That’s me right now. I feel strange going to Benin. I’m not even sure how to pronounce it.
We went to the embassy today, and it was great to meet the ambassador, but I was embarrassed. I didn’t know the square footage or population size. I already spoke French well, so I look and sound more prepared than I am. I knew about some of the languages, but only because of Benin’s ties to Cuba and my mind’s sponge-like properties.
I feel very unprepared for this trip. Part of that is great; I’m laid back and go with the flow. I don’t need to know everything, to schedule everything, to be in charge of everything. But part of that disgusts me. Some travellers discuss the virtues of going with a totally open mind, of being sure “not to over-research.”
Over research? Is that even possible? To me it just sounds like an excuse not to do your homework.
I’ve never been somewhere I knew so little about before. And yet I remember saying that about Cuba. I was rather prepared for the French exchange in high school, and I deifnitely know more about Egypt than is expected for an American. But that doesn’t mean I was prepared enough. In-country I was embarassed and frustrated by my poor Arabic skills, by the fact that I’d only taken one semester of formal Arabic. I’m not used to not being the best at things like languages, to not knowing all the answers and to not always being right.
So maybe I’m never as prepared as I think. There are always excuses: Arabic is hard, Cuba is soon, no one does research on Benin. But there are also millions of people who travel every year without studying the language, religion, geography, culture and economic situation of the destination before packing their bags.
Perhaps, its just time I let travel teach me that I don’t always have to be the best, and that being unsure (or heaven forbid: wrong!) is acceptable and even kind of interesting.