I drift asleep to the moon as a little boy across the world rises to the sun. In my dreams, I follow him around his new day, as I did three Mays ago.
He rolls out of bed and kisses his mother, who’s already cooking pancakes, then skips across the straw floor his parents slept on during my stay. They insisted I take their bed.
Their home is a one-room hut, roughly the size of my childhood bedroom. Floral blankets hang from the door to keep mosquitoes out at night. The little boy pushes one aside and looks out at the lush jungle surrounding his life. He listens to the church’s loud speakers and the birds as they each project their daily sermon to the surrounding villages. I watch him watch the fog-covered treetops and ponder what lives beyond them.
I mimic his red flip-flops skipping down the village’s main dirt path, past homes where his cousin, grandfather and best friend live. He greets schoolmates at the wooden swing he shares with all the other children. It was here he asked me to send him chocolate when I get back to America.
When a delivery truck makes its way down a precarious hillside a few miles away, he drags a friend to watch it. He wants to be a truck driver when he grows up, but his father, a farmer, hopes he will go to college and become something more.
I know how much the little boy loves coloring books, as evidenced by a gap-toothed smile he flashed when I first handed him one.
I know his mother’s fierce warmth. She took me in as her daughter, cooked for me and taught me to tie a sarong.
I know his father’s selflessness. He walked eight miles roundtrip to the nearest city and bought fish because he insisted I deserved more than potatoes and taro, all that had survived a recent hurricane.
All they knew of me was that I was part of a volunteer group of Westerners. The program was one designed to reach the world’s most remote communities. I’ve connected with that concept for as long as I can remember. So, it’s no surprise I ventured to Fiji three summers ago. My mission was to help renovate a school and teach children an English or geography lesson.
For an American, this meant traveling to the furthest point around the globe before the world starts turning back. For anyone, this meant shattering comfort zones and any cultural norms.
I expected to learn some Fijian phrases and try new foods. But, beyond that, I was adopted by a little brother, mother and father. Though they are far away now, I see them clearly in my dreams, and communicate frequently on Facebook, where they give me updates and welcome me back whenever I can.
From the time I arrived, I felt warmth beyond the humidity and sunlight. I left with empathy for the everyday problems they face, which didn’t even cross my mind before I met them. I now have a full village of faces to place on the Fijian water crisis and hurricane recovery efforts. It’s years later and I still care that their lives are not as easy as they could be. I still feel love for them. The same love they offered me, without hesitation.
I’ve taken many trips since this one, formed many more connections and developed empathy for others outside this little geographical bubble I easily could’ve stayed in my whole life.
This is the power of travel, of sitting face to face with someone you would never meet if you didn’t go outside your own community. That’s why I keep traveling: for the people I meet and the small parts I take home with me. I now have a home, a family, a world away, where I, too, left a piece of myself.
This makes me more of who I want to be: someone with a worldly perspective and a desire to continue expanding it.