To me exploration isn’t about conquering natural obstacles, planting flags… It’s not about going where no one’s gone before in order to leave your mark, but about the opposite of that – about making yourself vulnerable, opening yourself up to whatever’s there and letting the place leave its mark on you

This quotation from Benedict Allen* speaks to me because it effectively provides an echo of all human experiences…if we can recognise it.

My own studies of the diversity of cultures in the world and the challenges of exchange between them has confirmed to me that one of the significant frontiers of exploration in this globalising age might be termed “Encountering the Other”—that is, those different to ourselves.

In the quotation, above, Allen points towards a manner of encounter that is marked by the qualities of vulnerability and openness—surely these are amongst the most necessary precursors to true and constructive engagement that is free of domination, intimidation, manipulation or exploitation of The Other?

Road to Léo

On the Léo-Ouagadougou road, Burkina Faso (click, then click again to enlarge)

I’ve supplemented the quote with a photograph of the road to Léo, which, one way and another, represents where I began my own exploration of missionary engagement with “the Others” of Burkina Faso, in West Africa.

The image of a road stretching out towards the horizon speaks to me of a number of different things: firstly, as we see it stretching out ahead of us, it demonstrates that Others have gone before and prepared a way for our travel. The presence of Other road users also affirms to us that the route has some intrinsic or practical value because it leads somewhere that Others are going.

Nevertheless, the way the road meets and disappears into the horizon also encapsulates two other, less obvious realities: firstly, even though Others have preceded us, we don’t yet know what that route may hold for us personally—we may not want or be prepared for where the Other Travellers are going. Secondly, the broad horizon reveals that “the road well travelled,” even though it appears to be the most obvious route to follow, actually only represents one direction amongst a myriad of others that might be taken, if we are prepared to go “off the beaten track.”

Thus we learn that, even when the road we are ourselves on seem to us to be self-evidently the clearest, most effective, most obvious route to take, nevertheless we don’t know the stories, motivations and myriad reasons why Others have chosen to take the different route, road or journey that they are on.

All of life is an exploration and we are all explorers in some measure or other.

*Allen is quoted in Nature’s Connections: an exploration of Natural History, The Natural History Museum, London, 2000

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