder for whichever one I select the food seems to have familiar names and is served on plates that look washed and carefully handled. What about the streets I drive on where ruts, if they are present, are usually marked and relatively few in number!  The drivers have their lights on - headlights that is, not just the parking ones, so I can see them coming well before we pass one another. Even bicycles have reflectors. The streets themselves are lit and there is often a yellow line to mark the paths for drivers. Oh the pleasures of home!

     In additions to the plethora of hazards of Third World travel, there are a multitude of inconveniences one must also endure. Cold water showers are not surprising to me anymore. Doctors and dentist offices are not necessarily meticulous. As a matter of fact, they can be open stalls looking out onto bustling markets. If you are driving a car, it may not be in shape to get you where you are going. Unless you are driving, transportation may be limited to overfilled buses or crowded trains. Many local residents travel by hanging on to the outside of public vehicles and, I suspect, praying a lot. Restaurants and food stalls customarily lack proper refrigeration and sanitation. This is especially the case where the people are very poor. Dangers to travelers or shoppers or just about anyone are unprotected (one finds regulations rare and usually unenforced if they do exist.) There are few inspections of bridges or road conditions or just about anything. Even more rare are warnings about potentially dangerous places or activities. These all  make the trip more adventurous and exciting but they also have their downsides as you can imagine.

     When I get home or to some other highly Westernized setting, I leave most of these hazards behind me as well as most of the inconveniences. Yet being home is, in a way, a continuation of the travel experience. The lights all work. The refrigerator and freezer and dishwasher, all things we take for granted even though we use them every day, become items of wonder. The warning signs on roads seem like luxuries when we realize that so many people in the world have no such guidance. Window screens are another example of home return appreciation. For the most part they separate humans from insects in a remarkably effective way. I realize how much I appreciate this one simple artifact and how much I prefer the separation between my bedroom and nature. Everywhere I look around me, I marvel at the comforts I have. After traveling in far away places, I take far less for granted and I become so much more aware of the things that make my life easy and predictable. Unfortunately, that feeling does not last very long so I have to travel once more in part to refresh my enjoyment at eventually being back in my own house and my own neighborhood. But surely one aspect of any trip to distant places is the return and the opportunity to appreciate anew the comfort I have built around me. Most of the non-travelers that I know just never think about such matters. You can learn to enjoy the awareness of the presence of safe water or the warming effect of central heating systems in wintertime or the absence of unwanted life forms crawling or flying about to revel in the availability of such artifacts. This renewed sense of the multitude of luxuries that surrounds us is one more benefit of the kind of travel I do. In addition to the excitement in the travel, there is also the comfort of eventually coming back home to be appreciated to as we look forward to every journey through the Third World. Just another exotic travel bonus!

Barber Shop, Rural Ghana

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