To my darling Little Ladies,
I’m on day 10 of my tour and this is when the rubber hits the homesick road. The 18,045 kilometres of ocean and lands between us feels very real. But rather than yearn to be where you all are to make that feeling go away, I’m acknowledging that I miss you all and that is a wonderful blessing, because before we all know it we’ll be back together again and have many new stories to share. This time apart is but a blip on the overall radar of our lives, but will bring valuable memories, insights and opportunities that will last our lifetimes.
As a woman travelling alone in a foreign city, where English is not the first language, there are moments where vulnerability is acutely felt. I’ve had many moments on this trip of realising just how insignificant in size each of us is — the world really is a giant cauldron of humanity and New Zealand is but a tiny wee saucepan. There are people everywhere, all vying for their place and hurriedly going about their business. At first, it’s exciting, but over time I’ve found it can become somewhat daunting. When you realise that you’re a speck, upon a speck, upon a speck and that if you were no longer here, none of these people would ever know the difference, it does give you pause. It sheds away any entitlement you’ve garnered over the years and leaves you with a very different appreciation as to your real place in the world. Gratitude for what we have springs to mind.
I was challenged this weekend in a way that I would not recommend, an experience that shook me to the core and left me reeling over humanity in general. It stirred within me a realisation of how we live and why we are the way we are as people. Here I am after a weekend in the city of sin, where all of human’s deepest desires can be fulfilled legally and is on full-frontal display, yet the people of this city have lost tolerance towards new incomers not ingratiated with their ways. It’s like being at an all-you-can-eat buffet, but then being told after you’ve stuffed yourself silly, that really you should have only had the one plate. There’s an expectation that you should have known that rule, but no one was willing to teach you.
It dawned on me that we expect people to follow our way of life, but we’re not prepared to help them get there. The expectation of how to teach them becomes somebody else’s problem, but I wonder how the locals would feel if that meant stripping away the freedoms they currently enjoy? The reality of regulation or government intervention in “fixing” where locals and newcomers negatively intersect (be it tourists or immigrants), is that it’s often heavy-handed, homogenous and archaic. They’ll work out all of the risk factors and shape accordingly — there can be no room for misinterpretation, so quickly these new rules become hard on locals and the blame is attributed to the newcomers for having to make this happen. Why couldn’t they just follow the rules we had?
Because nobody was willing to teach them. I hired a bike when I arrived in Amsterdam, I wanted to see the city like a local — it’s the most convenient and cost-effective way to get around. There are 17 million people in this country and 20 million bikes, the roads have been separated well, helping collision in the vehicle hierarchy more easily avoidable. But it’s not fool-proof, and aside from the obvious rules we all know (green means go, red means stop), there is an etiquette and road language that the locals abide by. It works for them. But when you hire a bike, they do not share this with you. I signed a theft waiver, making me accountable should I not lock the bike, but I wasn’t provided any insight into how to avoid making a menace of myself. Perhaps customs seem obvious to the locals? Upon conversing with many Uber driver’s, I discovered this was generally the truth; “how could you not know?” was how it was positioned to me. The expectation is that somebody else will have already taught you.
We forget that everybody doesn’t know what we know. We assume that everybody is up to speed. It’s such an interesting life insight. You kids fight with each other all the time over things that are probably trivial (or at least from a parental point of view), but actually most of the time it’s simply that one of you has assumed something and then added a layer of accusation. Because when people don’t understand and conform to what we believe is clearly laid out for all to see, then the next step is obviously accusation. How could you not see it? We believe they’re being petulant, condescending, rebellious, mean or evil. Perhaps they’re oblivious, but the solution to ignorance is inclusion, not returned ignorance.
What if instead of accusing someone we offered to show them? What if we took it upon ourselves as an individual to play our part in assimilating people and closing an information divide? Or put more simply, what if we just tried harder and took more personal responsibility for creating a better place? It won’t work for everyone, there will always be a fraction or margin of people who refuse, but what if you didn’t? What if you, as an empathetic, intelligent, curious human being decided that you will strive to no longer accuse or judge, but seek to understand another point of view? It shouldn’t mean you’re abandoning your beliefs, but rather expanding their scope to include ones that are polar. The surest way to win an argument is to have all of the information (both the “fors” and the “againsts”), if you were entering into a school debate, you would look at what the opposition might argue, so you have ready rebuttals. But rather than just come prepared with packaged up responses, be ready to genuinely listen and feel. I sat in these Uber’s and heard a laundry-list of arguments against tourism and bikers. A divide is coming for this usually content, happy place, where the growth in seasonal newcomers has placed pressure on infrastructure, but mostly on patience. Tolerance is easily lost. Nobody is teaching. The gap is growing. The fall out will be felt by the locals, who will blame the newcomers.
As you enter into the next phase of your lives travel will be prevalent, I have no doubt. All of your parents support this, we’re children of the world ourselves, a longing to be a bit nomadic. Two of you were born in Japan, all three of you are half-American and a quarter Chinese. You are the new generation of entwined tribes, where local people and newcomers merged and produced open-minded, blended offspring. Your upbringing has been blended and diverse — you know what it means to live with so many different types of people. You have been loved by all of them.
Your legacy is a crucial future human requirement and I encourage you to frequently remember how it is that you came to be YOU. When you find yourselves in moments of being misunderstood, seek to stand in the opposing shoes and appreciate their position, like your grandparents must have. Utilise it to work out how to meet in the middle, to integrate your positions. That is the gift you can give this world; tolerance and understanding, to merge beliefs. Not to give up on yours, or to switch sides, but to bring them closer together.
While it may seem lofty and utopian, it’s actually feasible and easily achievable. No one is asking you to change the world, just how you interact within it. We talk about the antidote to hatred in this world is love (and when terrorism strikes it’s the first thing we cry), but travelling on the tube in London every day, it’s seldom and rarely seen. People avoid eye contact, they keep their heads down low, they don’t smile at each other, they become robotic in their movements, just wanting to get through and out the other side. Fear will be playing a part in this, as will the natural rhythm of big city living, it compartmentalises your thinking and interactions. But it’s actually here, right here on the London Underground where humanity has been tested and continues to be tested, that we could do better. Instead I choose to briefly smile at strangers, lend a handy (or a spare coin), leave a sandwich for someone on the street to wake up to, challenge myself to not be quick to anger at someone for getting in my way or not following the “agreed” order. I ask myself how I’d want to be treated in that moment. I try and leave it better than I found it. For example, I offer up to the bike rental place that maybe I could write a few suggestions down that he could pass onto the next renters. I don’t complain that he didn’t do it, I become part of what I hope will be a rope handed down to the next person to pull themselves up with. I use carrots, not sticks.
Each time I’m challenged I have sent myself a little note, a reminder to think about this later. This journey is mine to make the most of, and I hope rather than come home with just a full credit card and a few trinkets, there are instead things like this we can discuss in-depth around the dinner table. Stories to share that will make you laugh, and wow at. So much more than I can write down on paper! But I promise to share them all with you, after all — my experiences will help shape your journeys too.
I miss our chats most of all.
I love you all!
Your Nene xxx