You meet the most interesting people when you travel. It's not because the people who surround you on a daily basis are boring; it's because no matter how exciting their lives may be, they are still so familiar. Radio personality Dennis Prager and I discussed this not too long ago. He mentioned that my column was building a real following, to which I replied "…except among the people who know me." He laughed about how true that was for him as well and how several people close to him think "Oh, that's just Dennis; no big deal."
While my wife and I were in London waiting for our flight to Rome, I was recharging my Zune, and I asked the man sitting next to it to watch it for me. He showed me his hat, indicating that he was a retired U.S. Marine, so I said “Semper Fi” and struck up a conversation. Since his retirement, he has spent the better part of ten years working for a construction company in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was on his way back to Afghanistan for another nine-month stint. Boy, did he ever open himself up. I had a hundred questions for him.
The big one was whether he thought we should stay in Afghanistan. "Absolutely," he said, adding that he felt that we were making great progress under General Petraeus. He maintained that while the Afghanis love Americans, it is very difficult to change a country that remains backward in so many ways. He pointed out that the construction companies have started to change the way they operate, and are now hiring many more local people. They are training them to be carpenters, electricians and plumbers so that when the Americans leave, the local craftsmen will have the skills to maintain what was built. He was very proud of that evolution. It was quite a fascinating conversation.
Some Americans like to go where they can speak English. I find it fascinating to be in the midst of several languages, and then try to figure out where each person is from. On one evening, we dined at a restaurant in Palermo, surrounded by a couple from Germany, a quartet from France, and another group from South America. We asked the waiter how he kept up with all the languages. (Fortunately, most people revert to English.)