Stranger in a Strange Land

We leave for our first stop, Ethiopia, in one week. Yikes! The UPS delivery man has been coming twice a day, delivering suitcases, backpacks, notebooks for the kids to journal, math workbook, travel organizing packs, travel size bottles for shampoo and soap, quick drying shirts and undies from Uniqlo, anti-malarial medication, bug spray, Advil, anti-diarrhea medications, sandals, sneakers, power adaptors, power strips, e-readers, headphones, a digital sound recorder, math and mini-combination locks as a token deterrent from someone stealing all this stuff.  Who knew that a trip around the world required so much stuff? But as I unpack each item and lay it out next to its designated bag or backpack (how is it going to fit?) I feel….a little more prepared, a little less nervous.

I’m a planner and a packer.  My husband is not so much, although he appreciates when, at the park, I pull out the picnic blanket, drinks, and snacks and produce a ball for the kids to kick around.  He concedes thati It’s nicer to have these things, although it would have been fine to not have them too.

Having traveled much of the world in his twenties and possessing a crazy store of knowledge about the history and culture of pretty much every country across the globe, Nico has an amazing ability to orient himself wherever he goes, while I’m imagining myself as a stranger in a strange land.  And the act of getting the right clothes to be comfortable and blend in, the right tools to record our memories, the things we need to educate the kids and keep them safe–anticipating what might come and being ready for it–brings that strange land a little more into focus and makes it easier to place myself there.

Although we will necessarily be tourists in the places we go, we are trying hard to figure out ways to cross the divide a little, to close the distance between “us” and “them”, to prevent our kids from gawking at people who look different from us and live differently so that they might focus on the common points of our humanity.

In my mid-40s, I’m no longer accustomed to feeling like a beginner, and traveling forces you to get comfortable with not knowing where to go and how things are done.  Few other experiences are as unsettling and exhilarating.

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