TERROR and the IDIOT

by
Glenn Kaufmann

Hot, sweaty, and tired of walking, I stopped a man to ask directions.

"Oh American?" he asked cheerily. Yes, I nodded. "Where are you from?" he begged to know. I told him Atlanta was my home. Instantly, his face came alive. "Oh, CNN - Coca Cola." Yes, I agreed, they were the city's popular exports.

Patiently, he gave directions, in English. Then, before wishing me well and safely on my way, he asked only one thing for his efforts.

"My children want so badly to go to Yellowstone Park."

"Can you tell me anything about it?"

"Is it wonderful?"

I was instantly ashamed. How could I fail him after he'd been so kind to me? As my country's ambassador, in that moment, it was incumbent upon me to come through. But, I'd never been to Yellowstone. I knew virtually nothing.

"Bison, big fires", I rasped.

Ashamed that I could do no better, I said goodbye and pushed on, to my destination?

One of my nation's greatest treasures, which I had taken for granted, was of far greater importance to a couple of German school children than it was to me. Greater still was the importance it had for this father who wanted nothing more for his time and trouble than a tiny morsel of adventure for his children.

A few years later I found myself traveling through Morocco. Though I'd read all the guidebooks, nothing prepared me for my first trip to Africa, much less a Muslim country. Nothing, "big" happened, I was simply overwhelmed by an unexpected sense of friendliness and ease among the Moroccan people. I know that this is not necessarily a typical experience for a white Westerner in a Muslim country, but it was, nevertheless, my experience.

Early in my trip I shared the rooftop at sunset with a Berber woman. Neither of us spoke, enjoying the sun's final moments. We smiled at one another and laughed at children playing down below. Then, as if we’d shared too much, she bowed apologetically veiled her face and hurried indoors.

Was she afraid, embarrassed, shy, attracted to me (doubtful), suddenly sick, running for her camera, or running for reinforcements? I have no idea. And, later, as I’ve pondered these encounters, I’ve realized that it doesn’t really matter.
Whether I terrified the old Berber woman, or convinced the German father that even America has idiots, neither of us had had time to think, and we had made the most honest and real connections possible. There was no attempt by either side to “control” these encounters. There was simply a connection.

Proven by the mere fact that I’m writing this now, these encounters and the people involved clearly left an impression on me. I can only hope that the impression I left upon them was, as the poem says,

"Like a snowflake – it leaves a mark, but not a stain."

Copyright Glenn D. Kaufmann, 2004. All Rights Reserved

HOME