99: Opening My Eyes

99: Opening My Eyes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Opening My Eyes

Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever.

~Mahatma Gandhi

My mom homeschools me. No—travelschool is a better word for it. She likes to go on lengthy trips with my two younger brothers and me, sometimes for up to four months at a time. My brothers and I hop from school to airport to hotel. We’ve been around the world and back again, from Australia to France to China.

It’s really cool, because we can just say “Okay, why don’t we go to New York City this weekend!” and off we go. It’s much better to have your mom teach just you and your brothers than having to worry about bullies and mean teachers. However, we have to work really hard at our homework to keep up with everybody else. Even though we’re not in school, we write in a journal every day and study as hard as we can. We are taught the entire regular school curriculum as we travel (math, reading, writing, spelling, etc.) but that’s not all we learn, either.

When I go to countries all around the world, from Thailand to Brazil, it always amazes me how poor people are. In these places, there are people who have no electricity or running water. Clothed in rags, their worldly possessions only include a tiny hut and perhaps a pig, although they can always afford a smile and a friendly wave. You can see their teeth as they smile—you know they probably have never heard the word “dentist.” It makes me feel guilty that they have to work hard every day to survive, while I think taking out the trash is Herculean labor.

Still, everyone from the poorest pig farmer to the wealthiest merchant was always willing to lend a hand. There is an old Spanish saying—“The rich help the rich and the poor help those poorer then themselves.” If a fruit seller runs out of fruit, you can bet that another fruit seller will lend him some. I remember once when we hitched a ride with a friend in his jam-packed truck. There must have been seven people in the car, with all of their luggage. Then we spotted three women hitchhiking. I thought there was no way that they could fit in the vehicle. Our friend, however, told them to get in the back of the truck, where they fit easily. I felt ashamed because I knew if I had been driving the truck, they would have been on that road a lot longer.

I discovered that just because you’re not rich doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. When you don’t have toys, a stick can be a sword, a cornhusk can become a doll, or a tree a jungle gym. Who needs a Nintendo when there are streams to splash in, rocks to scale and brothers to wrestle with? What those children experience is like nothing that can come from a remote control or video game. I remember playing on the edge of a lake in Bariloche, Argentina with some other kids, picking up rocks to try to find the ones with the most mica and trying to skip stones in the water. The strangest thing was that they didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak any Spanish. Before that day, I couldn’t imagine playing with another kid who I couldn’t talk to.

However, the most incredible thing is how content everyone is. Waving at a complete stranger may seem strange where we live, but around the world it’s no big deal. Smiles are passed around more quickly than can be returned, and street sellers will often chat so loudly to each other, you have to tap one on their shoulder to get their attention. I remember one frenzied night in Bangkok, when we were in a tuk-tuk (a cross between a bike and a rickshaw) and our driver was yelling good-naturedly to some of his friends on tuk-tuks across the street. Occasionally, they would toss packs of cigarettes to each other. At the time, I was almost scared to death and furious at our driver, but now I realize that those men drove their tuk-tuks day and night; they deserved to be able to have a little fun.

I’m usually not very big on morals. I find them too gushy and mushy, like “Every cloud has a silver lining.” I think anyone who says that sounds like a weather forecaster, not an optimist. However, this one I think is really good: You don’t have to be rich or famous, or pretty (even though sometimes it might feel that way) to be happy. Traveling has sort of made me grow up, in a weird way. It hasn’t made me bigger or stronger, but more aware. It’s allowed me to open my eyes to the rest of the world. So next time I catch myself complaining about eating my Brussels sprouts, I remind myself to be grateful for what I have and keep my mouth shut.

~Chloe Rosenberg

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