The Moab of my youth in the ‘60s and ‘70s was an extremely homogenous little town. There was one, maybe two black families, a few Native Americans, and the rest of us white folk. Lines of social distinction were vaguely drawn down religious and economic differences, but they were faint lines in my memory. The popular song “It’s a Small World” was created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair when I was a year old and has remained familiar for decades. But when I was little, I didn’t really get it. Those people in China, Mexico, England and Japan sure seemed a long way off to me. I thought the world was pretty big, and I thought everyone in Moab was pretty much the same.
All that has changed as our national parks draw more and more visitors from around the globe, most of them coming right about now during vacation time. Our weak dollar and abundant airline options make it easy for foreigners to scoot over here. Likewise, a fairly good percentage of Americans are traveling to their countries.
I see this in my own household. Five years ago a young teenager from France came on a horse ride with us. Her parents brought the shy girl on a sunset outing, and in very broken English she explained that she owned an appaloosa horse back in her hometown of Lyon, and that it was her passion to ride horses in America. Within a couple of hours Elora had stolen our hearts, and as we parted company later that evening with smiles and hugs, we extended an offer to come see us again. We told her she could visit any time, on that bridge of motivation that is fueled by a love of horses, instant friendship and the chance to enjoy the western American desert.
The following summer she did just that, staying for three weeks and long enough to string a few sentences together. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t have long conversations; those of us who work with animals are used to communicating with few words.
Each summer thereafter as our Elora came west for a visit, it seemed our daughter was flying east to Europe. One jaunt was to Germany for a short exchange program associated with Rotary International. The following summer Taylor participated with a group of high school student musicians from Utah, traveling from England and all around Europe doing performances. The third year Taylor flew to France to stay with Elora’s family in rural France.
This year Elora visited us for the month of June. We had a great time, and sorrowfully put her on an airplane for home on the third of July, just the day before we welcomed Taylor home from her college foreign study program in Italy. I marvel at how easy and accessible it is for people these days, especially young people, to see these foreign lands. Even on the high school level, most students who have the desire to travel can do so with school-organized programs and fundraising campaigns. Now more than ever, our small world seems to be shrinking.
But you don’t have to leave Moab to notice that we aren’t the homogenous town we once were, even without our vacationers. Our workforce, classrooms and multicultural center are testament to our own melting pot.
It feels a little bittersweet with Elora gone home to France and Taylor soon to be back at the University of Utah for fall classes. But a glance at my calendar reminds me that we soon will have another visitor in our home, this time a young lady from Germany, coming to visit and ride the desert for a couple of weeks in August while her folks are vacationing elsewhere in the states. We met her, like so many other foreign guests, when her family first visited Moab a couple of years ago.
Our guest bedroom won’t be vacant for long, and the chatter of awkward English will soon waft through our home, perhaps even singing to the words, “It’s a small world after all.”