Sunday, August 8, 2010

the rewarding kind of travel

Most Travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don’t know and trusting them with your life. This risky suspension of disbelief is often an experience freighted with anxiety. But what’s the alternative? Usually there is none.
~ Paul Theroux

There was no alternative for me in Sarajevo, until I met Verijan. There was no alternative for me in Nigeria, until I met Justus. There was no alternative for me in Kenya, until I met Henry. There was no alternative for me in Cario, until I met Nader. There was no alternative for me in Yangon, until I met Htaik and Hazlitt. In between such encounters I have been lucky enough to meet dependable taxi drivers in Sierra Leone, thoughtful guest house owners in Thailand, willing direction givers in the labyrinth alleys of Marrakesh, and helpful unsolicited translators all over the planet. This is not to say that I haven’t been robbed, swindled, cheated, or conned but, it is these experiences of angst that allow us to truly celebrate the kindness of strangers when we are at our most vulnerable.

I have not posted in a while. I’m not exactly sure why, but I have returned to share with those loyal readers who keep checking in only to find silence on the screen, what has been on my mind. What I have been thinking about since I returned from the unspoken place has been the listener-storyteller relationship. In my projects in West Africa and South East Asia I have learned much about being human and acting humane. Listening to survivors stories in these places has been painful but it has also been bearable because each and every story teller I have encountered was able to teach a lesson about survival and healing and it appeared the simple act of telling was reparative.

One Bosnian doctor explained this aspect of the listener-storyteller relationship in Mollica’s book Healing Invisible Wounds:

Whenever you tell a story you feel better. I will give you an example of the Bosnian people from the Muslim religion. They do not cry too much. The females go to the funerals and they speak a lot. They repeat and repeat the story. I have had a chance to listen to this several times in several tragic stories on many occasions. They stories are like a tape with the same words and sentences. And each time before they finish, the storyteller is much happier than before, and the listener becomes wealthier from receiving new knowledge. (Mollica, 2006)

The repetition of the story makes the storyteller more comfortable and in effect having listener is part of the therapeutic process. Many of my students, both graduate students from DU as well as community advocates and passionate volunteers in the field, ask me the same question after learning about trauma, PTSD and it’s impact on human functioning.............They told me their story, now what? This is the inevitable next question a counselor/therapist will ask after they are able to build enough trust to be gifted the trauma story of a survivor. Helpers want tools to “fix” the problems and the reality is that there is no magic wand, no super pill and no scientific procedure that can fix a wounded soul other than to honor the fact that they have lived to tell their story. I agree with Mollica when he says that “listeners need to remember that the inherent purpose of trauma stories is healing and survival. Survivors must be allowed to tell their stories in their own way” and “We must not burden them with theories, interpretations, or opinions, especially if we have little knowledge of their cultural or political background. “ Storytelling is in fact a healing art and listening is as growth promoting as telling if we just have patience and are able to integrate both the pain of the trauma sufferer as well as power of the survival tale.

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