I still clearly and fondly remember a trip I took Ecuador a few years back. The country had the most spectacular scenery from miles up in the sky, framed by the Andes to the cool blue-green pools deep under the Pacific Ocean, exploring the depths of the Galapagos. There was never a shortage of breathtaking scenery and great photo ops at each turn. However, the most profound memory I brought home and one that still remains with me even to this day was one the simplest of gestures and the easiest one to pass along with out breaking your stride in the least bit. It may seem simple and a bit trivial, but the unsolicited smiles from the locals really made a real impact on me. It really opened my eyes to where I live full time and how much I can acclimate to any environment; even one full of grumpy people.
The cost is of course absolutely nothing, except for the brief acknowledgement that someone outside our own little World is relevant, even if only for a brief moment. Yet for some reason it ‘s such a rare commodity here back at home, and one rarely given with out pretension. It’s amazing what a simple yet, genuine and warm smile can do when it comes from out of the blue. I reference Ecuador and can easily add China, Thailand, Ireland as well in my attempt to describe why or how Peru is had the same affect on me. Even though they share borders with Ecuador and it would seem possible for these borders to be more transparent, they do not do so with the far east and in Europe..So obviously is not a geographical phenomenon, it become more increasingly a larger perspective which coincidently enough comes from the people who in social circles possess less. Less material things, that is and by no means less emphasis of enjoying life.
This kind of basic and genuine form of communication breaks so many boundaries and is universally understood no matter how terrible the foreign language skills are from a particular location. In China, I went with out a single word in my language-bank so even to say a simple greeting was a challenge at first. However, when armed with enough enthusiasm, confidence in my ability to act out on the spot charades, or draw a quick picture; ultimately I managed just fine with a very open mind and a self defacing, yet genuine smile. Every time it was returned to me and usually with the help or direction I needed. I was forced to interact with people at every turn, which s not a strong point of mine. But for some reason, (possible desperation,) I did so just fine. I think it had more to do with the fact that the people were so accommodating towards helping me.
So much like Ecuador and China, Peru offered a better base for my ability to communicate with my 2nd grade level spanish, but once again the thing I take home with me, more than the beautiful coastline of Miraflores, the greenness and grandeur of the Sacred Valley and of course the jaw dropping spectacle that is Machu Pichu, is once again the warmth of the people and the brightness and sincerity of their smiles.
Whether it be the smallest child, or the oldest person we met, there is an acknowledgement that you are in their realm and more than that are welcome there. Even the taut’s or any number of people selling a number of items on the street are polite and have a thank you followed by a genuine smile even if there is no sale made. It just seems to be in their DNA to be gracious and polite. Weird, huh?
I guess, the main reason I really continue to run out to parts of the World that especially more provincial is to get a sense of hope and perspective that there’s still places where the pace of life is just slow enough to understand how quick this ride we’re on truly is. It kind of validates the struggle I have wanting this life to go on longer so I can experience more of it and simply expand my horizons intellectually, empathetically and of course spiritually. A place where complete strangers can pass you on a street you have never been on, look you dead in our eyes, extend a big smile simply to say hello and have a nice day. There is no other meaning behind it, yet it warms the heart completely and connects us all. It also makes me wonder why its not like this back home where I live in a beach town, full of people who have life by the literal balls and don’t deal with the day to day life and death struggles simply to to stay fed that I see and meet every time I jump on or off a plane.
It also makes me wonder who the truly rich and blessed people are and who are really the less fortunate ones. Generalizing does nothing in this country except make people crazy and force them to pick out the 1 or 2 people they know or heard of to dispel that particular “myth.” This is also not anywhere close to a commentary on a truly capitalistic vs social conservative perspective. I can easily separate the facts that one has nothing to do with the other and ease the ideas that begin from the top down. It appears to me that many of us have lost the idea that begins at the the bottom and grows up and then out. Maybe we all forget where we came from, or where our parents and how their parents have struggled to get us to where we are. Although we are now living in a society that does stress a sense of self entitlement, I’m still not buying the fact that we can not rediscover our foundations we once embraced and get back to being the best country in the World’s history to live in. I am constantly reminded that with a little humility, hard work and servitude to the family and neighborhoods we live in, I won’t constantly be coming home to a place that has lost its warm smile.
I am always packing my bags before every trip with the intent of finding extremes of emotions and experiences in usually remote and hard to reach places. I usually find what I’m looking for as I remain intrepid in that task, but what strikes me the most is the people I meet along the way and how someone who I meet for a total of a minute or two can impact my life as profoundly as many people I have known for years.
Coming home is always a mixture of excitement and a bit of contrition. Most times I come home and spend days in the house trying to acclimate to seeing all the same old robotic and lifeless faces in the cars to my left and right. Sometimes a little walk around the neighborhood, can be a good ice breaker.
I believe to truly understand why we are all in this place in our hearts and souls we simply need to look in the mirror. It starts each day and the second we get out of bed, whether we do just our little part to make someone else feel present, welcome, loved, wanted or just acknowledged. If we are waiting for a larger Leviathan (the kind Thomas Hobbs once described) to tell us what and how to do it, then it’s just going to be too late.
So here is a little photographic tribute of thanks to so many of those beautiful and warm smiles I was on the lucky end of and that continue to help me understand that we are all indeed connected, for better or worse.