Two years ago, I rode in a minivan along the narrow streets of a Brazilian favela (shantytown) en route to a community center. Upon arrival, I learned about how adolescents were learning skills - boxing, juggling, and aerial arts among them - to stay off the streets and, hopefully, out of gangs. I saw artistry, grace, and a passion to learn and create beauty.
Around the same time, I listened to a Serbian woman describe how she and her fellow Romani (gypsies) were slowly and methodically working to break down prejudice. As a woman and a gypsy, she knew that she faced double the challenges. And that it wasn't going to come easily. But she'd seen moments of success, of traction. And so she and her fellow advocates were going to continue to break down the stigmas, moment by moment.
Eighteen months ago, on the island of Java, three generations of a Muslim family welcomed me into their home for dinner. The meal was sensational, and our hosts sweet, welcoming, and funny. My group asked about daily life in Yogyakarta. Family members had questions about the United States. One of the grandsons discussed his dreams of becoming a pastry chef. As we walked about their neighborhood, one of the women took my hand and squeezed it. I squeezed back.
A year ago, I made my first introductory strolls along the streets of Paris. Life unfolded all around me: Couples walked with their arms around each other's waists, friends exchanged kisses on the cheek as they sank into outdoor seats at neighborhood cafés. Six months after gunmen tried to cripple the Parisian lifestyle, that legendary joie de vivre was on full display.
About eight months ago, I marveled at the confluence of cultures, languages, scents, and sounds that make up everyday London life. History and innovation came together all around me - in the food, the architecture, and the philosophy. And while I was delighting in how exciting it all felt, I loved most the fact that the vibe was straightforward. Of course London was an ever-developing tapestry of experiences. It was and would always continue to develop, adapt, and grow even richer.
What I know of the world is that there is good. Amazing people looking to connect and learn about themselves and about others. And no matter what happens, and no matter who tries to instill fear and a thirst for isolation, we should get out there and experience it. Build relationships, not walls. Create connections rather than discord. Travel instead of hide. Feel, not fear.