For the Love of OtherBy Bethany Rule
ne of my very earliest memories stirs up feelings of of misery, wonder, and intensity. I was about 4 years old, and my parents had taken us on our 2nd family adventure to South America. My father did a few weeks of missions work once a year, and every other year he took the family along. With three kids in the 1970s, traveling to remote parts of the Andes in Peru wasn't for the faint of heart.
My memory kicks in while we were riding in a pickup truck that was laboring up bumpy dirt tracks as it slowly climbed further into the mountains. My siblings and dad were in the back, crammed in with many other locals hitching a ride up the mountain. My mom and I remained in the front passenger seat, as I was young and motion sick, and we were the only gringos in the bunch. I remember puking repeatedly, mom holding a bag of some sort for me, and leaning out the window to try to get some air. I felt miserable, but did not want to lose out on one shred of the adventure. I was a bit jealous that I didn't get to ride in the back, but grateful for the privilege. I knew it was privilege, but didn't yet feel ambivalent about it.
We arrived in the tiny village of Rhagan, above the tree line at about 12,000 feet. Mud huts, shrubs for toilets, guinea-pig stew, curious Inca kids, and the comforting familiarity of warm hospitality made their permanent marks on my memory and my heart. I learned a few words of Quechua, played games and chased guinea pigs, and wondered how the poor potato farmers didn't tumble down their steep hillside fields.
For a 4-year-old just gaining a sense of privacy, the utter lack of it by adults and kids alike was confusing to me. The stream was the bath and water source both, the fields were the toilets, and the sleeping communal. The poverty was extreme by North American standards, and yet it never entered my head to label it as such. It was just different, and intensely exciting to my four-year-old sense of wonderment.
I learned what it was to be an object of curiosity, as many of these mountain-dwellers had never seen a blond child before. I felt curiosity and love wrapped together in almost every glance. I reveled in the newness and strangeness of it all, with an utter trust in my parents and their care of me. I felt very, very different from those around me, and yet also sensed a strong kinship. We were all just kids: I could communicate without sharing language, found laughter transcendent, and just as easily play with free-range guinea pigs and miniature clay pots as I could swing on the swing set in my own Ohio back yard, and the company was a lot more interesting!
Several other trips when I was a bit older cemented my tremendous love for travel and getting to know other cultures, and the highlight of any trip anywhere is always the people I meet. I didn't have a real clue about how that early travel shaped my thinking and outlook on life until an admissions counselor in college commented on a survey I'd completed.