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Why I Teach My Children to Talk to Strangers

by Inge Poell Jan 2, 2017

As I stand at the gas station I can suddenly see us through the eyes of the outside world. A mom. Three kids. Two surfboards. One stuffed animal. Some food leftovers, a bottle of water. No car.

This morning we headed to La Lancha, a beautiful beach along the Mexican Pacific coast. After a few hours of surfing we are now stranded at the gas station, hoping to hitch a ride back into Sayulita. It suddenly hits me how traveling has changed our life. How we have learned to live and think outside the box. Outside the security of our Western lives. So here we are. Here I am. My hair messy. Bare feet. Wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and a smile. I realize I have left the house without enough money to even pay for a taxi or a bus. As always, I had trusted blindly in what was yet to come.

Silvana looks at me, a proud look on her face. “I talked to some strangers today”. The oddness of the very scene we find ourselves in together with her statement strikes me. Living in Europe we didn’t hitchhike and we didn’t talk to strangers. Whenever my kids would venture out alone I specifically warned them not to talk to strangers. Strangers were not to be trusted. However, somewhere along our journey we have changed. Our horizons have broadened. Our minds expanded. A new awareness, a new life. New rules. A stranger a day, for all of us. We needed to get out there. To re-invent ourselves. To immerse ourselves into new cultures. To meet new people. To share their and our story. I smile at my oldest daughter. “That is great, darling”, I say. And while I look at her with wonder she tells me all about these people that once were strangers to us.

I see Sheree getting comfortable in a hammock from the surf school next door. Her skinny little legs dangling at one side, her head upside down at the other side. Her position representing the very way she perceives live. The fact that we’re stranded here doesn’t seem to phase her. And when an elderly Mexican man walks up to her and starts easy conversation she’s eager to tell her story. “Don’t you miss home?”, the man asks. Sheree pauses. I can tell she’s weighing her words carefully. “The world is my home”, she says with great confidence. “I just have a very big home now”. The man stares at Sheree with a puzzled look on his face. The innocence of this encounter between a young girl and an elderly man, beyond borders and ages, touches me.

After a while we get a ride from two lovely Mexican ladies. We manage to all squeeze in the back of their broken down truck. A mom. Three kids. Two surfboards. One stuffed animal. And when she asks us about our story she cries excitedly: “I’ve heard about you!” I silently revel about this supposedly new found celebrity status of ours. “I’ve seen it on television but never seen someone like you in real life!”. I am not sure what to say or think. I decide on giving her my greatest smile. As it turns out she’s heard about this new generation of digital nomads. Of families traveling the world. She bestows upon us a waterfall of words and questions. And when, half an hour later, she drops us off at our home we hug. We say our goodbyes as we are old friends. “I’m going to buy your book” she cries when I look over my shoulder to blow her a kiss.

A stranger a day. I would say the most powerful of lessons learned during our life’s travel. We’ve sat with the rich and poor, on a mountain in Ecuador, experiencing the natural disaster of an earthquake. We’ve connected with the outcasts of a Nicaraguan community, listening to their life stories. We’ve been treated as family in Costa Rican homes, where there was nothing but love to share. We’ve spoken with the religious and the atheist in the mountains and valleys of Colombia. In the end it all comes down to an ancient Mayan greeting. “In La’kech”, meaning “I am you and you are me”. A simple statement of unity and oneness. Where we all have a story to tell. A lesson to teach. A blessing to give. If we would just be willing to open up our hearts and souls to each other. To welcome the unwelcomed. Wouldn’t the world then be a home to all of humankind? For I am you and you are me.

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