Last year, after my honeymoon to Africa, I struggled a bit to find the right material from that extraordinary experience to write about in my column. Happily, I came through with two of my personal favorite columns: each called “African Reflections” (Parts One and Two). This year, as I’m finishing up our trip to the Canary Islands, Morocco, and Portugal, I realized that I have more than enough material for a column. Consequently, I will share some highlights and also encourage you to visit my “A Dad’s Point-of-View” Facebook page where I’ve posted many photos from the trip.
Many things struck me on this trip, but the children affected me the most. The more I travel, the more exotic the places, and the more I realize how similar we all are. And the kids strikingly make that point as their faces so often reflect the joys of life–in spite of whatever hardships their countries may be suffering. To me, that is the hope for the future when I otherwise occasionally get discouraged by world events.
For instance, we went on a camel caravan in a very remote area, an hour’s drive from Marrekech, Morocco. The 4-Wheel drive vehicles took us to what literally felt like the middle of nowhere. We arrived at a small village that looked as if it was built from adobe and seemed in ruins. It was actually home to several families, and we saw some young kids exuberantly playing in the dust and dirt, alongside the various animals running around (chickens, donkeys, turkeys, etc).
My camel guide was a young boy from this remote village. His name was Aziz and he spoke little English, even less French, which is the more common second language of Morocco. But, we had the common language of smiles and signing of sorts with our hands. I learned that he was 14. And, I saw that he was happy. He was happy living in the middle of nowhere, with camels as friends and no X-box, cell-phone, or mall in sight. His joy and upbeat nature was palpable and I loved it. We laughed at the baby camels and the moms bleating along with other funny noises of protest.
In the souks and the medinas (narrow groups of buildings with labyrinths of winding streets and shops) we also saw groups of children going or coming from school. They were always laughing, playing, and otherwise joyful. Yes, we saw the poverty in some places and there were kids and others begging, but for the most part, we saw joy on the faces of the children we encountered.
I found all these encounters with the local people and children to be an ironic contrast to some of the discussions we had with our adult travel companions. First, it was evident that each person had his or her own story and as is so often the case, you don’t really know someone until you know him or her well. It was also very clear that each member of our group had overcome hurdles and challenges in his or her life, regardless of background or economic advantage or success.
I was particularly struck by the many variations of family units, marriages, kids, and such that we learned about. It was as if the old-fashioned nuclear family of one marriage, kids, and a home with a picket fence was totally a thing of the past, given the different configurations of family units we learned about.
I’m fond of quoting Joseph Telushkin’s mother, as quoted regularly by Dennis Prager, who said, “The only happy people I know are people I don’t know well.” Human nature is such that we compare ourselves to what we think we know about other people, and I assert that the old adage that you would rather hang onto your own problems than trade with another is sage wisdom.
And, when I travel around the world, I become even more grateful for the privileges of my life, though the older I get the more I recognize the foolishness of judging other cultures and people by my standards. Yes, there is absolute good and evil, but I’ll leave that for the political pundits and writers and leave my assertions to the micro of family life.
So, here I was in a country with rampant poverty, joyful kids, and beauty everywhere and I was getting e-mail from my boys complaining about the minutiae of their lives. My older teen was just plain moody, while my younger one was worried over the details of a school project. That is their world and their reality, so my long-distance job was to relate to their daily concerns while all the while marveling at the things I was experiencing on my trip.
Parenting never stops. Parents everywhere strive to provide for their children and I have to leave you with the sweet words of Louis Armstrong: “What a Wonderful World.”