Deep inside travelers lies a dark secret that you don’t write about in postcards.
It presents itself innocently enough, just a twinge as you’re walking a foreign street, a slight ache that’s probably just a little fatigue or hunger or maybe sun poisoning?
You check yourself like you’d check a baby: Are you tired? No, you just finished your second café latte (You would have preferred plain coffee with milk, but can’t figure out how to order it.) You’re not hungry and you’ve been walking in the shade. Could you be — no, you won’t even let the word slip into your frontal lobe, because once it has, like a couchsurfing friend, there’s no way to know when it will leave.
Too late. You were distracting yourself by snapping photos of funky trees, and tricked your hands but not your gut.
It is here, deep in your belly, that Loneliness has set up shop, shakes out a blanket on the futon, makes a copy of your key and settles in.
Crossing the world seeking adventure comes at the cost of routine comforts and organic friendships. Sports meetups and sponsored bar crawls can buy you some GMO friends, artificially grown over the slightest of familiarities: “You like watching soccer?! I like watching soccer!” and “You arrived through the airport, too?!”
These fast connections can be invaluable, uniting strangers of various backgrounds over the common desire to understand different worlds while satiating that companionship craving. For some, these friendships last a lifetime, but others find that while clinging desperately to each other like two freshmen on their first night at college, the relationship is fleeting and at the end of the day, has an expiration date printed on your plane ticket home.
You debate whether to synthetically stuff your void with food or souvenirs. You select a restaurant’s sidewalk table so you can vampire bits of life from the cheerful passersby. You hope the waiter will ask how you are, but it turns out that here you order at the counter and they’re too busy for void-filling during the lunchtime rush.
Gauge still on empty, you meander with leaden legs. You pause at a bakery window, for there sits an elephant ear pastry that reminds you of your childhood. You never particularly liked the treat, but the rest of your family ate so many that the unappetizing sweet squirmed itself into your glorified memories.
You enter the bakery. What was adventurous yesterday — hunting down the ticket machine to wait in line, locating the counter for ordering and then the different counter for payment, translating price numbers in Spanish (back in high school you didn’t see any reason to learn numbers past 100) — today is burdensome.
You rabidly unwrap the pastry on the street, but the sweet crunchy texture you craved is abruptly replaced by a strange softness, a bitter sugar, THIS ISN’T THE ELEPHANT EAR I REMEMBER HOW DARE THEY! You want to hurl it to the ground, but you don’t know where to find the energy from your sapped body, so you cram it in and swallow it all, hoping at the very least to ride a sugar high for a few glorious minutes.
Instead, you find yourself clomping heavily back down the street, shielding your eyes from the blinding sun and sharp blue sky, furious the weather could be so misaligned from your heart.
You glare at the happy family laughing over lunch and catch eyes with the mother. She laughs more and is she- is she taunting you?! You funnel all that loneliness into anger for an empowering 17 seconds, but she turns away because in her fulfilled life, you have too little worth to even be of a bother to her.
You estimate the cost of a same-day flight home — it must be a same-day ticket, for by tomorrow you’ll regret the purchase. You slip into flashbacks with family and friends: nothing extravagant, it never is the birthdays or holidays you remember, but rather you glorify the mundane, the irritating: your dogs barking at the door despite knowing full well how to use the doggie door; waiting in line at The Bagel Shop (though not the official name, it’s the only bagel shop in your world); complaining before the daily roommate run; falling asleep on the couch to infomercials.
You find yourself trailing two girls because you’ve seen people wearing similar jackets back home, they walk like New Yorkers, and maybe, just maybe they actually speak a familiar language that doesn’t require brainpower to translate, and your ears are straining and now it’s been two blocks and it’s bordering on creepy and your pace has quickened and finally within earshot you can hear them speak: “Si! Si es muy divertido!”
Your pulse drops and your legs don’t just slow but stop altogether; you stand rigid for fear your knees will just give up right there in the street, and you realize it’s time to go where you swore you never would venture abroad, back in the days (two hours ago) when all you yearned to do was embrace the beauty of local cultures.
As your pace quickens to the nearest Starbucks, you find yourself hoping they’re playing Christmas music, because even though it’s September and you’re Jewish, wouldn’t that just be lovely?
You know that tomorrow is another day. You will see dazzling sights that prove “jaw dropping” is a real physical phenomenon; you’ll relate to strangers who remind you just how small this world is; you’ll sample foods that tingle taste buds you didn’t know existed; you’ll grow wiser from reflecting on the imperfections of the society in which you were raised. But for now you’ll sip another café latte, jotting your thoughts in the margins of your copy of The Motorcycle Diaries, because scribbling notes about Loneliness on a napkin just seems way too sad.
Right now, the government of Russia is holding in custody the Arctic Sunrise, a ship crewed by 30 environmental activists from Greenpeace International. They attempted to board a Russian offshore oil platform to demonstrate against drilling for fossil fuels in the fragile Arctic environment. Their protest, which may lead to charges of piracy, comes at the same time as news that not so long from now — by mid-century or even sooner — summer in the Arctic Ocean will be ice free. Since 1980, the Arctic already has lost around forty percent of its sea ice cover and that is having a huge effect on climates around the globe.
Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo joins Moyers & Company this week to discuss the politics of climate change and the urgency of environmental activism.
Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.
Petting a gentle animal of any kind seems to appeal to young, old and in between. Daycare centers, schools, churches and even nursing homes rent mobile zoos that will bring animals and handlers to them or organize trips to petting zoos. “You can see the absolute joy as they are sitting there stroking some animal, particularly if it’s the first time in their life they have touched one,” said Sky Shivers, superintendent of Fairview Farms at the Los Angeles County Fair, 35 miles east of downtown LA. “There is tranquility, an exchange of emotion that’s amazing to watch.”
Shivers, 63, of Prague, Okla., said a good zoo is as educational as it is entertaining, reeling off several fun facts: baseballs have wool in their cores; doctors use the intestinal lining from some animals to graft serious burns; female goats have beards like males; and while sheep prefer grass to weeds, goats want it the other way around.
Sheep and goats are popular because they only have bottom teeth and are safer around children.
“Ponies and donkeys have teeth on the top and bottom and are more likely to nip fingers,” Shivers said. Even so, pony rides are often coupled with petting zoos, and can often be found during the holidays at many pumpkin patches and Christmas sales lots.
Rental fees range from $200 to $325 per hour, depending on the number of animals and the particular business.
The animals run the gamut from tortoises to hares. Some include exotic critters like wallabies and llamas while others offer creatures that can be found closer to home, such as deer and donkeys.
People often like to see babies, so Brendon Kline features baby chicks, ducks and bunnies, small potbellied pigs and a baby goat at Party Animalz Farm in Brogue, Pa.
“A lot of the older people enjoy it as much as the children do,” Kline said. “A lot of them grew up on farms and these are animals they don’t see every day anymore.”
All God’s Creatures in Chino Hills, 40 miles east of Los Angeles, features Serenity the silly goose and Goliath, an 80-pound turtle.
Owner Lori Bayour takes the animals on the road to hospices, city neighborhoods, parties and a rodeo.
Faith Lundgren loves to watch her grandson at Bayour’s petting zoo each October at the Industry Hills Charity Pro Rodeo.
“The animals don’t shy away from the kids at all,” Lundgren said. “Sometimes they even make the first move. They enjoy being there as much as the kids enjoy having them.”
Not everyone thinks petting zoos are a good thing.
“We think they’re a bad idea,” said Meredith Turner, spokeswoman for the national advocacy group Farm Sanctuary. “Animals are often not in good health, they’re kept in an unnatural environment, and they teach kids that animals exist for our entertainment, when in actuality, they exist for their own reasons.”
Animals need to be clean, healthy, gentle and insured. Handlers should provide feed for the animals and clean up after them. Another must is a sanitizing station so those who pet the animals can wash their hands.
A bad experience for a child can last a lifetime.
“You can’t leave them alone,” Shivers said. “They will get knocked down and scream and cry and be afraid of animals for the rest of their lives.”
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