March 6, 2015

In praise of those unlike me

I had dinner in Slovenia Wednesday. Well, not really in Slovenia, but in the warmth of Slovenian friendship.

Bella and Julija, 2012
Over a big plate of čevapičiči (elongated Slovenian meatballs), I rekindled my friendship with Martin Jelovsek. Martin and his parents were our hosts when Cecile and I took a 40th anniversary trip to their spectacular little country in 2012. He is also the sister of my co-worker and friend Ursa Lenart, who suggested the trip in the first place.

All of the above is a long way of saying my heart is sometimes not at my home. I have a longtime fascination with the world beyond our borders and a deep, deep appreciation of the people I’ve met there.

I should probably have a passport from the United Nations. I was born in Germany, but my mother was English while my father hailed from Idaho – although his mother and step-siblings were Canadian. I married into a family of with roots in California, China, Korea and the Philippines. Our reunions are worthy of a Food Network special.
I’m proud to be an American, but my mind has wandered abroad my whole life.

I learned at a very early age that all people are just people, but that they spice up the world with unique words, thoughts and actions. It’s a spice that I crave. My university job has taken me from Mongolia to Italy and filled the spaces between with students and journalists from Nepal to Norway. And I’m ready to go out there for more.
Martin, American cousin Olive, Bella and me

Which brings me back that dinner at Ursa’s house. Martin brought with him his cute-as-a-kitten daughter, Bella. When we were in Slovenia, Bella and I became friends in the most wonderful way – without words. She couldn’t speak English and I was generally stumped by Slovene. But 5-year-olds don’t need language. Bella could pleasantly pester me just as I could gently tease her with the sound we all recognize – laughter.

Bella has grown up a few years and didn’t really remember me until I pulled up a photo of her and cousin Julija on my phone. And then we were back to teasing each other and sharing wordless laughs.

The Great Truth of Internationalism is that nobody does life right, but we all live life well. The sin against that truth is looking at the world through OK-I-can-check-that-one-off lens of a places-not-people tourist. Better to travel with your heart, even if it means just welcoming a new friend from a foreign land.

One day, perhaps, my international friends will so enlighten my spirit that I’ll achieve my dream of getting a new driver’s license.

Place of residence: Earth.