I’ve often said that travel in not just about checking off bucket lists. Yes, I loved seeing the Pyramids, Himalayan Mountains, Machu Picchu, and the Galapagos Islands. What I remember most, though, are the people I engage with, and I try to stay in touch with at least one person in each of the countries I visit.
This means receiving first source information about a disaster or volatile political situation. I’m sharing the ones I’ve received just in the last month. I have not edited them as English is their second language and I am always impressed with their effort to correspond in our language. The exception is my Cuban friend who writes in Spanish, and I translated his letter.
The floods in Germany prompted an email to a foreign exchange student, Helmut. His response “… since the flooding happened very close to us, we were helping friends and other people who had so much mud in there houses. There is so much stuff that they cannot use any more and have to throw it away. It is terrible. No electricity, no drinking water. Always things like that seem to be in places like Bangladesh or India but not here.”
Ethiopia is suffering through a civil war that has affected the entire country and has halted their tourism industry. Our Ethiopian Orthodox Deacon friend, Muchaw, writes “Mary as you know by different magazine television internet at the moment Ethiopia is not a peaceful country beaucoup (because of) their civil war .COVID 19 very hard every a day increasing, their is no governmental help so life is very difficult. mary to be honest there’s no electric power no light in the north part of ethiopia because of the civil war of Ethiopia. it is very very hard civil war. the electric power damage by the tigray military. their is no access to send you a message.”
Cuba is having a very difficult time and an inquiry to a friend, who is an Episcopal priest, generated this reply to explain the recent demonstrations- “Mary imagine the situation, currently the country is “ZERO”, there is nothing in the stores, only water pipes. There is much need. The Blockade is suffocating, Trump applied 243 extraterritorial measures and the country is at “ZERO”, there are no drugs in hospitals, people are dying of simple diseases such as asthma. Many medicines are manufactured in Cuba and we do not have them, because raw materials have to be imported. Add to that the 6-hour power cuts, in the middle of a hot summer like ours, says the government version that it is because there are no shipping companies that bring oil for fear of US sanctions. Those are the causes of the social explosion.”
Our wonderful guide in the Assam Valley of India wrote about the terrible floods they’ve had in the area, “Hello Mam, after a long gap I say hi to you. Actually my phone and laptop has been completely damaged by flood. Hope you are all alright. We are well here and having our vaccines but situations here is not good. For 20 days we are in a lock down in our area. In spite of Covid, flood has also badly affected us. Situations are really worse. Every day it is very hard for those persons so that they can overcome this pandemic situation. God knows when this will be over. Please take care of yourself and sir.”
It is easy for we Americans to get caught up in our own problems and tune out the disasters from other parts of the world. And even if we hear of them on the news, they are distant events, both physically and emotionally. But having a direct contact with residents in a country makes the tragedies more personal. My husband and I can sometimes ease the pain with a donation to our friends, but nothing is allowed into Cuba and we can only commiserate from afar. Having these contacts helps me understand the oft quoted “we are in this together.” Since tourism is the number one industry in the world and millions around the globe make their living from our desire to travel, the COVID 19 pandemic and environmental disasters have wreaked havoc on these workers. My foreign friends are just trying to survive and are facing a more dire situation than we have in the U.S.
We can be grateful for what we have here but should not turn our backs on our worldwide brothers and sisters. Even without personal contacts, all can do their part through the many churches and international NGOs working directly with those afflicted by COVID 19 and global warming. COVID 19 doesn’t respect borders, and neither should we in our support.