The Best University in the World | #MyFridayStory No. 30

The Best University in the World | #MyFridayStory No. 30

I was fortunate to travel from a young age.

My father joined the air force when World War II broke out. He spent most of his military tour in North Africa and Italy. After the war, he joined South African Airways as an apprentice. As he progressed, he became a technical instructor, where he remained until he retired after 43 years of service.

My dad was a brilliant instructor.

This is what I heard from many people I met throughout my life who knew him. They recalled how his combination of discipline and fairness was a hallmark of his character. They all said they would never forget the impact he had on their lives. My dad loved teaching, especially young adults, which brought him much joy. He loved being a positive influence, moulding them into solid citizens.

Being an employee of an airline has great benefits. If you love to travel, this is the place for you. After a specific tenure with the airline, employees are eligible to travel at massively discounted rates. Air travel, car rental, hotel accommodation, tourist excursions and other associated travel costs are slashed for immediate family members. If it weren’t for my dad, our family would not have had the opportunity to travel as much, of this I am sure.

My dad loved flying as much as he loved teaching. Anything and everything ‘Aeroplane’ gave him goose bumps. I watched every time we boarded a plane together, he would soak up the experience as if it was his very first flight. My dad was required to travel overseas quite extensively for training on all the latest aeroplanes. That would mean trips to Boeing, MacDonald Douglas, General Electric and Rolls Royce. He got to see many countries and my dad being the gregarious person he was, would make friends everywhere he went. He loved experiencing the country in which he found himself, first hand. By that I mean, he would ‘walk the streets’ and familiarise himself with his new surroundings.

At the age of 13, the same year television came to South Africa, my dad took my sister and I on our first overseas trip to the United States. Having come from a conservative white middle-class background, New York was an exciting, throbbing city nothing like we had ever seen. On to Los Angeles with the hobnobbing mega-rich, existing alongside the ordinary folk of its sprawling suburbs.

San Francisco is where we lost our heart. We fell in love with the eclectic mix of cosmopolitan residents and its large LGTB community, something we as conservative, insulated South Africans had not really been exposed to.

Our last stop was Las Vegas. As we stepped off the plane and arrived at the terminals, we were met with slot machines and one-arm bandits lining the passages. This was something incredible for us to see as gambling in South Africa was illegal.

You can imagine the temperatures in the heat of summer in the Nevada desert.

The heat is relentless – day and night. The only escape for us kids was to spend our days at the hotel pool or inside the hotel’s air-conditioned arcade playing video games. My dad took us for walks along the strip at night. It lit up so brightly it almost looked like day. He took us inside hotels, the Circus-Circus, Stardust and MGM Grand, places where we witnessed the garish opulence and excess that Vegas pedals night and day.

I have been fortunate to travel to the US another six times, each time learning new and exciting things about the people, their cultures and their home.

My dad was a worldly-wise man. Besides his curious nature, I believe much of his insights into life were shaped by the people he had met and the places he’d seen. His diverse point of view came from being overzealous about finding out about different people and cultures. It is true, you cannot understand someone’s point of view, until you have filled their shoes.

My dad helped me to see how diverse the world is, and how connected we all are. His insistence that we travel and experience as much of the world as possible, was so that we could learn to ‘walk in others shoes.’ He also taught and encouraged me to ‘walk the streets’ and experience the local culture, to immerse myself in it. Learning about our uniqueness and similarities is the first step to learning how to tolerate each other with compassion.

It is only when we seek to make human connections with those different to ourselves, that we are able to reach out and be generous.

In my library of books, travelling is the best university in the world!

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