Alas. I did not win a trip with Nick. I really wanted to accompany Nicholas Kristof on his fifth annual “Win A Trip With Nick” trek sponsored by The New York Times. Hoping to increase awareness and understanding about the many complex issues and opportunities for the developing world, he sought one college-age student and one adult sixty +, to accompany him on this reporting venture
What is particularly sad is that I believe ageism was a decisive factor here for the first time in my life. I am eighty-three but there was no upper limit stated. And I really have been waiting almost a decade for such a trip.
I wrote him such a good letter.
. . . I believe I am the quintessential aged traveling companion for this journey to developing countries. I am widowed. 83 years old, a grandmother with genuine white hair and unaltered wrinkles. I love to travel. I am in excellent health though I consume various pills and nostrums to stay that way. I am legally blind but I see and read well enough to function independently. I live alone and am totally self reliant. Three months ago, shouting as I ran, I pursued a mugger who snatched my purse in the dark just outside my house. He was successfully cornered and the police, retrieving the purse, arrested him thus rescuing him from my wrath.
I am an active opponent of ageism. My article, “”Blind, Elderly, But Still Voting,” in the “Narrative Matters” section of the September 2010 journal, Health Affairs, speaks to this issue. I teach Creative Writing at Borough of Manhattan Community College (The City University of New York) where, after forty-0two years I remain Professor Emerita. My grand-motherliness is so apparent I almost never have to stand on rush-hour trains.
My late husband, Morton Klass, a Columbia University cultural anthropologist, with whom I traveled the world, died nine years ago. Mourning for my lost mate and traveling companion, I stayed rooted in New York. I have, however recently completed my first solo travel venture, a flight to Grand Forks, North Dakota – where I had never been – to speak and receive a literary award. I did caution the North Dakotans that I was carefully observing their exotic dress and customs and making extensive notes.
My great and continuing interest is in the many complex issues and opportunities for the developing world. My first child, Perri Klass, was born in an East Indian sugar cane cutters village in the swamps of Trinidad, 52 years ago. Our year there offered a remarkable opportunity to learn about local midwifery, childbirth, and parenting; for example, there arose the question of where our new baby should sleep – cruelly separate or in the parents’ bed. This issue preoccupied the villagers and us for months. They thought our nighttime separation cruel and inhumane. I had Dr. Spock’s book with me but it carried no weight there. My own memoir records the entire adventure: EVERYONE IN THIS HOUSE MAKES BABIES (Doubleday, New York, 1964). A joint memoir appears in “Birthing in the Bush: Participant Observation in Trinidad,” CHILDREN IN THE FIELD (Anthropological Experiences) edited by Joan Cassell (Temple University Press, Philadelphia 1987).
My husband and I journeyed and lived in many parts of the world: India, Europe, Africa, China and Japan. In West Bengal, India, after studying Bengali, we lived with our two small children for more than a year in the abandoned coalfields one hundred miles north of Calcutta. Our daughter attended the Loreto Convent while our son was enrolled in the Assemblies of God Mission School. Juvenile ideological differences and schisms soon abounded and we had to mediate. Two of my subsequent novels indicate how much was learned from that Bengali year. BAHADUR MEANS HERO (Gambit Boston 1969) A PERPETUAL SURPRISE (Apple-wood Books, Cambridge Mass. 1981)
Thus far in this essay I have treated Nicholas Kristof’s proposed trip lightheartedly, but I am absolutely in earnest in my interest and purposeful in my application here. I would love to go; I am exceedingly curious about other cultures and their values and problems. I am a patient, uncomplaining traveler. A child of the Depression, I find “cheap” a virtue and can easily sleep on buses or in bus stations. I am a capable student and an intent listener. The developing world is a source of immense fascination from which we must learn much and to which we must contribute what we know. My travels have taught me the immensity of all we have in common as well as the critical delicacy of our many differences.
I am eager to listen and to learn, to go and then to have so much to bring back and tell.