Most of us have seen one – a slow-moving, strange looking chameleon, wobbling across the road or stuck to a tree or branch. Eyes going in different directions, colors of the body changing according to its environment and weird little hands/feet that grab with ease.
Chameleon skin has a superficial layer which contains pigments, and under the layer are cells with guanine crystals. Chameleons change colour by changing the space between the guanine crystals, which changes the wavelength of light reflected off the crystals which changes the colour of the skin. This way it blends with the surroundings and has a greater chance of survival against predators or a better chance of catching food.
This is the core of the global work I am involved in since 1994: adaptation, willing to change, survive and blend in to your surroundings. Rigidity and black and white mentality will not go very far when you are dealing with harsh environments, unique cultures, beliefs and new experiences.
I came from a rigid society, brought about by years of oppression, wars and political regimes. No one in Romania under Communism was technically allowed to travel outside the country (even though many escaped). Harsh punishments were imposed on the “traitors” and their families. Food was scarce, rations were imposed that were hardly enough to survive. So, we learned to adapt, we learned to discover ways to get more food, more gas, more clothing, without attracting the attention of the authorities.
When I finally was able to travel, this skill proved to be a great tool in my survival across the continents of the world. This ability to first see how the local people live, work and play, what they believe in and how they developed over centuries into who they are now, gave me a great advantage. To not be afraid to try new things, even though they might be against my upbringing, or my culture and beliefs.
I broke many cultural barriers and customs of my own society, which attracted criticism and disdain from some of my fellow countrymen. To dress like an Inuk, in animal skins, to eat seal or the delicacy “muktuk”, the whale skin, or to be almost naked with the Kiai of Vanuatu or the San of the Kalahari.
However, I used all these traits to be able to dive deep into the culture of the local people I was living with, to understand where they come from and to immerse in their society, so I can help in their plight for survival with a clear understanding of their needs. I was enriched beyond measure by the experiences I had in all these places and it would have taken thousands of books to read to just come close to what I know and appreciate now about human nature and humanity in general. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
I encourage you to get out there, travel, explore, risk and remember to leave your pre-conceived ideas at home, leave your expectations as well, and you will see a whole new world that will make you a better human. The root of all hatred and violence in the world comes from misunderstanding one’s culture, beliefs or society, and all this comes because we are not traveling, exploring, reading or be willing to see the gray scale of the world.