The first stings had me jumping clear and quickly scraping the little tormentors away from my bare legs. Smiling, my friend chuckled and pointed down to the slightly larger mound I had landed on,
“fire ants, they’re all around here”. He was laughing hard now as I yelped, jumped again and slapped and swore at this new attack.
“I reckon they don’t like you trompen’ on their homes”, my friend added. He walked back towards the helicopter and cursing I followed, the sting of embarrassment worse than the ant encounter.
We had been flying this area of south Texas looking for hazards to flight. Wires, towers, shooting ranges, anything that could make the low level flying and slinging we would be doing on this seismic grid more hazardous. I had barely finished my story on the importance of situational awareness and the other visual clues to look for when spotting wires when we landed to check out a possible site for staging.
“So much for situational awareness.” I said as we climbed back in the helicopter. My friend just laughed.
“Well Keith,” he said “You spotted a couple of wires that I didn’t see till you pointed them out to me. I’m from around here and you aint. I been lookin at them little ants my whole life”.
I wouldn’t claim that the ant venom sparked my brain into an epiphany of enlightenment, but it did get me thinking about what we see, comprehend or think we see. The classic examples of witnesses at an accident or crime scene come to mind. Five witnesses, five differing accounts of what happened.
Last year, at our annual pilots meeting, we viewed a short video clip from a segment on crew coordination. Our collective task was to view a group of eight people, four dressed in black, four dressed in white, counting how many times they passed a ball around in their group as they moved around in a circle trading positions in that circle. It required concentration to be fixed on the ball as it moved about the group. At the end of a minute or so the video stopped and we all wrote down our numbers. I was sure I had the right numbers but as I listened I could hear pilots muttering numbers different from my own. How could they be so wrong I thought, or was I wrong?
The presenter then asked a question that took us all aback.
“How many of you saw the gorilla in the video?”
Nervous laughter followed. No, was one of the ball handlers wearing a gorilla mask? I wondered. How did I miss that? The video was replayed and we were told to look for the gorilla. Halfway through the video a person in a full gorilla suit walked into the center of the circle waved at the camera and walked out of the circle. We saw what we were looking for. Nobody had seen the Gorilla the first time.
Its like that for so many people who travel to other countries. They see what they expected to see. What they see is from their own limited frame of reference. If not traveling ,is like owning a book and only reading the first page, then traveling with a closed mind is an even bigger waste of life. People and cultures strange to you are like an onion, you have to take the time and energy to peel back the layers to really get to see and understand. I am not surprised anymore when my original impressions of a country changes as I spend more time in that country.
When traveling I like to assess, assimilate, absorb, analyze and accept the fact that there is more to learn than can be gleaned from a single viewing of any place, any culture, anybody. In the early 1900’s the great Edwardian author G.K. Chesterton wrote,
More recently a line from my favorite traveling Chef , Anthony Bourdain, “be a traveler, not a tourist”
When you travel with an open mind its a whole new vision. I’ll keep looking and learning.