One of my fondest memories as a child is leaping through the countryside behind our California foothill home pretending I was a gazelle or another lightfooted animal from the African plains. I can still remember what it felt like to imagine I was in that far-off land, the air blowing against my face and the long grasses brushing against my shins as I leapt and bounded.
My thoughts of all things African really came to fruition after my family invited a man from Africa to visit us in our home. I have no idea from which country he came but I can still remember his dark chocolate skin and beautiful accent. His eyes were dazzling and concentrated. He listened carefully to every word and replied deliberately and warmly.
I realized then that there was something much bigger out there than I had ever before imagined. An expanse beyond what I had ever contemplated and which National Geographic documentaries couldn't come close to capturing. It was then that I told my mother I would one day visit Africa. And, as would be expected, to bide the time I became a gazelle.
There is something magical about meeting people from other countries, especially when you are a child. As a child our world seems so clearly defined and most of the time we know what to expect. We have a fairly good idea of how each day will progress and picture books are the limits of our worldly exporations. But when we first meet that person with the gloriously different accent who acts and dresses and behaves so differently, we stand in awe, amazed by this encapsulation of a new culture before us.
This simple act can change the life of a child forever. As parents, it must be our job to help provide our children with profoundly awe-inspiring moments in their lives so that they will expect no less as they grow older, so that their curiosity and craving to explore the world will continue to flourish and blossom.
Many years later, with the Cold War at its height and movies about Russians and Americans fighting or falling in love filling our minds, I was certain that I'd visit Russia, meet the love of my life and we'd be married. I told my mother as much: "You know, Mom, I'm going to marry a Russian someday." "Sure, ok," she'd answer. "No, Mom, I really mean it, honestly!" I'd repeat.
Well, my life moved on, I went to college and then Ireland and in the end I didn't marry my Russian, and I haven't even visited Russia (yet), but I did marry a man from another land, another culture, Germany, and I can't imagine wanting it to be any other way.