DOES TRAVEL BROADEN THE MIND?
Travel&Tourism

It would be hard to write anything this week that doesn’t reflect on some of the major current news around the world. Barcelona, Finland, Charlottesville, the continuing conflicts in the Middle East (Syria no longer in the headlines), the recent attacks in the UK, to say nothing of divisions and disagreements closer to home.
As a child I was told that travel broadens the mind – that if you meet people from different countries and cultures, your mind would be opened to new ideas, new art forms, new histories – and all of this would lead to greater understanding and tolerance. We would become a global village, and humanity would unite. I couldn’t wait to set out into the world and 30 years ago, with my best friend, only 13kg of luggage and a one way ticket I flew to Karachi. My family didn’t see me again for 20 months, but they were not afraid.
For a naïve 21 year old, Pakistani culture was so far from what I had experienced before, but I learnt what I needed to do to be respectful, and I opened myself up to whatever happened. I travelled by local bus and train (there were no organised tours or tourist services), I ate local food and stayed in pretty basic, I mean BASIC, local accommodation options. It was rough to be sure. But during that time I met people who were incredibly friendly, helpful and kind, who related to our common humanity, and who showed curiosity and interest in our differences. It was adventurous, stimulating and life affirming, and completely impossible now.
As travel and communication technologies have developed and become cheaper, the opposite of what you would hope and expect seems to have happened. The world seems to have become more polarised and subdivided. I am so lucky in my lodge to meet many guests who are broad minded, excited about visiting Zambia, love meeting people and having new experiences. This is for me the joy of being in tourism. But there are many out there who take their knowledge of the world and use it to generate hatred and intolerance. To see those dull-eyed, flaccid cheeked overgrown brats in Charlottesville carrying Nazi flags was an abomination that should shock and horrify everyone, even us here far away in Zambia. If any one of these weaklings had ever met a real Nazi they would, as all bullies eventually do, collapse and crumble. Are they any different from the brainwashed zealots who drive cars into crowds of revellers or the knife wielding teenagers who stab their way to their 72 virgins? My completely uninformed view is that they probably all suffer from similar psychological defects and that it almost doesn’t matter what cause they latch on to. Their characters are such that it will be one thing or another. The vast majority of people are reasonable, compassionate and tolerant, given half a chance. I hold onto that thought every day.
I was amused recently when I was told by police not to go to a particular compound in Livingstone as it was not safe. I’ve been doing community work in that compound for many years and I have never felt unsafe. I’ve gone out in town, sometimes late at night to look for stray dogs as part of my animal rescue work. Once I was accosted by 2 noisy drunks. Within seconds I was surrounded by 4 guys who jumped in to protect me, no questions asked. I made friends with one of them and we rescued several animals from that area with his help. He said he saw that I was trying to help the animals and he thought it was a good thing. So he stood up for me.
And that’s what we all need to do. We can’t be quiet – history tells us that silence equals complicity and that is not OK. We need to be strong, determined, educated and active. We need to reject intolerance, prejudice and racism at every corner. We need to be open to recognise that there is much to be learnt from the world’s great spiritual leaders. I am Jewish, but the words of the current Pope resonate deeply with me, and he seems to be a great force for good in the world. The Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader has a well of compassion and wisdom that is moving and inspiring for every individual.
In my little lodge in Livingstone, with my guests today from Austria, UK, USA, Germany, Switzerland, Zambia, Lebanon and Japan, I appreciate the connections that I make with people, the open-minds and open hearts, the smiles, the knowledge and the learning that we as hosts give and receive in turn.
And our prayers remain focussed on those that have suffered and lost around the world as a result of hatred and intolerance.

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