How can I even begin to share how travel has changed my life? Simply, I can’t.
Travel has become an innate part of me; I can no longer find the boundaries between who I am and who travel has transformed me into.
So instead I am going to share a story of when someone else’s life changed traveling in my life forever.
I spent 2 weeks traveling throughout Palestine and the West Bank with a fellow student from my University. We were there doing research on the possibility of setting up a student exchange and also wanted to get a better idea of the conflict. I could discuss my experiences there for days on end so rather than go into great detail I am only going to discuss one specific interview.
For Palestinian citizens to travel outside of their boundaries they must first apply for visas and travel through security checkpoints manned by armed Israeli soldiers. These checkpoints are not reliable for timely passing (unless you hold a passport from another country) in which there is often a separate entrance, line and therefore waiting time. For Palestinians it can be a very arbitrary and degrading process having to wait for a soldier who wants to let you through. On several occasions we saw the lines for Palestinians closed during regular hours and often the soldiers would take breaks even though Palestinians were waiting to cross through.
A Palestinian friend, who we will name Ben, had attempted to travel through one of the local checkpoints at the same time an Israeli soldier decided to take lunch break leaving the Palestinian travelers waiting in line for their return. On this occurrence ‘Ben’ was under a time constraint and let his frustrations be known to this specific soldier with little to no avail.
Nearly a month passed and Ben hadn’t thought of the incident until Israeli soldiers raided his town on the West Bank , knocked on his door and the same soldier Ben had argued with was standing in his doorway. He spoke of their interactions previously and then shot Ben injuring him severely and leaving him paralyzed in a wheelchair. While this is sad and wrong, it is not the main part of the story, only the background story needed to understand the severe circumstances of my friend.
We arrived at Ben’s home in the late afternoon after having just finished interviews in nearby village, it had been an emotionally draining day thus far so being greeted by his young children thrilled to have visitors was just the welcoming we needed. It is a rare occasion to have visitors on the West Bank as it’s not a typical ‘tourist’ location. We were welcomed with tea, coffee and snacks which had been made by Bens wife, she was grateful that we were there to hear their story and our ability to share it with others.
We discussed the unfortunate circumstances involving violence, disrespect, needless limitations set by the Israeli government and of ignorant hatred. While we spent several hours together only some of our time was spent on the negativity that consumed their day to day life. Their young children sat still in the kitchen listening and watching us with great interest even though they couldn’t have understand most our English conversation. Their parents spoke of the love their family shared since Ben’s injury and how grateful they were that he was only injured and not killed, which could have easily been the case.
To my surprise they weren’t bitter or hateful and were anxious to ask about our lives in America. We spent the greater portion of our time talking about the world and what life was like for us back in the states and our ambitions. They repeatedly asked questions about my travels wondering what it was like to swim in the ocean and if I’d ever seen a shark. We discussed what its like to live surrounded by mountains and the sensation of flying in an airplane. It was a very touching, emotional and humbling experience for me, probably the most moving interview I shared in Palestine , which is really saying something!
Near the end of each interview I asked the same question, “What is one thing you would like me to take from my experiences in Palestine to share with others?”
I will NEVER forget his response.
“ Take us. ” Take us with you in your heart. Bring us with you on your travels, enjoy the places we can not go for us. Enjoy your life of opportunity for those of us with little opportunity. Be grateful for your life.
Of every response I got, none touched me like Ben’s.
I have been given the opportunity to live a life that very few are able to, for those who don’t have access to these opportunities, I take you with me.
How has travel changed your life? Can you pinpoint a single moment – a day, an hour, a split second – when you knew that things had changed? How did that change impact your life, both on your travels and at home?