Each year, the Palisadian-Post runs a selection of Travel Tales composed by Palisadians who have journeyed both near and far, writing about their experience to share with the community. Though travel is currently on pause, we are running a selection of tales to take us around the world from the comfort of our homes.
Sitting in a stark hotel room in Mytilene in February with mud on my shoes and humanity devolving before my eyes, I didn’t really have the Oscars on the mind. But there I was early one morning, across the globe, with my iPhone pinging over the surprise Best Film award to “Parasite.”
With a film that was never even on my radar walking away with best foreign film and best picture, I reached out to LA film friends and asked, “What have I missed!?”
Turns out “Parasite” is about two immigrant families, one wealthy and one not, living in the U.S. under vastly different circumstances with strikingly different possibilities lying ahead for their offspring.
There I was, on the far Greek island of Lesvos—with a shoreline so close to the Turkish landmass that, at times, my cell service would switch over to Turkish Telecom—helping give the basics of empowerment to women who looked and sounded very much like me.
The difference? They were Afghan and I was Iranian.
They were 21st century refugees by virtue of the circumstances they were born into, and I was an immigrant who has spent 40 of my 50 years in life living in Paris’ Seizième, New York City’s Upper East Side, Boston’s Back Bay and now LA’s Pacific Palisades.
Over those same 40 years, they’ve watched war waged on their soil by foreign powers looking to control a poverty-stricken country that is essential to the flow of global energy. For them, that simply means there is no longer any infrastructure within which to thrive.
The program I was there to assist with was one that aimed to teach a group of 12 women the digital skills to be able to tell their own story. It also meant that they may have an introduction to a marketable skill they can use to build a career upon, once they repatriate—and break the cycle of male dependence.
For Afghan women who have been told that their lives don’t matter, so much so that their rights are systemically overlooked, the idea that a world beyond their comprehension might like to hear their stories is unfathomable. To convince them to open up and even began a narrative was met with bewilderment and awkward silence. No one wanted to be the one to shatter it.
Two women in our program spoke English. We also had one official translator who was Persian and no longer a refugee. She had broken the barrier into immigrant status, with an apartment and a bank account and work for which she gets paid.
I started with my own life story—one that doesn’t resonate with these women, but I look and sound familiar to them, at least. They begin, slowly, telling of the basics. Their name, their age, their nationality—and invariably something about their husband: either his name or his age or how long they’ve been married. The founder of the organization I had traveled with whispers to me how remarkable it is that they tie their husband’s identity so elementally in with their own.
By the end of the first week, we’ve all gelled into a cohesive group of women, who weep with each other over the challenges, give solace to one another when they relive the terrors, who giggle together when something is funny or even embarrassing, and promise to be there for each other until the end of time.
These people are refugees and what makes them cry, what breaks them down, is not bombs and rubber boats, it’s kindness and sisterhood. It’s talking about a warm house with a front door, it’s imagining a time in a land somewhere where they may be able to raise their daughters to have dreams along with an education to attain them. It’s reaching back to remember that they wanted to be journalists or doctors but never learned to read or write.
They cry when they speak of overburdened mothers that were never able to give them love or shower them with the affirmation that a child craves. They’re older now but they remember, and they’re here on this unfamiliar island, in a crowded refugee camp that the UN has called upon to evacuate, so their daughters can have better.
For two weeks, there wasn’t a moment when that was lost on me. I was a daughter who had the good fortune to grasp “better.” Far from a “Parasite,” I was giving back.
Wendy Price Anderson
Leaving the United States for a South Pacific Odyssey to Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania on February 11 and returning home on March 17—a total of 36 days—was an adventure I will never forget and always cherish.
Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) was the company I chose because five years earlier, I went with them on a three-week African safari. A leader in small groups of 14 to 16 on the road less traveled is their motto!
This trip started out in Hobart, Tasmania, where we explored a historical site that served as a prison colony between 1830 and 1877 with some 12,000 convicts.
Next stop was Cradle Mountain National Park where we hiked and saw lush natural vistas, high mountains towering over gorges and lakes, and visited Cataract Gorge and walked over a suspension bridge.
We crossed the International Date Line and flew to Melbourne and saw one of Australia’s oldest buildings built by James Cook’s parents in the 18th century in England and transformed to Melbourne in the early 20th century.
We enjoyed our visit in Alice Springs and then flew to Kings Canyon for a real outback experience of two nights camping in a swag under the starry desert stars. This was one of my highlights on this trip for me. This is where we had to wear fly masks for the pesty flies!
We had a sunset viewing of Ayers Rock (Uluru)—stunning. We flew to Cairns and transferred to Port Douglas, and boarded a catamaran to take us to a private island off the Great Barrier Reef, known as “the world’s largest living thing,” and did some snorkeling. The coral and fish were amazing, I could have stayed in the water all day long.
Another highlight in Port Douglas was to visit and hold a native koala bear, and see wombats and quokkas in the gardens. Next stop Sydney Harbor and on a ferry ride, we toured the famous Opera House.
The last two weeks were spent in New Zealand. Christchurch was our first stop and I got to sheer a sheep on a working farm. We took a three-hour TranzAlpine train to Hokitika, which cuts New Zealand in half horizontally from one coast to the other and boasts some of the most unique scenic views of New Zealand from the vast farmland of the Canterbury Plains to the gorges of the Waimakariri River and finally, the snow-covered caps of the Southern Alps through Arthur’s Pass. In Hokitika, we visited a glass blowing studio.
We flew to Queenstown and explored Arrowtown, Milford Sound and took a Dart River Jet boat safari down the Dart River, which was a very thrilling, daring and hang-on-for-dear-life experience with its twists and turns! This is where they made such famous movies as the “Lord of the Rings” with its beautiful backdrops.
Next stop, New Zealand’s North Island, Rotorua, which is known for its quarter of a million indigenous Maori people who still have held firmly to their identity and traditions and still maintain their unique lifestyle and culture. Did a ziplining journey over the flora and fauna deep into the forest. Cruised Lake Rotomahana to see the geothermal sites around the Inferno Crater filled with brilliant turquoise water, with the world’s largest hot springs.
In Auckland we explored the Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, known as “The Maunga.” This conservation project aims to reintroduce endangered species and rare plants back into a controlled habitat that closely resembles a prehistoric environment on its 8,000 acres of land.
I highly recommend traveling to the South Pacific. Where my next adventure takes me only time will tell.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.