A major motivator for me to travel is to learn – learn about a new culture, customs, politics, history and if it is an especially challenging environment, then learn about myself too. Imagine that what people live daily contributes significantly to who they are, and that what they believe could be quite, if not completely foreign, to many of us unless we either read about it and/or visit.
Having said that, I have a particular interest in developing countries - probably because they are different in so many fundamental ways to life in Toronto. Having been to South America only once before, my choice to go to Bolivia fit the bill nicely.
Over the years, I have been to many poor countries and in my modest experience I have noticed some important commonalities among them, some of which are - a wicked work ethic, crafty resourcefulness and zero sense of entitlement. Makes sense.
In Bolivia, people line the streets selling items of all types with a view to earning their daily wage. One night we were returning from dinner and it was nearing 11pm. I noted an elderly woman – at least 80 years old – sitting on the sidewalk where she had likely spent the previous 15 hours, selling foodstuffs. But, she was falling asleep as anyone would after a long day, and long life.
On seeing her, my friend claimed the injustice of the situation saying this lady should be curled up at home with a blanket and a brandy watching Coronation Street. No doubt the experience of many in my friend's native country. The contrast was poignant.
It’s striking how much of life is influenced by something over which we have no control – that is, where we are born and our environment. This Bolivian lady knows nothing else. So though we recognize how different the experience could be of someone her age in a more prosperous place, she has no other expectation of what her life should be. And life goes on.
Fortunately being born in a first world country brings with it options, among which is the the ability to meet and learn about people from far corners. And though there are challenges and imperfections in every country, I am personally very grateful for my home and my freedoms.