Dispatch #9: Lessons from Traveling

The Queen isn’t the only one. Pocketbooks are a thing here, among a certain age group at least. I see men and women carrying them. Of course there are backpacks as well. And in Glasgow it is common to see people pulling suitcases from one end of town to another. Usually they are making their way between bus stations and train stations.



And I have yet to go into a town and not happen upon a wedding. It is the craziest thing. I mean it’s not like I’m getting a personal invitation to these events. I promise I am not stalking these wedding parties.

On this particular day, I had just left the library in Troon when I rounded the corner in the middle of a Thursday afternoon and encountered this scene, of the cutest little redheaded tyke in a kilt. He was giving his father fits. Hiding first, then running off. Before long he was being carried off, bawling at the top of his lungs.

Redheads in Scotland are as common as Blondes in Van Nuys. They are so common, I had one of those fever dreams while I was sick that I had penned an award-worthy poem to all my redheaded kin. Let it be known, I don’t write poetry. But in this dream, I had encountered yet another redheaded, freckle-faced Scot who inspired me to write about my Nashville cousins, most of whom were redheaded, and my redheaded grandfather that everyone but us kids called “Red”. We called him “Pap.”

In this dream of mine, I was working some writers conference. I was slammed trying to do 50 things at once and wanting to write down this poem to honor my cousins before I forgot it. So I scribbled it quickly on some scrap paper and told everyone not to touch it,


Then I got called away to do some task and when I returned the poem was gone. Someone had mistook it for trash, which could just be commentary on all of my creative output, I suppose.

Well, you know how these fever dreams go. As bad as that was it didn’t compare to the one I had about one of my children turning into a dog as a way to stay alive after contracting a lethal disease.

I told you these were fever dreams, right?

I don’t know how I picked up a virus. I wasn’t around a single soul last week. My flatmate has been out-of-town since it is Spring Break. We had three other flatmates but they were gone too.



Whether their leaving was due to Racism or Ageism depends upon to one’s interpretation.

Living with two old women wasn’t what they had in mind for their college experience, they said.

We didn’t appreciate the notes, they said. The one about us smoking pot in our rooms could have gotten us all in trouble. Beside we weren’t smoking pot; that was the downstairs mates.

Funny, that’s not what your other flatmate said. She’s the one who told me it was you smoking pot. Look, I’m from Oregon where pot is legal. I don’t care if you smoke pot. I do care if you smoke in your room.


The number of people who smoke in Scotland has stunned me. I haven’t been around smokers since Mama died of lung cancer in 2012. I understand it’s an addiction so there’s that. So no judgement, but it saddens me to see how many young people are vaping and smoking. Rich men sitting with lawyers trying to figure out how to addict people always angers me.


Ageism isn’t something I’ve given much thought to before now. Like most people, I ignore a lot of issues until they begin to affect me personally. I figure I am still too young to run for president.Young, however, isn’t a word that some apply to me, or to Ellen.

I didn’t even know I’d be flatmates with two old women until a certain someone told me, said one of the flatmates.

Does it bother you? I asked.

If it did, I’d ask to be moved, they said.

But you did ask to be moved.

Racism is a complicated thing, Ellen said. It manifests itself in a multitude of ways.

Yes, I said, recalling a time when a good friend invited me to join her and her husband for dinner, and to spend the night in their Alabama home. I accepted their invitation.

Later that same week a childhood friend asked: Did you spend the night there? 

She could not ever imagine spending the night in a black woman’s home.

We become so acculturated to our own biases we don’t even question: Is this a right way of thinking?

And that’s a huge problem.

It’s the reason why traveling is the best education. It teaches us to question how we do things, to question how we think about things, to question our preconceived notions of people of different ages, different colors, different values, different religions, different ways of governing, differing mythologies.  Traveling can teach us to be more patient, more forgiving, more tolerant, more able to see the humanity in others. Traveling can render us more grateful, or more arrogant, depending on whether we are open to learning from others, or whether we dismiss them as “wrongheaded” or “less than”.

It is wrong to teach children that America is the greatest of all nations. It goes against Scripture to teach such an ideology. Most religions, even Christianity, teach us to be a humble people:  

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Sadly, humility isn’t something we value in the US any more. If it ever was….

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of The Murder Gene, available for preorder now. 




Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

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