Preparing for Cultural Immersion

In this final post in the series about David’s and my road trip to the Mississippi Delta, I will describe some of the things we did (well, mainly, I did these things) to prepare ourselves for immersion into a culture very different from our South Florida existence. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the first things I did when planning the trip was to email, then call, our long time client and friend, Orman Kimbrough. Although Orman has lived in Orlando for a long time, he still refers to Greenwood, Mississippi as “home” in much the same way I refer to Fort Myers, Florida, my hometown, as “home.” Orman provided many helpful details about the Delta; in addition, he suggested I read a book by Richard Grant, titled, “Dispatches from Pluto” prior to embarking on the trip. As anyone who knows me will verify, I always do my homework and that includes homework related to ensuring I will have the most excellent vacation possible. In preparation for the Delta trip, I read every article about the area I could find and I enthusiastically delved into “Dispatches from Pluto” so that I would be finished with it before leaving home. I am glad I did! I learned many things about which I would have never known otherwise, including: (1) the Delta is a distinct part of Mississippi, in much the same way as Miami is unique within Florida; (2) people in the Delta rarely meet a stranger, such that questions usually not asked by someone you don’t know are to be expected; (3) the Pluto in the book is the name of a place in the Delta, not the former planet in our solar system; (4) the best tamales on planet Earth are made in Mississippi, not Mexico or Texas; and (5) the Delta is part of the U.S.A., but there are times when we might forget it. I would never have been prepared for my cultural awakening had it not been for my home schooling before the trip. As a postscript, I am now a subscriber to “Southern Living” magazine, a magazine loved by my dear Southern Belle mother. And, thanks to Orman, I have a subscription to the “Delta” magazine, an excellent publication about all things Delta. And, last but not least, my education will continue: I have been accepted to Delta State University, located in Cleveland, Mississippi, where I will soon begin my quest for certification as an International Blues Scholar!

This post illustrates a significant difference in Melissa’s and my personalities.  Her level of preparation for trips such as this is much more than is mine.  Domestic, or international, this is the case.  I have always done my homework in life as well.  But, I am more interested in experiential and visual immersions when traveling.  I will point out that this is a matter of degree.  I fully researched the Blues Trail, downloaded the Mississippi app, I read “Dispatches from Pluto” (finishing it during the trip) and engaged with Melissa in trip planning.  But, I happily turn over much of the planning of our trips to her.  This is part of our team approach. And, it plays to her strengths for those details while allowing me to learn by seeing and doing.  Perhaps it is my visual orientation as a photographer, but I like to see, hear, and feel my way through new cultural experiences.  For me, these are more real than reading about them.  Part of the difference in our approaches also depends on the trip.  The Mississippi trip was “her idea” – not that I was not a willing traveler, but, in a divide and conquer way, she initiated the trip idea, and undertook more of the planning than I did.  I don’t want to sound defensive about this; my point is, instead, that people approach things differently.  And, given our life and work involvement, we have found it sometimes necessary to alternate the “lead” roles we take in both life and work activities. I surely don’t want to go blindly on a trip – my book shelves show how many travel and culture references I have utilized.   Trip preparations take many forms, and again, the tradeoffs between us are demonstrated by other forms of preparation – in this case, to ready the vehicle and get it checked out for the trip.  Sometimes, this involves getting foreign currency, maps, and other supplies.  Fortunately, as foreign as some parts of the Mississippi trip were, we were in the USA, maybe even in a more “real” place than that in which we live!

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