Travel is supposed to be broadening. In my very early days as a traveler, naïve thing that I was, I learned how insular I was. I remember three times when I desperately missed my tribe.
There I was, in 1963, in the Soviet Union, my very first trip out of my own country. My Mother, Ukrainian-born, had organized a trip to Ukraine for me and for my grandmother, her mother. In those days, you had always to go first to Moscow and get dragged around to exhibits of Soviet Socialist art, and so on (and on), before you could go anywhere else in the SU. You had a minder of course, and your stuff was rifled and searched while you were out of your hotel room. However, on this night, we went to the Bolshoi Theater.
They didn’t have much of a sense of personal space over there, unlike our own in which no matter how large the crowd people do not lean full-length against one. At intermission, I was out in the lobby, mashed against by fifty Soviets, their unintelligible intermission talk filling the air and my ears. Man, was I alone.
Suddenly I HEARD ENGLISH! WHERE ARE THEY? WHO IS IT? I GOTTA FIND THEM!
I never did find the people speaking my language, but I remember absolutely to this very moment the piercing sweetness of words I could understand, spoken by people from my tribe.
A few years earlier, around 1960, while living in New York City, the former husband and I were strolling around Greenwich Village or thereabouts. Being very cool, we stopped in a bar and ordered drinks. Not being much of a bar person, I gazed around me casually, trying to look at home. Huh. Look at that. Huh. You know, I actually don’t see any women in here…oh. Oh. Those two men are, like, hugging each other. OH. Um, I said to the husband, I think we should leave. I am not sure we actually belong here, I am not sure we are real welcome. Not, you know, our tribe.
The third story is the most embarrassing. In 1980, the real husband and I went to East Africa. After a long flight from London, we arrived in Nairobi. Picked up at the airport by the tour people, taken to the hotel, had a rest. In the afternoon, we walked out on the streets.
Well whaddya know.
We were the only white people there. We were a minority color. What a profound shock. Most definitely not my tribe.
Ridiculous, isn’t it? I am covered with embarrassment to tell these things. But of course in the many years since these tribal confusions, I have learned that there is only the one tribe, and that is the tribe of human beings, and that I am a member of it.
I guess I travel partly to see all the wonderful ways in which my tribe makes its livings. Pretty much we all do the same stuff, regardless of language, affections, or color. Amazing, aren’t we?