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Around the World

Posted on October 15th, 2011

It has been a couple of weeks since I have returned from a rather peculiar vacation. This vacation, which started off as a half-hearted promise to a good friend from Waterloo, changed my perception of the world (and I hope that I won’t forget about it).

The world is a pretty ruthless place. Throughout the vacation, self-serving people were trying to exploit others through deception and dishonesty. This manifested itself in many ways: bait-and-switch deals, aggressive vendors, price discrimination, and thievery. In some instances, we were wise to it and were able to escape; in others, we only realized after the fact; in others still, we were basically powerless to stop it.

Having been in New York for around four years, I feel that I have become hardened to people trying to take advantage of me. I am very good at ignoring people on the street (when necessary), and I typically do not get into precarious situations. As such, I figured that I’d be fairly well-equipped to withstand similar circumstances while in Istanbul and around Kenya.

The one thing that I failed to consider, however, is the fact that nobody in our party understood the native languages. It was easy for locals to conspire since we had no idea what they or the signs they had were saying. Nor were we familiar with how things worked in those countries. Whenever we were confronted, I automatically wondered what they wanted from me. Despite my inherent pessimistic outlook on people I don’t know, we were definitely scammed on multiple occasions. Worse still, we say the same perpetrators do it to other people. We eventually came to see what was going on and were still unable to prevent it from happening to others.

I’ve been telling people about the profound relief that I felt when I touched down in New York City a couple of Sundays ago. While scams are certainly going on here, the sense of relative familiarity was overwhelmingly pleasant. After being on guard for over two weeks, I could settle down a little because I was in a place where I knew what was going on. I knew who the “taxi” people were, and I knew who the taxi people were. I knew where we were going. I knew what fair market prices were. I had never felt so happy to be in New York than when I did that night.

While on vacation, we had a discussion about the general nature of human beings. We talked about how New York has made me more jaded and cynical than when I was in Canada. We talked about how my globe-trotting friends have become increasingly on-guard during their trip because it seemed that there was always someone trying to screw them wherever they went. We talked about how traveling was supposed to show us how the world was different, yet it really showed us how the world is the same.

And then there were the children. The children who waved while we drove by. The children who followed us, jubilantly screaming “jambo”, Swahili for “hello.” The children who, despite having almost nothing, wore smiles bigger than their faces.

It was a reminder that everyone was once like that, even the scammers. So why do children lose their blind optimism, their irrational creativity, and their touching good nature when they grow up? Why is it that the world seems to corrupt everyone over time?

I don’t have an answer for this. I don’t have an answer for the exploitation that I experienced for myself or saw for others. I don’t have an answer for the hatred and injustice. I don’t have an answer for selfishness or vanity. I’d like to think that I’m above all of that. But, at the end of the day, I have to admit to myself that I’m no child anymore either.

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