Traveling Solo: It Always Pays When Someone’s “Got Your Back”

Published by Daleen Berry on

In January, my friend Sheila and I went to Mexico for our mutual friend Olga’s wedding. We knew a little Spanish, but not much. An hour after our plane landed, we got into a car with two men, strangers we had never met, and began a one-hour journey to our destination.

In Italy two weeks ago, where I was attending a writer’s conference, I did the same thing again, and I don’t speak a word of Italian: I walked through the city with two other male strangers, got into their car, and sat back for what turned out to be a short drive.

On Sunday afternoon, I got off the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) subway at Fields Station in (what has been described as a high-crime neighborhood) Dorchester, got into a car with another stranger and sat back not knowing where we were going.

Last night I learned that a murder occurred eight days earlier at Fields Station when 39-year-old Cherby LaJoie was killed after trying to resist the teens who tried to rob him. The teen charged with his murder is Earnest Watkins. He is just 14.

In Mexico, Olga had made arrangements to send two of her friends to fetch us from the airport. Turns out one of the men she sent is a volunteer lawyer who works on important issues involving the government.

In Italy, I began looking around for people I might recognize because of their dress and grooming. Seeing no one as I hoped to, I said a quick prayer asking for them to be sent to me. Less than five minutes later, I saw the two young men approaching me. I held up a Portuguese Bible tract and even though they only knew a smattering of English, we instantly became family.

In Boston two days ago, I dialed a phone number and asked where I might find a local Kingdom Hall. That’s what Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses call their meeting places. The man who answered, a local elder, told me how to get from the bus station to the subway, and exactly what to do when I departed the train at Fields Station. He also told me where to meet him. He is black, as was everyone else whom I passed or who sat waiting at the bus stop. I, obviously, am not.

I am one of almost 8 million Witnesses throughout the world. When I travel, I am strengthened to withstand my own weaknesses, other people’s rudeness or their even downright nasty behavior, when I can congregate with my spiritual family. No matter our skin color, our language, our socio-economic background or anything else, we are family. Which is pretty important, when you’re a woman traveling alone to big cities or foreign countries. It means someone always has your back. That you have friends in places where you’ve never been.

Like us, hate us, or slam the door in our faces, there are a few things you might not know—-and which the media rarely reports on. For instance, if you lose your briefcase and it’s got a ton of cash inside (That’s no doubt a rare scenario in these tough economic times, but still.) the chance of it being returned if a Witness finds it is 100-percent.

The reason we <a href=”http://www.knocking.org/”>come knocking</a> on your door is because of the pattern Jesus Christ set, when he trained his early disciples, sending them out by twos and telling them to go “from door to door.” It’s the same reason we let complete strangers into our homes and hand over the key, even when we’ve never met them: we live by the Bible’s admonition to treat others as we want to be treated.

One other thing you probably don’t know, but which I, as a reporter and indie book publisher, find fascinating: our two monthly journals, The Watchtower and Awake, are the most widely-circulated in the world. They go out to 236 lands. Each print run produces more than 42 million copies of The Watchtower are produced. (Awake is 41 million.) The only other magazine that even comes close is AARP’s paid journal. Yet they—-and all the other Bible education aids we use and share with our neighbors—-are designed, composed, printed and shipped by volunteers around the world. No one is paid, no matter what their position.

I don’t use this public website as a way to share my personal religious beliefs, because all too often, religion is not something people want to talk about. Just like politics. Unless you’re of the same affiliation, then it might be okay. However, I would like to say—-given my past abuse-—that many, many people have commented on my resilience. I can’t take much credit for that. Because honestly, the one thing that helps me leave the past in the past, when it comes to horrible and violent memories I cannot forget, is my strong faith. I also know if we want to and we work really hard at it, we can gain strength from various things around us. I gain my strength from Bible promises.

That strength also comes from Jehovah God and my worldwide family, who taught me why bad things happen to good people, and why they ultimately won’t happen at all. He, and they, also taught me that some people can be trusted. Implicitly. Even when you’ve never met them before.

* * * *
I’ll be in Boston until Thursday, when I fly home. Tonight I’ll be at the Out of the Blue Art Gallery at 7 p.m. It’s a weekly storytelling venue, located at 106 Prospect Street in Cambridge. Hopefully I’ll be able to share my story there, like I did with a group of social workers in Maine last week. Although, with only eight-minute slots, this will be a much-condensed version. So come out and hear what some people are calling “a riveting” story—mine or even someone else’s.

* * * *
Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why


Daleen Berry

Daleen Berry (1963- ) is a New York Times best-selling author and TEDx speaker who was born in sunny San Jose, California, but who grew up climbing trees and mountains in rural West Virginia. When she isn't writing, she's reading. Daleen is also an award-winning journalist and columnist, and has written for such publications as The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and XOJane. Daleen has written or co-written eight nonfiction books, including her memoir, "Sister of Silence," "The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese," "Pretty Little Killers," "Cheatin' Ain't Easy," "Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang," "Shatter the Silence," and "Appalachian Murders & Mysteries," an anthology. In 2015, West Virginia University placed "Sister of Silence" and "Guilt by Matrimony" on its Appalachian Literature list. You can follow her blog here: https://www.daleenberry.com. Or find her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as email her at daleen(dot)berry(at)gmail(dot)com. She loves to hear from readers.

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