I still remember seeing the Cape of Good Hope for the first time.
It was in the fall of 1995.
I was on a 10-day fall break during my year at teaching at the Uthongathi School just north of Durban.
Fellow teacher Kay Wise, her boyfriend and later husband Suri Chetty and Suri’s brother Theju drove us down from Durban past the Garden Route and down to Africa’s southernmost point.
We had already visited a tattered version of Dutch colonist Jan van Riebeeck’s fabled hedge of bitter almonds that Allister Sparks used as the framing metaphor as the separation between the European colonists and indigenous people in his book, The Mind of South Africa.
The day was cold and windy, the weather overcast.
I saw the point of land where the Indian and Pacific Oceans converged and merged.
During my years as a Social Studies teacher I taught many times about legendary Portuguese explorers Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias reaching, and then rounding that point on their way to India in search of an all-water trade route.
Standing on the same spot where the sailors had passed through unknown lands more than five centuries before changed forever my understanding of history and the world.
Whereas previously I had thought of the discipline I taught and loved as a series of dates, names, people and places to memorize and spit back, the greater the volume, the deeper my understanding, now I realized that I indeed could be and travel to and feel a connection to those people who had come before us and played a role in shaping the world we have inherited.
I thought of that moment yesterday when Dunreith and I, after a couple of weeks of searching and wading through Internet outages and hassles, pressed, “Compar” on the TACA Airlines website.
The tickets we purchased will take us from Santiago to Lima, and then Cuzco, in Peru.
Machu Picchu lies just a couple of hours away.
I first learned about the Inca in seventh grade.
Steve Orrell was my teacher.
Sharply dressed, with thinning brown hair, he often took a break in between classes to buy or sell 1,000 shares on the stock exchange. (A tech company was a particular favorite.)
Mr. Orrell later left teaching to open a clothing store on Boston’s Newbury Street.
In his class, though, we had a major project about ancient Incan culture and civilization.
David Sharff, my early morning running partner and fellow newspaper boy, did the best one.
He earned a 98 for his elaborate drawings of Incan villages-he later became an architect-as well as his thorough description of the various aspects of Incan culture.
I left mine until nearly the last minute.
I don’t remember the exact day of the week that the project was due, but I do remember waking up very early in the morning two days before, sitting at our kitchen table and working to produce the project’s required elements.
I didn’t yet have an understanding of empires or colonialism. For me, this was material that I had to produce about a distant land that I did not even consider whether I would ever visit or not.
But I do remember the words Machu Picchu and the images of the glorious ancient temples that were the nation’s headquarters.
Yesterday’s purchase assured that we will see them.
The past 16 months have been a time of extraordinary gifts and realization of long-held dreams for me.
In May 2012 we traveled with Dad to his hometown in Germany for the first time in 73 years-a journey I had wanted to take for decades.
In November last year, with plenty of help from Dunreith and Paul Tamburello, I finished and published On My Teacher’s Shoulders, my memoir about learning from Paul at three distinct points over the course of 30 years. I had first discussed the project with Paul in the summer of 1999, months after I ran the Boston Marathon in his honor.
And in February of this year, I gained acceptance as a Fulbright Scholar to teach Data Journalism at the University of Diego Portales and research the impact of the 2009 Transparency Law on journalism here in Chile. In 2000 I filed the initial of what turned out to be four applications to participate in the program to travel with Dunreith and Aidan to live, teach and do research in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
These experiences, and the people we’ve met through them, have helped me gain an ever-stronger conviction that it is possible both to live a life based on deep and long-held dreams and fundamental values as well as to weave a life together with my blood and chosen families.
Based on that understanding, I need both to make sure I have enough space to reflect on my dreams, to give them the time and space to take specific form, and to work with those whom I love to make them real.
That process will continue in December, when Dunreith, Aidan and I board the plane and travel to a place I first learned about 35 years ago.
Once there, we’ll see the wonder of what the Incas created.
I expect that I’ll continue to savor my great fortune at being alive, too.