I am writing this column, again on a plane, two weeks after returning home from my incredible trip to 13 countries, 21 cities, in 38 days (mostly in India and Africa). I’m on a very short flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. It’s a piece of cake in comparison to the 17-hour flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, Georgia, which was just one leg of my trip home. Heck, there’s only a one-hour time change. We were 10-12 hours ahead on the other trip.
I’ve been using the word “re-entry” to describe the range of emotions and feelings I’ve undergone during the two weeks since I returned home from that overseas trip. That is simply because it truly has felt like I’ve re-entered “my world” from a completely different one that I’d experienced during those 38 days.
I wrote a column about the trip called, Dubai to Mumbai: Decadence to Deprivation, and it very aptly describes some of the emotions felt on this journey since we literally went from the richest city in the world (Dubai) to one of the biggest and poorest (Mumbai). That was a shock to the system, unless one were unconscious.
One of my coping mechanisms for handling the horrible poverty we’d see during the day to enjoying unlimited drink and great food in the evening, was to immerse myself in editing and organizing the photos and video I took throughout the trip (check out some of the 63 videos I made on my YouTube channel). At times, I really didn’t want to confront the incredible disparity between what I’d seen that day and the piles of leftover food that was wasted every meal on the ship.
On my Facebook Page, I have theme days and every Sunday is #FaithSunday where I ask, “What have you done to Repair the World?” This idea comes from the Jewish words, Tikkun Olam, in which Jews are exhorted to “Repair the World” one person at a time in whatever ways, big or small, that is possible.
I love this idea because it is a way every person can make a difference. When trying to confront huge global issues or problems, they can seem just too big and too impossible to solve. However, we all can do little things to help people and if we added them all up if everyone were to do this, we’d truly make a difference in the world.
This belief was severely challenged seeing the extent of the problems in India and Africa. We heard lectures on the ship that explained in great details some of these problems and some of the challenges that lay ahead for these places and people. Often the lectures painted a grim outcome, but usually they offered an optimistic and pessimistic prediction, allowing the listener to ponder which way it might go in the future.
As I slowly returned to my life in Calabasas, California in the extreme comfort of my own home, with a refrigerator full of food, and three cars in the driveway, I didn’t so quickly forget all I’d seen. I saw the absurd images of “neighbor” Justin Bieber and his antics on the news. I heard my two boys express what was on their minds and what they were thinking and/or worrying about. It seemed trivial but I didn’t dismiss these expressions because I realized that was their reality. They hadn’t just come from seeing what I’d seen.
But, I was haunted by many of the images I’d captured on film and video and seen, first-hand. I thought of the smiling and haunted faces of kids and adults I’d encountered. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude as I worked to get over jet lag, lying in bed in the dark of night.
My dog, Simon, almost seemed to have forgotten me when I strode briskly back inside when we got back home. He looked puzzled for a moment. He’s an old dog and perhaps he is a bit forgetful, but he did soon perk up with happiness. He’s much better fed and cared for than the majority of Africans we encountered. He’s living a long life well beyond what a street dog could normally survive.
The life expectancy of a baby born today, in the United States, is around 100 years. The life expectancy of most Africans is 44, down from 48, largely due to HIV/Aids. Again, unless I were unconscious, how could I not feel odd about the lush life my dog lives when my wife buys and feeds him cooked chicken and any little problem will result in a visit to the vet. Or, the true luxury and comfort my family and I enjoy daily!
So, re-entry has been hard. I’ve allowed some of those torn emotions to recede from my mind and I’m pretty much back to the pleasures and joys of my life in America. But, I hope I never lose the images of those kids and people that I saw throughout this recent trip and never lose the appreciation I have that I was so fortunate to have been born where I was born and live the life I’ve lived. As it was said by the late Phil Ochs, “there but for fortune, go you or go I.”