This is Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras where I’m spending the month, thanks to a fabulous couple letting me house-sit. When the opportunity came up, I was in the middle of making a job decision, which has happily concluded with me teaching journalism at New York University starting this fall. But at the time I got a chance to go to Honduras, I was still in the interview process. I had to take a leap of faith that it would be okay for me to disappear from the States, during an election year, for an entire month… not knowing if my job search would be concluded by the time I left.
Much of my life has been led along the lines of Yogi Berra’s wisdom: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” What that means for me is, go for goals (books, jobs, etc) but also go for adventures. When I am too linear — when I drill down too much on one grind — I lose my sense of the mystery and magic of the world. There are many ways to connect with the magic: travel, study, meditation, art. Getting out of my head by getting into the world always teaches me something.
Too many women are afraid to travel. I’m not saying that there aren’t perils abroad (or at home), but the generosity of the human spirit is massive.
These folks fed me lunch as I was walking around a neighborhood in India. I was staying at the Four Seasons, which happened to be across from an area where people literally slept in shacks and on bedrolls in the curb. The average annual income in India (which has a load of billionaires as well) is less than $1300 per year. My room at the Four Seasons was $300 U.S. a night… and that was a conference rate, paid for, I might add, by the convener. Unlike many parts of the U.S., where rich neighborhoods are clustered together and poor neighborhoods are far away, in Mumbai I found that rich and poor often existed side by side, separated by tall walls and guys with machine guns.
I decided one day to go out for a walk, something the guards strongly discouraged. (Strongly.) I dressed down and kept my wits about me, and as a result I got to have a real experience with a generous family who showed hospitality to a stranger. Better yet, we stayed in touch by mail, and I sent them copies of the pictures I’d taken of the kids and families in their neighborhood. Life doesn’t have to just be hostile and dog-eat-dog. There can be a circle of joy we embrace moment by moment.
Here in Honduras, I’ve already gotten to know some island residents, and gone to great parties for both Canada Day and the Fourth of July. I look forward to seeing the garifuna sections of the island — Afro-Caribbeans descended from Nigerians abducted in the slave trade. They’ve kept much of their culture, and here on Roatan you see a mix of Anglo expats; dark-skinned garifunas; mainland Hondurans; and people of all mixes. It’s a bilingual island, but I find my somewhat dodgy Spanish makes life a lot easier.
Another thing that makes my life easier is, you guessed it, the internetz. I’m not just here for a month. I’m here for a month working on a book proposal; a novel; my syllabus for my fall class; and a new media idea. It’s not all mai-tais and dips in the ocean. (Although there’s a generous portion of that….)
I don’t think the internet is magic, but it does offer opportunity to people who want to both keep their regular lives going and also engage with the wider world. This world is vast, and it’s a shame to which American culture is disconnected from global culture. In any case, my friends and I regularly share tales of our adventures (both male and female friends, by the way). I have found and gravitated towards people who have been from Antarctica to Zululand.
Here in Honduras, I wake up in the morning, feed the dogs, cats, and parrots, and turn on American morning TV. I’m connected to the political and social wrangling of the U.S. (and the pop culture), but I’m away. Far enough away to get that distance that sharpens the mind and fills the soul. All I can say is — take the time to travel, if you can. In a connected world, there’s less reason than ever not to explore.