TERROR and the IDIOT
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
"Bison, big fires", I rasped.
Ashamed that I could do no better, I said goodbye and pushed on, to my
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
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 wed 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 Ive pondered these encounters, Ive realized
that it doesnt 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 Im 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