Out of curiosity, I sat down to make a list of all the host families I've had outside of the U.S. over the past 13 or so years. That is, families who have hosted me for at least one night, often longer, and most often without any form of compensation. I was surprised and delighted to see that the grand total was (at least) 20 families. They are people who have hosted me in Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Botswana, South Africa, Uganda, Norway, England, Guatemala, and Mexico.
A flurry of faces crossed my mind during this exercise in memory recall. It's difficult to imagine my life without having had these experiences. The people I've met while traveling have had a profoundly enriching affect on me. Some have offered a startling new perspective on the world. Others have offered a kinship so familiar, as if a longtime companion. Yet others have simply made me feel safe. There are times when it actually seems to break my heart to say goodbye. Sure, I often stay in touch, and sometimes even meet again, but mostly I just relive those dear moments with a warmth in my heart.
I marvel at life when I think of how close I've been to missing the chance to know these families and have these meaningful encounters. An arrival one day later, a bounceback email, an airplane seat change, a dismissed greeting from a stranger, an alternative flight in inclement weather: any of these would have changed the course of things. What a lovely thing that none of us knows the rhyme or reason behind much of anything.