We couldn't have been more different; we couldn't have been more alike
In my late-20’s, I was floundering professionally and working at a small for-profit college which, for some inexplicable reason, had a tiny international ‘wing’. By that I mean they were bringing some kids from overseas and taking their money, but really had no infrastructure waiting for them when they arrived. This project was basically thrown on my lap when another guy resigned. I was new and eager to help and took it on without any clue what I was getting into. The school had formed a relationship with some agents in Kathmandu, Nepal. Almost like an international student brokerage. My first task was to pick up a solo arriving student from the airport. I’d only later realize there weren’t too many plans for him beyond that. This is largely why I got to know these Nepalese kids so well; I wasn’t going to just leave them hanging. But I don’t want to get into the challenges and negative sides of this story, I want to share its magic!
When the first arrived, I took him straight to the ocean. He told me he had never seen the coast before and we were only about ten minutes away. We parked and walked up across the dune and as the sea came into view, he just started sprinting! I figured he was running to the surf, but he stopped mid-way and started frantically stuffing his pockets with seashells. Picture a pirate on top of a chest of gold coins. He was super excited and talking like they were basically currency to him. I grinned and explained he could have as many as he wanted. I then told him about the tide and how it washes new shells up every night. He stood up and stared down the coast, back the other way, then squinted his eyes straight ahead as if he might be able to catch a glimpse of the other side. I just took it all in, realizing I was witnessing such a simple and yet rich moment of humanity. The beauty of the human experience. To him this was all magic, wonderland! To me, it was just another Tuesday right down the block. I love the ocean so much, it is my Zen. So I knew that magnificence was rushing over him as well. We spent some time walking around and talking, and then conversation moved to some supplies he’d need. I took him to Super Walmart…
You have to picture this next moment in your mind as we walked through those electric double-doors. His jaw damn near hit the floor as his head scanned slowly 180’ (from produce and food on the left to everything else in the world on the right) and he let out a soft “Good god” in his unique accent and draw. He was blown away by Walmart! Think of the difference in cultures colliding at that moment.
We had lunch together and I took him for chicken and rice. Our restaurant food is so unhealthy that even staples he was used to got him sick that first day. That poor guy was all on his own and I had to help get him set up with an apartment, basic needs and supplies to get him along, teach him the ways of travel and the customs of our culture and area, etc. We obviously grew close through this experience. He was a neat guy, eyes full of wanderlust! We couldn’t have been more different; immutables, culture, spirituality, experiences, worldview and understanding, even physically. I remember one night we shared a six-pack at his apartment after I brought an old couch over for him. He had flown to the states with a guitar and loved American rock. Pearl Jam was a favorite and he played some songs from the Ten album. My wife was a PJ fanatic as a kid and I’ve become a fan too over the years. So he played the strings and I did the best I could to play the role of Eddie. In that moment of shared tunes and cracked beers, we couldn’t have been more alike. It’s not what is different about us that’s important. It’s the energies we connect on and the things we share. Just two human beings. And if you think about it, that’s always the case.
These are the reasons travel changes people so much. Why it’s so important to try and expand your experiences as much as possible, as it equally expands your understandings of both other people and what life is all about. The end of the Kids From Kathmandu story is six total came to that school. I was able to get them handed off to a sister campus in Orlando where they’d have much better living facilities and amenities around them, public transportation, and be able to go to Disney, etc. It was a much better fit and led to the international department at my campus shutting down, as it needed to. But man, I will cherish that year as long as I live! I hope I can flip it around and go and see their chunk of the world one day. I’d be thrilled to!
As I got older and have lived through these wild identity-obsessed and tribal times, I’ve returned to this chapter of my life a lot. Thinking about how neat the connection was; how it enriched us both so much; how wonderful and different and deep those cultures were and how that is this planet’s greatest resource. I found those kids to be magical! They were gems, every one of them. I have some things they gave me in my office today. They make me smile all the time. In my dream world, I’d spend the rest of my days traveling this rock and trying to immerse myself in those kind of experiences as much as possible. I have many tales of strange paths crossed with random and interesting people. Probably my favorite stories in life! It’s bizarre what we’re doing to each other in the west. It’s antithetical to the human experience, contrary to what this should all be about.
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Speaking of tales from paths crossed with random and interesting people…