The places we travel can be beautiful and awe-inspiring. Monuments carry profound meaning and breathtaking vistas remind us to pause to soak up the majesty of creation. The hustle and bustle of the active city brings a rush to our veins.
However, there is more to any location than its top tourist attractions. A city is composed of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people, each with a unique perspective. While in Europe over these past weeks, I have made it my mission to get to know more than just the surface of the places we visit. I have sought the one sitting alone on the park bench, the vendor selling kebabs on the corner, the bright boy running through the park, the young couple unaware of anything other than each other. They are all facing the joys, sorrows, and daily struggles of life. They each have family, friends, or ones they care about. They each carry with them a story, one that needs to be told.
Eran is from the north of Israel. After talking for over an hour in a cafe one morning in Munich, our conversation got especially interesting when I brought up the topic of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict. He said, “more than politics, I am concerned about the safety of my family. My kids have grown up in a society where they are used to running to the shelters each time the sirens go off. We have to raise our next generation free of the fear of the other side. That will change things.”
While roaming the streets of Warsaw, I noticed Elina and Dima soaking up every moment with each other. Growing up in Kiev, these two have had difficulty overcoming the reality of their invasive neighbor, Russia. Their escape has come in the form of the legal profession which brought them together and the sport of football which brought them here. Elina’s team played in Warsaw the day we met, and she messaged me last week to let me know that they won!
Malichi migrated to Germany from Eritrea in order to find better work. While he is typically accustomed to bigger cities, he has enjoyed exploring and riding his bike around Freiburg. At the end of the day, he says he is ready to get back. He misses the rush of the city.
A quick search on TripAdvisor for highly rated restaurants in Brussels will show “Tonton Garby” near the top of the list. The tiny establishment with one man behind the counter and three tables might turn away the traditional tourist, but this place is one not one in which to merely get a meal at, but one to experience. The individual behind the counter, Garby, takes pride in getting to know the people he hosts, and he makes it his goal to prepare a sandwich specifically for their tastes. The menu is not necessary, as Garby walks his guests through each and every option. And, “if you don’t like it, you don’t pay.”
Many stories, but one common narrative prevails. If I have learned anything over this time of travel, it is that there is far more that unites us than what divides us. We must focus on our shared humanity instead of the walls of division that we tend to construct between our fellow humans.