The 6 explorers in Namibia...a long time ago

(Dana) As we started planning this adventure, we talked about experiencing places that are changing far too fast, whether physically or culturally. As we wrap up this trip, I am so proud of what we have accomplished. The six of us have truly experienced other worlds beyond our home — physical worlds of landscape and atmosphere as well as diverse worlds of animal and human inhabitants. Individually we have expanded, and together we have bonded, as we explored so many new worlds.

From 15-17,000 feet above sea level while treking in the Andes and Bhutan to 15,000 feet above the New Zealand earth while skydiving to 170 feet below the ocean surface while scuba diving, we have seen our blue planet from vastly different angles. The incessant power of the wind demanded respect in Patagonia. The importance of oxygen was burned into our brains (and lungs). I marveled at how falling through blue water felt so similar to falling through the blue sky. Multiple atmospheres all vastly different than Massachusetts.

Around the world, the landscapes varied significantly as we learned about the forces of the planet that shaped them. The volcano on White Island simmered, belching steam and oozing sulfur along a fault line just like its geothermal brethren in Iceland. The weather patterns of Namibia and Chile created the stunning Sosusvlei sand dunes and the lunar landscape of the Atacama. The life-sustaining inland waters of Peru, Zambia, Egypt, Bali, Bhutan and many others all depend on glaciers or other sources to continue flowing. And perhaps most dramatically, the ice shelves and iceberg-filled seas of Antarctica, that stretch further than our eyes could see, have been created and sustained by the continent’s position at the bottom of the world. Each continent holds an array of different worlds yet consistent themes.

The 6 explorers with Huli Wigmen

The inhabitants of these worlds are also different yet similar. As we watched the savagery of a lion kill or the frustration of a cheetah near miss, we saw how predators must eat or be eaten. We learned about the maternal behaviors of elephants and orangutans. We mourned the impact that humans have had on decreasing safe habitat for tigers and whales. And we developed a far deeper appreciation for the avian world as we generated bird lists that forced us to look far beyond the big-five animals of any country. All of our new insights into the animal kingdom should make us far more appreciative of those we share our world with back home.

Our sensitivity and awareness of human differences has grown exponentially. In general, we felt as if we were looking back in time, giving us a better understanding of how our own country developed. While we tried to pick up enough of over a dozen other languages to be respectful, we mostly relied on others for communication. Our observations on the cultural worlds are many and include:

  • Basics for human survival — food, shelter and clothing — reflect the climate and physical surroundings of the people: for example, thatch huts, sago palm and as naked as possible in the Sepik River basin of equatorial Papua New Guinea or stone, potato and poncho layers in the Andes mountains.
  • Education is a luxury for most people; in most countries, like Kenya and the Indian Himalayas, committed students walk hours to and from school. They study hard because it is a privilege and not a right.
  • Religion creates an entire level of similarities and differences, whether Spirit, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim (in age order).
  • Most people are content and happy with very few material possessions.
  • People living along the river use the river for food, drink, washing, bathing, transportation and the toilet.
  • People’s tolerance for dirt and animals in living spaces is far higher than mine.
  • In general, we are spoiled by automation in the US: for water, for laundry, for transportation.
  • Addictive behaviors like betel nut or coca leaf chewing rival tobacco use in many countries.
  • Music is universal (along with Toblerone, Lays potato chips, Colgate toothpaste and Nokia ring tones).
  • Marriages are still arranged in many cultures with female roles still focused on childbearing and the basics of household survival.
  • Westernization is usually a function of electricity, satellite television and tourism.
  • Traditional clothing and rituals are being increasingly relegated to cultural shows.

Finally, we began to recognize the potential threats and challenges for our planet. Overpopulation drives many evils including a lack of clean water, deforestation for housing or food production and a plethora of trash. The rule of law enjoyed by American and other citizens is not universal.

Where will we jump next?

It is hard to know how this will affect the six of us long-term. Will we continue to take shorter showers and reduce/reuse/recycle as much as possible? Will we make due with less or get sucked back into materialism? Will the kids eat all the food on their plate now that we’ve seen real hunger? Will we find a meaningful way to help others? Will the kids’ future paths be impacted by this journey? So many questions; uncertain responses. Most importantly, we recognize how rich we have become through our ability to explore these other worlds. Personally, I cannot help but wonder “Where will we go next?”


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6 Responses to “Connections”

  1. Your year long adventure has been exciting and a learning expereance for us. We cannot thank you enough for sharing it with us. Now we are excited that you will soon be back home in Dover. We look forward to seeing you real soon.

  2. Wow. Just today I was thinking about you guys and wondering, are they thinking “we can’t believe it’s over?” To your point it may never be over, but just beginning. How will this trip impact your futures? It will be so interesting to see. I know our family feels blessed to have shared in it through your website, as it is unlikely we will ever take such a trip. For us you have sparked the beginning of a conversation about traveling less for pure pleasure and luxury and more for experience. For that we thank you. You have enriched us all and we also are asking, “Where will we go next?” Safe travels home. We can’t wait to see you and catch up.
    xoxo The Boyd Family

  3. Dana, I have enjoyed reading your reflections all year long and I enjoyed this post too. In fact, I think you achieved even more than you realize now. When I read your entry I thought to myself, not only have they managed to experience “places that are changing far too fast, whether physically or culturally” (as you say), but they have really managed to experience the ultimate in what changes far too fast – our kids, our spouses and our fleeting family life together. Your uninterrupted time with your kids and with each other – away from the business (dare I say detritus) of daily life – may (I think) prove to be most precious. And that is what is truly inspirational (at least to these readers of your blog!). It certainly was the highlight of our adventure in India with you – and I think it’s the reason the India video makes me cry every time I watch it (which I do alot). 🙂

    Can’t wait to see you in less than a week (wow!)! XO K

  4. Well said, and welcome home! I’m sure the culture shock of Dover, MA is stronger than a busy street in Delhi right now. Wishing you a restful and reflective summer.

  5. Dana:

    It has been a pleasure to share this journey with you, Greg and the kids.

    I was having dinner the other night with Faith Glazier (do you remember her from HBS?) and we were reflecting on your journey — not just the multi-cultural immersion, but the White-family immersion! What an incredible gift for you all, and for those whose lives you touched around the world.

    Thanks for making an impact….

    Welcome Home!

    Karen, Giles, Colin and Matthew

  6. Anacelia Ferreira da Silveira 30. Jul, 2012 at 9:28 am

    I miss all you guys … I go the distance with many good memories…xoxoxoxo ANA E WELVES(NINO)