A few weeks ago , I wrote about how the travel bug bit me. Reflecting on that article, I realized that I may have left out a key piece of what started the burning urge to travel inside of me.
As a young kid, I grew up in Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac is a suburb of Detroit with just about the same amount of problems. There is a high crime rate, a lot of gangs, a lot of drugs, and a lot of hopelessness.
When I was in school there, we never really addressed world geography and especially never talked about traveling the world. I feel that the schools there didn’t want to instill a false sense of hope in its students.
When I was in 3rd grade, my parents divorced. I spent half of my 3rd grade year in Battle Creek, Michigan, living with my mother. I was not like most kids seem to be. I wasn’t sad about leaving my friends and my family. I was actually a little excited about leaving. I was ready for a new adventure!
In Battle Creek, I had to learn how to make friends. It wasn’t like in Pontiac where I had grown up with these kids. I was an outsider. I did really well and after a short time I had friends and I fit right in.
After the end of that school year, I found out that my father was moving from Pontiac. He was heading to Oak Hill, Ohio. I knew right away that I wanted to go with him. There was something inside drawing to experience something new, again. This time, not just to a different city, but a whole different state! So I moved!
Again, I had to make new friends. It didn’t take long and I was part of the school. 4th grade was off to a good start. I was experiencing country life for the first time and I was making new friends. There were no regrets about leaving Michigan and I didn’t really miss anything. I was content with a new adventure. It filled any void any “normal” kid may have had.
My father didn’t have stable work, so we had to adjust a lot. We moved, a lot! In 4th grade I was in Pontiac again, but this time at a different school. I didn’t even get to finish the year there. After just a couple months, I was living in Capac, Michigan. I was really used to the routine by now! The routine of moving and making friends and not expecting to be there long. I finished 4th grade there, but started 5th grade at my 3rd Pontiac elementary school. I had some people I knew, but I pretty much had to start building a friend base all over again, but I still didn’t mind. To this point, my life was a cool adventure, living in different places and meeting so many different people.
5th grade was the most stable year I had since I was 7. I stayed at one school the entire year. It was kind of strange actually.
A few months into 6th grade, I found out that we were moving, again. This time to New Haven, Michigan. (Actually Ray Township but I went to school in New Haven.) And again, I was excited. It was another chance to build a new base of friends and to experience a new place. I made friends my first day at New Haven Middle School. I was instantly popular when I joined a lunchtime football game and I leveled one of the biggest kids on the playground. It was a textbook tackle and the “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” got everyone to look and I was known. I made friends easily there. It was a good experience right from the beginning.
In New Haven, though, it wasn’t my friendships that were burned into my head. I was only there for 7 months, so I didn’t really make any best friends. There was something else at New Haven Middle School that I’ll cherish, forever. Mr. Potts.
Mr. Potts was a teacher that seemed to really care about his students. He took time to talk with them and he really cared about them, but this isn’t what made a big difference in my life.
Mr. Potts had a series of projects focused on our “Passports.” We had to make a passport for his class. Then, every week, we used our passports to “go” to different countries. We would watch videos and learn all about the countries that we went to.
The first “trip” was to Belize. I was amazed. I never knew that the rainforest existed and that Belize had all of those animal that I thought only lived in zoos. But it was our second “trip” that would change things. We took a trip to Brazil.
The Brazil trip lit a fire in me. I had the first place to visit on my first bucket-list. The place was not Brazil in general, but it was specifically Manaus, Brazil! Manaus had the rainforest and all of the animals that Belize had, but it also had something way cooler!
Manaus had the Meeting of the Waters!
For those who don’t know what the meeting of the waters is, it is where the Rio Solimões and the Rio Negro come together. The Solimões is a brown water and the Negro is a black water. The rivers come together to form the Amazon River. But what is outstanding about the meeting is that the black water doesn’t mix with the brown water for miles. For many miles the waters just flow next to each other without blending.
The moment I saw that, I knew that I wanted to go to Manaus! It was a must do in my life. I also added Germany, and Australia to my must do list that year, but Manaus was my number one bucket-list place.
What Mr. Potts didn’t know was that he had just given a kind of hope to a child that was super poor. A child that really didn’t ever dream of leaving the USA. A poor kid from the ghetto now had an urge to travel the world and experience different cultures.
When I was in college and I had my first opportunity to travel to another country (one that wasn’t Canada) I jumped at it. Going to school in Mexico was practically a no brainer for me. Partly because of my Gypsy heart that liked moving and experiencing new things, but mostly because of Mr. Potts.
Mr. Potts may never know the impact that he had on me. He may never know that the 6th grader that he took to Manaus through video is now a 34 year old man living in Manaus, Brazil.
Here’s to you Mr. Potts and to all of the other teachers that inspire kids to do more than they may have ever dreamed.