I think that traveling to and within developing countries is an exercise in shattering your heart into a million tiny pieces and slowly, beautifully putting those pieces together again.
The breaks are always there but the glue of compassion, joy and beauty bind the heart and make it beat in such a way that it is stronger and more complete.
Travel To Open Your Eyes
I have seen things that have broken my heart -- the injustice in South Asia towards women and girls is oftentimes astonishing.
Women are frequently treated as second-class citizens, sold into the sex trade at age 6, their body dismembered for the sale of organs, vanishing forever into slavery and horribly abused. They are disposable. Boys and men are exalted, girls and women dismissed.
It's scary and so unlike what I know. The stories that I have heard and read will haunt me always. I don't understand and can't make it make sense but I am called to help.
Travel To Break Your Heart Open
The dogs -- oh the dogs. Suffice it to say that I can't just keep my distance. I cannot and will not sit by even though I know rationally that there isn't even a lot that I can do. I do what I can through food scraps, a little loving and fresh water, but it isn't enough.
I travel to have my heart shattered by the little puppy that lives by the Buddhist stupa down the street, nearly bald from mange and with a giant distended puppy belly. Despite this, his tiny eyes shine with joy and mischief. We smuggled him into our apartment to feed and take care of him.
Another blow to the heart came when I discovered, after calling the rescue organizations, that there was little I could do -- he's too young, he is healthy enough. I was prepared to do anything but in the end, all I could do was love. Devastated and crying giant elephant tears, I took him back to the stupa in my purse with his furry little head popping out the top. I ached with the injustice.
Travel To Heal Your Broken Heart
The healing glue came in the form of the monks who took him in. This morning when we visited him, he had a collar made of thin red thread (a symbol of a nearby monastery) that he didn't previously have. He also was covered in medicine to treat his mange!
Unknowingly, it's possible that I almost stole a puppy from a monk -- talk about bad karma! Kindness mends a throbbing heart and the only language it speaks is love.
The humanity is the glue, compassionate individuals from all walks of life who shine the light of love to all creatures. It's in the butcher that throws scraps of god knows what to the dogs that stalk his stall. It's in the woman from Chile who has dedicated her life to helping women, working as an activist and a mother.
I see it in the tourists who only buy from fair trade stores thus supporting low caste women. It's in the people who make little choices every day to say, “no- it isn't right and I won't support it.” It's easy to turn a blind eye to the horror, to the injustice. It's way harder to acknowledge the suffering and take a stand.
Why I Travel
Though the breaks remain, I have found that they only make my heart stronger, more resilient, more beautiful. I travel for this reason. I travel to be uncomfortable with what I see and to force me to alter my way of thinking. I travel to sit with that discomfort in a way that I don't have to at home.
I travel to marvel, to be astonished. I travel to be reminded that this world is a big place, a troubled and frequently unfair sea of humanity with so much beauty it makes you ache. I travel to be reminded: No mud, no lotus. In a way, it's only through that broken window of pain that a more complete, stunning and touching reality emerges.