I never thought that I would leave my hometown, much less one day walk down the Champs Elysees in Paris! Since 1997, I have been traveling alone, with tour groups, and now, with my husband, Douglas. It is impossible to over-exaggerate the benefits of traveling, for we learn so much about ourselves and others when we venture into other cities, countries, and continents.
In Madrid, Spain, traveling alone, I learned that people seeing a woman alone are more likely to invite you to dine with them. That can be a good thing, or, in my case, maybe not so good. The gentleman, and I use the term loosely, who invited me to sit with him and his wife was shocked to learn that I was traveling without my husband.
He proceeded to tell me that he did not allow his wife to go to the grocery store alone, much less leave the country! Then he berated American men for “allowing” their women such freedom. I reminded him that some men in America understand that women have the capacity to think for themselves. I noticed him getting disturbed and turning red in the face, as his wife stared at me in such awe, for she had just discovered that, yes, we women can go places alone and be just fine. I had a feeling he was not going to see the inside of the grocery store again any time soon.
It was also in Madrid that I learned to trust that God was always with me. I could not find my hotel at 1:00AM, even though a tour bus driver had pointed what direction to go. After walking through dark streets and getting more in a panic, I finally stopped and prayed, “Lord, you know where the hotel is and I don’t. You promised Joshua that you would be with him wherever he went, and I believe that is the same for me. Help!”
Suddenly, I felt an urging to turn 180 degrees. I did, and I saw a light nearly three blocks away, a miracle because I am near-sighted. When I reached the light source, it was a candy store a block and a half from my hotel. Within ten minutes, I was in my hotel room, praising God for keeping His promises. That encounter with God on a dark street in a foreign country reinforced my faith.
In Paris, that most beautiful of cities, where the streets seem to spark with electricity, I learned that sometimes we do not need to speak the same language to get help. I needed nose drops, and as I went to the pharmacies in Paris, I could not find anyone who spoke English. But, finally, I gestured, pointing to my nose, and then squeezing my hands together like I was squeezing a bottle of nose drops, with my head laid back.
The woman understood the gestures and I got what I needed. We laughed together in the end, as I said, “Merci beaucoup,” thank you, the only French I knew beside parlez vous Ingles, meaning do you speak English? Some gestures are the same wherever we go, but it helps to know what gestures mean in other places, to keep from offending others unintentionally.
It is often when traveling that we are more likely to overcome our fears and try new things. It was in Chamonix, France, across the border from where I was staying alone in Geneva, Switzerland, that I learned to not allow my fears to keep me from mountaintop experiences. I was afraid to ride a gondola to the top of the French Alps. All I could think was that I would be the first black woman to die in the Alps.
But when I learned that the tour guide had to miss the view from the top and stay with me, I thought that it was one thing for my fears to keep me from seeing the view, but another whole thing for them to deny someone else that joy. After watching two boys, about ages 8 and 10, get in a gondola, I decided not to be bested by children, and I entered the same one, but I rode with my back to the scenery.
The view at the top was so spectacular! What a loss that would have been for me had I not overcome my fears! I stayed at the top of the Alps watching people skiing like ballerinas. I decided right then that I would never again allow my fears to prevent me trying new things. I rode back down facing the scenery, and, oh, what joy that brought to my spirit and soul!
We have so much more in common with people around the world than we have differences, but it is our differences that often are headlined and used to divide us. Travel should be required of everyone, and we should ensure that everyone gets a chance to leave home and experience a world bigger than their backyards.
Ragtag prompt is Travel.