As I warned you a few weeks ago, we have been traveling. Upon return, a few days ago, I had no idea where I would begin to write about our experiences. And then, sadly, I woke to the news of Malaysian Airlines passenger plane that had been shot down over Ukraine. My thoughts brought into focus several threads of our travel experiences that I wanted to share with you.
All during our travels from Hungary to Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and finally to Turkey, we saw signs of war. Not only scars of distant wars, but the still healing wounds of recent battles; bombed out buildings, memorials to brave patriots, graves of entire families. It was sobering, as well as educational. Local guides in each of these places tried their best to tell an accurate version of their country’s story. We tried to make sense of it. But the complexity is mind boggling.
At the end of the tour we took a side trip three hundred kilometres west of Istanbul, to Gallipoli. Over 40,000 lives were lost there in WWI. Next year is the 100th anniversary of that battle. Strangely, it was one of the things that galvanised Australia into the country of today. The events there have not been glorified, but have been lovingly and respectfully acknowledged by the Turks as well as the invading forces. In some places the trenches between the Turks and the Aussie Diggers and New Zealand troops were only 30 feet apart. Some of those trenches still remain.
When we first arrived at the viewing point just before Anzac Cove, the bus stopped and we got off. This was the mistaken landing, the point the troops were sent to, incorrectly. The beauty of the coastline belied the horrors that happened there. As my feet touched the ground it was as if the pressure sent fluid straight to my eyes, welling to the brims. What I can only describe as the presence of many souls, surrounded me and I wept for my adopted land and all those who perished on that inhospitable and impossible terrain.
A couple of years ago we also visited Russia. We were fortunate to have a guest speaker on the cruise. She was a professor at a Russian University and through her wonderful talks she passionately expressed, wars are not a direct result of the people’s desires, but the so-called leaders, often not even elected by the people. That insight was shared again and again on our recent trip. When pushed to desperation, the people will rise up against the politicians/leaders/insurgents. But based on what we have seen, and the people we have spoken to, if the general population had a viable choice, there would be no wars.
On our return flight, I found an old classic movie I had never seen before—The Grapes of Wrath (1940). I’m not a particular fan of old movies but something about the timing and my state of mind caused me to select it. It was good. For those uninitiated, it is a story of the terrible ‘dust bowl’ days (1930’s) in the USA and how people were driven from their land and forced West to look for work and begin life again. Thematically, it reminded me of some of the countries we had just seen; people starting again, through no choice of their own, and with nothing.
The final lines in the movie stayed with me, an echo of many of the voices we have heard all over the world:
Ma Joad (matriarch of the story, talking to her husband, Pa):
Rich fellas come up an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people’.
In the coming weeks when we are listening to the various versions of the Malaysian Airline tragedy, let us all remember to keep cool heads and encourage our leaders to keep cool heads. Those who do these things are the minority, not ‘the people’. There are myriad options, other than war and bombs. Whoever shot that missile and killed 298 people, were desperate rebels, which in no way justifies their actions, and they should be accountable. But let us remember, those who pick up the pieces and rebuild and go on forever, are the people. It is just so, everywhere.