“People need to laugh and they need to travel. You know, the world is a book. And if you don't travel, you've only read one page.”
“Everybody wants somebody in their life on whatever that level is,” South African-born Laina begins as she expresses her big why—the ever-popular: Why Not.
An extrovert and world traveler she expands, “I just walk up to people and they become my friends. I’ve been to 39 countries and in most of them, I’ve stayed with people that I never knew.”
Can you think of a trip that stands out? I question.
“Yes, I was in Poland and I went to one of the famous castles there. They had these tour lines for English, Russian, and Spanish. Somehow I ended up in the Russian line as I noticed the door closed behind me. The lady took the microphone and started speaking and everybody laughed. But, it wasn’t English. So I was like, Oh shit!
Then the girl next to me looked over and said, What happened? Did you get in the wrong line? I said, Yeah, and now I can’t get out, the doors are closed. And she said, let me translate for you as she spoke to the man and a young girl that were next to her.
This is my husband Sergei and my daughter Tatiana, she said. You come to Moscow and visit us. So eight months later, with all the police security clearance and everything, I flew to Moscow. I stayed with them for a month. And then I left them and I went and stayed with another lady I met online in St Petersburg. And the month I was with them, they took time off work and they took me everywhere.”
Yes, Laina is living the why not principle to its fullest. A person following her dreams no matter where they’re taking her.
“People are afraid, I guess, and some think I’m crazy because of the countries I go to.”
How do you overcome fear? I ask.
“You’ve just got to,” she responds.
“People need to laugh and they need to travel. You know, the world is a book. And if you don’t travel, you’ve only read one page.”
“Every time I see CNN or any part of the news: The hate people have for the Jews, and Gays, and Trans—I don’t know. Man—I don’t know. It’s really scary.”
She opens more deeply to me and, as she does, I’m pushed to ask a charged question. An inquiry I preface by sharing the subtitle of my soon-to-be-published book: “Learning to Better See Yourself and Others in a Polarized World.”
And in this trust that Laina has extended, enters the subject of same-sex attraction and gender identity. Topics that some find difficult to navigate, or at worst, a prompt to attack.
“Every time I see CNN or any part of the news: The hate people have for the Jews, and Gays, and Trans—I don’t know. Man—I don’t know. It’s really scary,” she notes as she tells me a story.
“I just had a man tell me in his neighborhood they’re taking ten or fifteen children and schooling them in a pod at somebody’s house. They feel the need to protect them from gays.”
Now please, and to all of us, I forward Laina’s experience not to incite a reaction. Her telling it to us is truly for reasons quite the opposite. For in her delivery, she holds no anger, contempt, or any wish to persecute the offender.
She asks me, “Have you been to the death camps?”
Sadly, I have not, I respond.
“Well, it’s heartbreaking, and it’ll change you. You should go.
Everybody’s trying to downplay it. But every May outside Krakow, in Auschwitz, and Birkenau they have the march of the living. I went to that and there were 12,000 Jews from all over the world. We marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau, and we collectively tried to do six million steps for the 6 million that we lost.
Then you tour the camps. Boy, oh, boy. I’ve never been the same.”
I had to inquire, what would you say to that person who’s anti-Semitic, gay bashing, or on the radical side of attacking, destroying, murdering, or hurting another?
Back to the pod people: “I just said to him, I don’t understand this rant about the gays coming from you. You know, who are you to stand in judgment? I said people are judging you because you’re 65 and you have a very young girlfriend and you have a one-year-old child. You know, I think people disrespect you for that. They think it’s wrong. So who are you to do that? And all he could say was, you’ll never understand because you’re not a parent. And that was that—Oh, and then he said, Oh, well, just remember I’ve been to a gay bar and I went to a couple of clubs in San Francisco that were gay just to check it out. So it’s not like I hate your people—It’s just that I’m protecting my children from your people?
In hearing this account my heartbeat ramps up, and as Laina calms me, she gives us a takeaway comment:
“You know, It’s all based on fear I think. But, I’m a firm believer in live and let live. I always have been.”
It’s 11 PM now. One hour until my publishing bewitching hour. Time to post Laina’s example and wisdom.
Talk tomorrow my good friends,