Thanksgiving thoughts from a world traveler

ellen and theo have bindis at pushkar lake in india

On Thanksgiving morning, I woke up to an stunning sunlit view across Pushkar Lake — one of the most holy bodies of water in India. I enjoyed a huge breakfast spread with husband Theo. We ate muesli, curd, a variety of fruit, toast with butter and honey, freshly squeezed apple juice and coffee. Indians held religious rites at the water’s edge. We watched them receive blessings and dip into the water. Monkeys swung from the trees and eyed our plates, but didn’t disturb us. Free-roaming cows swung their tails and ate the food Hindus gave them.

Our breakfast spread cost $3.75. Our nightly rate for comfortable, spacious accommodations is about $10. No AC, but it’s cool enough this time of year to not need it – even with my hot flashes. Our daily breakfast is more food than half the people on the planet eat in a day. That is an easy thing to write, and it’s easy to read, but it’s quite difficult to experience it.

All around us beyond our lovely hotel, children and adults are hungry and broke and worried about their futures. Indeed, all around India it is this way, and all around the world it’s the same. In America, people worry about secure, safe, comfortable futures just like here in India, and everywhere in between. However, Americans generally do not realize they start at a base level that is much higher than most of the world. I sure didn’t. Until I started international travel.

When I was 16 years old, I worried about what name brand clothing I’d wear to school the next day so people would ‘see me’ as wealthy and cool. On my own as a single working woman, I learned the boundaries that came with money earned. With age and wisdom and travel experiences, I’ve morphed into a middle-aged woman who now roams the planet with a backpack filled with garments bought in thrift stores. Fast fashion resales are big business in developing countries that provide lucrative profits for proprietors who get lucky with a good bulk batch of used clothing bins. These are realities in the world I never thought of as I demanded a name-brand sweater for Christmas as a teen, and only fleetingly thought of those times when I bought Anne Klein suites as a young middle-class working woman.

Travel experience was a game changer for me. Seeing how other people survive on a couple of dollars a day was shocking. That’s what travel does – it opens your eyes to the realities of other people. Travel shows you that the age-old drama of the haves and have nots knows no borders. You don’t even have to go outside the tourist zones to find this out. Just talk with the people who work inside them.

I remember our rainforest guide in Costa Rica during a work-life, 10-day vacation. We talked about our homes. He told Theo and I his village finally had gotten electricity a few years earlier. I was floored. Even now, more than a decade later, electricity is a luxury in some places on Earth. I’ve been to some of them. We brought electricity (and running water) to one.

No matter where we go on our slow travel adventure, it’s the same all over the world. All of humanity wants a comfortable, happy life with a secure future. In contrast, politicians everywhere — America included — all want the same thing: power over all. This is nothing revelatory. We all know it. But travel makes it real. Travel puts inequalities in front of your face. You can either ignore it, or help when and where you can. We do the latter, and we are grateful for the chance to help.

We all struggle against the deadly sins so eloquently revealed to us in all of the world’s religions. Those intangible wants and desires set fire to our souls, so much so that sometimes we fight, we cheat, we covet. It’s a partial release from those selfish desires that brings me much gratitude on this Thanksgiving. I have to keep working on them. I still want a new iPhone, a new backpack, new shoes. And I have the means with which to buy these things. I’m getting a used iPhone, a backpack was recently a gift from a new friend, and I will have to buy the new shoes but I’ll make a smart purchase. After all, a Nepal trek is in our future.

No ‘Black Friday’ sales here. And a release from my ego’s lie that I need to ‘be seen’ as ‘greater than’ other people is something to be grateful for. It took me a long time to learn that I am equal to everyone else. It’s a lesson that began with international travel and continues to this day. I wish more affluent Americans could see what we’ve seen around the world. It’s those travel experiences that mark your soul and build understanding. I’m afraid these types of travel experiences would have to be forced – like a mandatory class outing. Americans with means to travel generally prefer all-inclusive resorts on their limited vacation time while wearing blinders to the people working to serve them before they must go back to the capitalist race to acquire.

When people ask us when will we stop travel, Theo and I say we’ll stop only when we no longer can do it. I’m grateful for that, too. As for today – Thanksgiving – I’ve checked my ego, and will continue to do so as best I can, one day at a time.

ellen has breakfast on pushkar lake in india

Thanks for reading, “Thanksgiving thoughts from a world traveler.”

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