A recent family vacation to Costa Rica and Nicaragua re-affirmed why I travel internationally. While some people experience discomfort from not being within their cultural context, I actually draw a lot of security from it. Waking up early, the hectic nature of meeting schedules in a different country with a different language and different culture, at times feeling unsafe or threatened—these are things I went looking for and it’s what I got. It felt like a vacation.
Four things really resonated with me. First, everyone who knows me knows I talk a lot. When I start talking to somebody who doesn’t speak any English and I’m trying to speak their language, we start fumbling our way through, trying to understand each other through body language. Before you know it, an hour has passed and you had this lovely conversation with someone you’ve just met and it was a constructive, meaningful conversation. That always reminds me that language is more than just words and it’s important to try and speak the local language.
The other thing we were reminded of is the universal language of children. Kids are great equalizers; they’re culturally universal. In San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, we were visiting Christ of the Mercy, the largest statue of Jesus in Central America. This young child, he was probably six years old, came up to our youngest son Chase with a beach ball and he just looked at him with this twinkle in his eye. Chase stared at him and they both kind of looked at me. I said, “Yeah, go play!” They were laughing. They didn’t know what the other was saying and they didn’t care what religion the other was. It was such a beautiful thing. We can all take a great lesson from that. We complicate things. It can be that simple.
When we were at a market near San Juan del Sur, a kid probably eight years old walked up to nine-year-old Jaiden with hundreds of palm leaves draped over his arm. He tapped him on the shoulder and, taking a palm leaf, quickly folded it into a beautiful grasshopper. It was amazing. We’re trying to teach the kids, you can’t give everybody money, you can’t help everybody on the street. There was this moment where we didn’t know what to do. Then this child made something for Chase. He said he didn’t want any money. He was willing to walk away without anything. We did give him some money, but asked if it was OK to take a picture for a school presentation Jaiden had to do. When we looked at the picture after, our kids had that sparkle in their eye. That child didn’t. Our guide told us that he was an orphan and that’s how he survived. That’s one of the reasons why we go travelling. So our kids can start seeing things relatively.
In Granada, Jaiden and I almost got mugged. Jaiden loves people watching—just taking in the different culture—so we were walking home late on a Saturday night. As we’re walking, this teenager with a bicycle pulled in front of us, so we had to stop to get around him. Then I felt another persons’ hand reach deep into my pocket, grab my camera case and pull it as hard as he could. Because I had it clipped to my belt, it fell out of his hand. I said, “Hey!” and he just kept riding. He didn’t try to ride faster. We could’ve caught him. But I didn’t feel violated. I didn’t feel that threatened, to be honest. I remember thinking as he was riding away in no particular rush, that he didn’t want to hurt me. It’s part of his survival. His means. Explaining that to Jaiden, there’s a big lesson in there. You have to be safe, you have to be smart, but are they bad people? He was just a kid trying to survive.
In the evenings, we would see people gathered out front of their houses, socializing. There’s the urge to say, “do something, be productive, clean your house.” We’ve lost sight of the fact that they’re probably doing the most important thing—just sitting and being with each other. Everything else didn’t matter. If there was one new thing that I brought home from this trip, it’s that: people just spending time with each other without any agendas. They just sit and laugh and be and talk and play. That’s actually doing something—it’s doing something very important.
Similarly, if you love your work, it should feel like a vacation. Or, maybe, a vacation should feel like your work.