It was over.
It was truly over.
My life was about to end on my second day in Peru. My friends and I had taken the wrong trail down the Inca ruins.
In an attempt to save my life, my friend caused me to fall. I was now sitting in a ditch… covered in mud, sure my life would end. A dog was coming at me, prepared to bite us for stepping on what he deemed to be his property.
“Stop it,” a boy scolded his dog just as its teeth were coming in for the kill.
The dog turned and put his tail between his legs, unsure of why his owner was scolding him. We thanked the boy and continued on our way, with sticks now in hand, ready to defend ourselves against whatever was next.
“Prejudice is a great time saver,” said Charlotte’s Web’s author, E.B. White. “You can form opinions without having to get the facts.”(1) Upon a single encounter, we had decided that all dogs in Peru were going to kill us. However, prejudice doesn’t just extend to dogs. Stereotypes regarding people of different races, different religions, different cultures, and different sexual orientations create barriers built on hate and fear. “When people have a negative encounter of a different race, it has a lasting impact that fosters fear and prejudice, scientists have discovered.”(2). Our sticks serve as a reminder of how we are ready to hurt others when we are afraid.
As we continued to head down the mountain, we met another dog. This dog was white and brown, its tail wagging, though we didn’t notice.
“Back off,” my friend said as she swung her stick.
The dog, however, just tilted its head. Instead of being frightened, the dog began to play with it. With one playful nibble, this dog had broken down our fears. The dog continued to accompany us down the mountain, keeping us safe from guard dogs trying to keep their own families safe.
This dog stayed with us until we jumped into a police van (the cops felt bad for the poor tourist girls who couldn’t find their way home); Leaving our new friend behind was hard. The rest of the night we kept talking about the dog we had met in the mountains who had helped us find our way home.
Our new friend and me. Please note: giant stick
As we came back from dinner, there was a dog waiting outside for us. We stared in disbelief. Although we had been at least one mile away, it was our dog friend!
The same dog who had escorted us down the mountain was waiting for us outside, giving us a chance to give him a real good-bye before we journeyed to our next town.
Our dog found us!
Breaking down barriers is what makes travel so important. Humans fear what they do not understand. Fear causes us to view someone as the enemy, dehumanize them, and swing the stick. However, instead of swinging the stick, we need to seek common ground. Travel exposes us the most important truth of all: That we are all just human. We all have fears. We all love. We all cry. As Maya Angelou said, “prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”(3)
When we break down barriers and preconceived notions, we open ourselves up to incredible experiences. When we let go of fear, we allow ourselves to see the good in others (whether that be dogs or humans). When we open ourselves up to how others see the world, we may just discover something new about ourselves. So pack up your bags, and go explore. There are so many people and places to see.
(1) Bio Staff, “E.B. White in His Own Words,” Biography.com, September 22, 2017, , accessed October 03, 2017, https://www.biography.com/news/eb-white-quotes-facts.
(2) Mark Henderson, “Racism is learnt from fear of the unknown,” The Times & The Sunday Times, , accessed October 03, 2017, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/racism-is-learnt-from-fear-of-the-unknown-bxj7skfsqxd.
(3) Opal Palmer Adisa, “Paving Her Own Road: A Tribute to Writer, Maya Angelou,” The Huffington Post, June 18, 2014, , accessed October 03, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/opal-palmer-adisa/paving-her-own-road-a-tri_b_5496436.html.