Just GO somewhere: Reasons you should travel

Recently, I’ve been dreaming more and more about traveling the world. You would think that going out of the country twice this year would be enough, but there’s something that is just so appealing to me about traveling, and it makes me want more.

Like you may have read on the “Who I Am” page or in my last post “23 Things,” my parents started exposing my brother and me to travel when we were tiny. (They’ve been all over the world, too!) When I was 10, I took my first overseas flight and the four of us toured six countries in Europe for three weeks. I’m pretty sure that when you’re exposed to travel, you don’t want to stop. Or maybe that’s just me!

Skip to my college years. Throughout the last four years, I’ve had the amazing opportunities to visit 11 countries on four continents to do mission work, study abroad, complete thesis research, and just to explore. During each of these travels, God opened my eyes to new experiences, cultures and ways of life, as well as to the stories of the people I met. And I want to encourage you to do the same.

I’ve compiled reasons I think YOU should travel to new cities, new states, new countries, and new continents. Here’s my plug… Just GO somewhere!

To see the world and to see God’s beautiful creation. This may sound obvious, but there’s so much beauty beyond what we see in our own worlds.

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(The Norwegian Fjords)

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(The canals of Amsterdam)

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(The Atlas Mountains of Morocco)

To experience new culture and new ways of life. We have a tendency to be ethnocentric and think our ways are the best. But we can really learn from seeing how other people and the rest of the world functions. When I lived in a village in Morocco, I was able to watch how the villagers walked through each day. While their lives were difficult, and most of them worked very hard, there was a simplicity to their lives that I envied. Read more about my experiences here.

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(Grand Mosque, Casablanca)

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(A traditional Berber house, Tighza, Morocco)

To try new food. While I do love hamburgers, fries, cobb salads, and most American foods, the rest of the world has so many flavors that are so much better! Fresh salmon in Norway, masala and curry in India, French cheeses and bread, Belgian chocolates, Mediterranean olive oils. And not to mention the coffee!! I may be biased, but Americans miss out on some good flavor.

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(Moroccan mint tea and cookies)

-To meet new people. Everyone has a story to tell if you take the time to listen. Most women I talked to in Morocco were readily willing to share their stories with me. What an incredible opportunity it is for us to love people by simply listening. An example is Fatima’s story (pictured below).

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To learn new ways to communicate. Not everyone speaks English. It means a lot to nationals if you try to speak their native languages. I remember learning short phrases like “Aapka naam kya hai?” (“What is your name?” in Hindi) and “Salaam, la bas?” (a typical Tachelhit greeting, like “Hello. How are you?”) to help relate to the nationals.

To appreciate what you have and to put things in perspective. Hearing about a place or different people is not the same as actually seeing it for yourself. I heard about the brothels in Mumbai, but until I actually met the women in the brothels, I could isolate myself from this tragedy. This is the same for how women are treated in Moroccan villages. I’ve read and heard so much about how women are treated in traditional Muslim cultures, but I didn’t fully grasp it until I saw it for myself.

It’s a call to action to participate in what God is doing outside of yourself. Life is not about glorifying ourselves; it’s about glorifying God. We are called to be the hands, feet, and mouthpieces of Jesus to the world. Jesus’s command to believers is to go and make disciples of all nations. We are called to serve others and share Jesus. We have been blessed to be a blessing.

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I love how Paul says this in Romans 10:11-15. He writes, “As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

If you haven’t already, create a bucket list of places you want to visit, and make it a point to see one of these places each year. I have a lofty goal of stepping foot in all 193 countries, meeting nationals, and sharing their stories and my experiences. Just the thought of that thrills me! I would also love to complete the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

In honor of all these places, and because of my love of maps, my dad and I bought an enormous world map (shown below) and put pins in all the locations we’ve visited. (I have one of my own in my room in Ohio.)

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Why do you think it’s important to travel? What places are on your bucket list?

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Mumbai: A City of Extremes (12/20/2010)

Immediately after I stepped off Lufthansa Flight 934 at midnight, the murky humidity hit me like a stone wall. That same humidity was incessant the entire week I was in Mumbai, India.

My first impressions of the city were those seen through the dusty windows of a 1970s bus, which took our group of Ohio University students an hour away to our clean, air-conditioned hostel in Mumbai Central.On the rickety bus ride through the city, we passed homes with tin roofs and walls made of billboard signs. There were families sleeping on concrete sidewalks with their only extra clothes hanging on thin lines of rope.

The faint smells transitioned from diesel fumes to dust, from manure to burning tires. But, as we neared the hostel, the city began to smell like smog and traffic. In fact, the weather for Mumbai often reads “smoke” or “haze” on weather.com.

After nearly 24 hours of travel, we had finally arrived.
Culture Shock
Mumbai is a city with two different worlds: extreme wealth and abject poverty. On one hand, it is home to the glitz and glamour of Bollywood. But on the other, Mumbai has nearly 1.2 million people living on 20 rupees per day, or less than 50 cents, according to The Times of India.
Many Americans don’t see the side of poverty that I witnessed in Mumbai. Everyday, I watched children playing in the chaotic streets, children who were dressed in outgrown, filthy T-shirts and shorts. Dirt and dust were the only things covering their delicate feet. Young children carried their infant siblings.

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Everywhere I went, children held out their hands asking for money. The only English words they knew were “food” and “money.” Although we were told not to give the children money, we were told to treat them like children. We crouched to their level and asked them, “Aapka naam kya hai?” or “What is your name?” in Hindi.
The children would immediately respond by putting their hands down. Their faces lit up as they gave their names. Then, I would open a bag of Chickadees cheddar snack crackers and give it to them. And, usually, they smiled and walked away.

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Nearly half of Mumbai’s estimated 20 million people live in slums or shantytowns. Entire families live in 9-by-9 spaces, which function as the kitchen, bedroom and living room. In terms of material possessions, these people have virtually northing. But, they do have community. They depend solely on each other for love and support, and they can relate to one another.
One evening, I walked through an alley by our hostel. Shanties aligned either side of the street. As I wandered down the street, families gathered for their evening meals, and children ran around playing with the other neighbor children. On a single mattress without shelter, one young woman read to her sleepy infant. A grandmother, mother and two chil
dren slept outdoors on a cot. It’s almost as if the people in the shantytown are tucked away in a completely different world. Upon exiting the street, sure enough, there stood the main road with an illuminated McDonald’s and three-story shopping mall.
 

The Taste of Mumbai

In India, it seems as though everything has a zip to it: omelets, plain rice, McDonald’s sandwiches, you name it. But one thing I found particularly odd was the masala soda and masala spice chai. Masala is generally a mix of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper. So, I’m pretty sure you can imagine what masala soda would taste like. Many of us tasted the beverage, and we all had similar facial reactions. Our faces puckered up, and we struggled to swallow. The drink resembled carbonated salt water. One sip was enough for me.
Although many of the others on my trip were craving pizza by the end of our week, the food was one of the things I enjoyed most about India. But I tend to like strong flavors and spices. I’ve heard that most international food served in America is completely different from the native cuisine, but I did not sense much of a difference between American-Indian food and authentic Indian cuisine.
Because of religious restrictions, India is a vegetarian’s paradise. Restaurants are labeled either “veg” or “non-veg.” Even if the restaurant is “non-veg,” rest assured that there is always a vegetarian option. For example, I sampled the mildly spicy, lightly fried McVeggie at McDonald’s. Or at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the menu includes options such as the Veg Zinger, Veggie Snacker and Veg Rice and Strips.

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A Heart of Change
Nervously, I followed a group of four women through narrow, damp alleys.Where am I? Fear and confusion started to set in. Those feelings increased with every step. The men who passed me stared, and I felt uneasy.
I was told prior to this walk, that I was going into one of the darkest areas of the city. And I sensed the weight of that darkness.
Ten minutes later, I, along with three other women from OU and four Indian women from the Mumbai Aruna Project, arrived at a run-down, four-story building. We walked through the doorway and could see nothing. My heart pounded. Our eyes struggled to adjust as we staggered up the filth-covered staircase. Then, finally, sunlight appeared from a room at the top of the steps.
The Indian women instructed us to take off our shoes, enter the illuminated room and sit on the large couch. We obeyed.
As we entered, ten Indian women — all of whom were between 14 and 25 years old — sat on the couches laughing, putting on makeup and styling their beautiful black hair. They are my age. My age.
With the help of the women with the Aruna Project, we were able to converse and interact with the girls. Their eyes sparkled as they laughed. But we knew that behind those young faces, there was something different about their lives. Something we, as American women, could not understand.
After saying our goodbyes, we entered another room. And that is where my heart sank. The girls in this room told us they were 15 years old, but they were obviously closer to 10. I can still see the face of one child with round glasses and pigtails. She could not have been older than nine. How could anyone do this to his or her child? I thought. Each of these girls sees an average of seven men every night. Prostitution is the only life they know.
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The majority of the women were sold into the slave trade by family members when they were between the ages of 7 and 11. These 40,000 women are forced to attend to the more than 300,000 men who go to the brothels every night.
The sexual slave trade is like a cell, the women at the Aruna Project told us. (Many of the women who work at the Aruna Project were once prostitutes, and they can speak from experience.) When these little girls first enter the brothels, they are kept in chains and not allowed to see the sunlight for a few years. During those years, the girls are psychologically and physically abused. They are beaten down so that when they are finally released from the chains, they will not want to leave. As the girls get older, they are given more “freedom,” but if they go outside the brothel, they are accompanied by a pimp. Eventually, they are allowed to travel by themselves; however, they must pay.
We often wonder, Why don’t they just run away? As a part of the psychological abuse, the women begin to believe that the life of prostitution and sexual abuse is better than life on the streets. To those women, life on the street means having no food, shelter or money, all while still being sexually abused.
But there is hope: the Aruna Project.
The Aruna Project is a Christian organization dedicated to the rescuing of women and children from the sexual slave trade. Because of the years of abuse these women endure, the Aruna Project must build relationships and trust with them. The Project offers counseling, health care and skills training so the women will be able to function independently in society. Since the organization started nearly ten years ago, it has rescued more than 150 women.
The Project not only rescues women, but it also reaches out to their children. Aruna has a partnership with the Salvation Army, which provides a home and schooling for the children of prostitutes. I had the chance to visit the Salvation Army and play with the children, ages five through 14, who study the core subjects, as well as English and the Bible. It warms my heart to know that these children are the future. Let’s just say that that was the best way to spend my last day in India, with hope.

(See the original post here.)