Barbados, like all Caribbean destinations, is extraordinarily naturally beautiful. The landscape, the beaches, the sea – all breathtaking. Twenty-one years ago I had occasion to travel there for a professional assignment, and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, that trip was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
I recall riding in a chartered bus on our first day on the island. The dirt roads were very narrow and bumpy, so one couldn’t help but be completely alert to the surroundings. I was looking out the window, and I experienced something I had never seen before. To the right – the inland side – about fifty feet from the roadside, there were shacks constructed of what looked like cardboard and clay. Beside some, small children were playing in the “yard”, dogs were running around loose, and there may have been a goat or two tethered to a stake in the ground by a thin, fraying rope. I don’t think, up to that point, that I had ever witnessed poverty quite so profound. To the left – literally right across the road from the sight I have just described, but on the coastline side – down a steep embankment which sloped toward the beach, sat a palatial, multi-million dollar waterfront estate. And another, and another, and another…
Now, I grew up in New York City. I have seen what an urban slum (at least the American version) looks like. And in that same city I have seen what can be accurately described as wealthy excess. But I had never before seen such a jarring juxtaposition of abject poverty and over-the-top opulence. It stunned me. It changed me. And it transformed forever the lens through which I view my own life experience. I have more gratitude for what I possess, greater awareness of the luxury and ease that is ever-present in my life (even during those periods when I have felt “poor”), and deeper consciousness of the nature and triviality of what we now term “first world problems”.
In your years of living, have you traveled somewhere that has provided you with a transformative lens? What did you learn? How did the experience change you? What action has the experience called you to take?