IN THE SERVAS WORLDWith the exception of a phone number, address and an invitation to stay two nights with a Servas family, I was on a plane to Australia to stay three months with no reservations, no plans and no commitments. Thus began my great year-long adventure of traveling around the world as a 68 year-old single traveler.I have been a member of Servas for the last fifteen years. Initially I made two trips with my sons and ex-husband to Europe. During the last ten years I experimented with a few “solo” home-stays at the end of some group trips. But, I never fully appreciated Servas until the trip of 2011.In his book, The Seeds of Servas, our founder, Bob Luitweiler states, “the shift from a tourist absorbing scenic vistas to a traveler actively searching the central ideas of cultures happens gradually.” The goal for my journey was to be a traveler in search of cultures which could be obtained from an intimate proximity to local people. In many cases Servas was my connector to people and cultures.During a three month stay in Australia I floated around the country staying with wonderful Servas families choosing the next destination and activities based upon the recommendations of Servas hosts and other locals. I stayed with families in Melborne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Alice Springs, Sydney, Canberra and Tasmania. There were 12 families in all. Like all of us who have traveled with Servas, the variety of hosts and and their interests were expansive. Wood carvers, Aikido instructors, a government lawyer, retired oil rig engineer, church minister and a Funeral Celebrant to name a few.In Australia many spiritually minded people seek an alternative to religious services for weddings and funerals. My Funeral Celebrant host was kind enough to let me attend one of her services. Not only did I learn about funeral practices in another country but also a new profession which is growing in our country. In Tasmania I attended a wood carving exhibition where my host took a major prize for his skillful contribution. In a Sydney household I encountered an author of 24 religious books who held 6 degrees. In Cairns I stayed with a lady who had her own Golden Orb spider. I watched each morning as this Red Hat member dug into her compost planter to withdraw a large cockroach which she threw into her fat, (7″) pet’s web.During two months in Ireland I stayed in a cottage with a host whose garden was listed as “one of the lovely gardens of County Donegal”. Staying in her cozy home in the quiet countryside felt like being in a little hobbit fantasy world. In Northwest Ireland I also stayed with a writer who had written a book on the sacred sites in Ireland and whose job was conducting nature outings for the local schools. Being in these English-speaking countries, even though different, was still very comfortable because of my ancestry. Therefore,themost unique and surprising Servas experience happened a few continents away in Madagascar.There is one Servas host in the entire country in the capital city of Antananarivo. Receiving a confirmation thattheRabe family of five would receive me helped to allay concerns that perhaps I was stepping into an abyss. I knew nothing about the country except it had Lemurs and wonderful Baobab trees. Before 84 hours of travel to get to the Southeast corner of Africa, I had diligently studied my French language book during a 3 month stay in Nepal. Foolishly I thought myself ready for a remote developing country. It was soon discovered I was not, but fortunatelytheRabe family was ready for me. Not only did they host me for the entire month in the country but they planned my excursions around the country, got me included on one trip with close friends, and took me to a cousin’s anniversary as well as close family dinners. I made one trip to the Northeastern part of the country with Mrs.Rabe as she was managing a business in the area and stayed with her in their manager’s home. If that were not amazing enough, one can imagine my shock when it was discovered that a Visa credit card was the only card accepted in the country and I found myself with no access to funds. This Servas family ended up bankrolling my expenses for the entire month. Occasionally I wouldtellMamyRabe that he was doing too much and his only reply was “it’s my job”. Never has such generosity and graciousness been given to me by strangers and it was made possible only through the “Servas experience” for which I am truly grateful.In December of 2011, this Servas traveler returned from a 10-country pilgrimage delighted to be a citizen of the world with an expanded appreciationof it’s people, cultures and challenges._______________
In 2011, Betty Brown traveled for a year by herself around-the-world. In 2012 she wrote her stories of lessons and experiences in the book There and Back: An Elder’s Solo Global Pilgrimage which is available on Amazon in both hard and electronic formats.
Note: Betty Brown will be the keynote speaker at the next US Servas national conference, June 13-15, 2014, at the Common Ground Conference Center in Starksboro, Vermont. Check out usservas.org for more information and registration materials.