“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the plesantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.
You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the artof travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it.
For this reason, your customary thoughts, all except the rarest of your friends, even most of your luggage- everything, in fact, which belongs to your everyday life, is merely a hindrance.
The tourist travels in his own atmosphere like a snail in his shell and stands, as it were, on his own perambulating doorstep to look at the continents of the world.
But if you discard all this, and sally forth with a leisurely and blank mind, there is no knowing what may not happen to you”
What I believe this means, is that if we go into situations with our preconceptions already altering our viewpoint, we don’t experience anything. We have to shed the layers of what we think we know, our judgements and attitudes to the way ‘things should be’ and start looking at the world through a new, open lens. If we can go into the world and learn from people rather than going into the world and seeing how things ought to be running, we miss the opportunity to enrich our mindset.
A Preconceived Toilet
I grew up in the west where bidets and the use of water is not common. Toilet paper is de rigeur and I’ve never had much cause to question it.
When I arrived in the depths of rural Tamil Nadu, the first thing I had to contest myself with was the disappearance of an old and trusted friend.
A person may look at this situation and think to themselves “It shouldn’t be done this way” or “ I know better”. I tried, as best I could, to take the approach of curiosity. Why has the practice been done this way for thousands of years. There may be something to it. And indeed there is! To save you from too much description. It is incredibly hygienic, the deep squat helps keep the knees and hips limber and the hover position saves any unnecessary transfer of germs. Its a pretty perfect system. Other than a slightly damp bottom!
The quote fills me with excitement about the posibilities of travel and learning. That no subject is learnt in isolation and that through history and travel we learn better the pyschology of ourselves and others.
It is not to say that everything we see in another country that we have preconceived notions about is automatically a good thing that we haven’t been able to see yet. There is so much that has annoyed me whilst working and travelling abroad about the state of healthcare, the state of infrastructure, the state of queues (I miss England for this huge reason) and the blatant corruption that effects everyone.
But it is worth taking a second appraisal when we see something that hits our ‘nerve centre’. Responding to these feelings of perhaps anger, disgust or dislike, it is helpful to ask ourselves, why have I reacted in this way to this sight in front of me? Is there any other possiblity that this isn’t what I have judged it to be.
A Dog’s Life
Another example that springs to mind early on is that of street dogs. This is an abhorrent thing in the UK. A wild dog is seen as a poor sorrowful thing and are swept up to a shelter to hopefully be adopted into a loving home. Hopefully, or will have to spend the rest of its life inside a place it may not want to be.
In Nepal, India and Bangladesh, what we see so often is a very different state of affairs. Dogs roam freely in the countryside and the cities and have great, what sound to be, singing battles at night. They sleep absolutely everywhere and surprisingly so, most look healthy.
My UK brain would balk at the idea of looking at those dogs like I do today. Today, what I see is the quote “It takes a village to raise a child” Dogs here are not seen as pets (with obvious exceptions), they are seen as independent beings who have the right to live life as they choose. They are not simply ignored however, but the local people take it upon themselves to give food a few times a day, the children play with the dogs when they are willing and they are seen as a welcome fixture to a community.
It is also immensely helpful having guard dogs everywhere when there is a risk of big cat attacks. For sure, they are not usually invited into the homes, but they are also not looked down on with pity or attempted to be locked away out of sight. The dogs live, as they have for thousands of years, outside in packs. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty free.
Not a Perfect Solution
I do want to add a short attendum to this dog situation to say that the solution (like any solution) is not without it’s downsides, when dogs do pick up illness it is quiet hard to treat as there is not a singular person to take them to the vet and when they need help, it isn’t easy to go to one place to find a solution. Shades of grey in every matter, it is perfectly okay to disagree with my limited perspective.
The point to take away from Freya’s quote is that of mindset. If we live life with the preconception of only one way of living, we miss the knowledge, benefits and opportunities of experiencing life another way. Our flexible approach can keep our neurology plastic throughout our life and allow occasions for joy we hadn’t learnt about in our formative years.
If you are interested in learning more about Freya Stark: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Freya-Stark
If Preconceptions in patient mind-set is your bag: https://liberationfound.com/journals/challenging-expectations-in-nepal/