Story and photos by Tara Clark
After living in a small, remote village called Lesotho, in southern Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1990s, I continued to travel off the beaten path to far corners of the world. My paths led to Haiti, the South Sudan, Laos, Mozambique and beyond.
Travel was my passion in life. But unlike many people, I did not travel to see the “wonders” of the world.” Instead, I traveled to meet and photograph the wonderful people of the world.
When I traveled to foreign lands, forced completely outside of my “comfort zone,” I find that unique, thought-provoking and inspiring conversations and interactions would happen. These human connections would fuel me to work hard and look forward to the next adventure abroad.
In 2011, I realized I did not need to travel the world to have the inspiring human connection that I was seeking. The people of the world are all here in Seattle.
So I set out on a journey creating The World in My Backyard. My goal is to meet and photograph an individual or couple born in every country in the world, currently residing in Seattle. The parameters I have set for myself are that the person I interview must only be one degree of separation from me; either I meet them on my own or an acquaintance (new or old) connects me with the individual. Since beginning the project in early 2012, I have been on the most incredible journey of my life and it has not required any travel!
One of the first questions I am asked is, “How are you going to find someone from each country?” I share that I think it will be the easiest part of the challenge, because I connect with immigrants EVERYWHERE. We are fortunate in Seattle to live in such an ethnically diverse city. I find myself connecting at my sons’ school, in parks, coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants, walking the dog, at parties, at the theater… the locations are endless. Friends and neighbors have also been connectors. To date, I have interviewed immigrants from 27 different countries (and identified 40 more to be interviewed). They cross all demographics and range in age from 22 to 76. They openly share with me their family history and life story. I do not exaggerate when I say my connection with each and every person has been incredible.
Through the project, my family is learning about global geography, history and current events, different religions and philosophies, foreign foods, a vast number of professions, unimaginable struggles and achievements. Through the new connections I am making with people in the Seattle community, our world is opening to new activities and experiences. My children’s excitement to be involved in the project and meeting new people is astonishing and exciting. They are becoming global citizens without leaving the city.
Having the project to talk about has led to fascinating conversation with complete strangers and long time friends. Through sharing personal stories, new bonds are quickly formed. New friendships are formed with the immigrants I interview.
Too often, in our society, we look forward to the next goal and rarely reflect on our journey. Witnessing each person treasure the moments of sharing their life story with a stranger is incredibly special. It is my belief that through real, honest human connection we can create more compassionate and united communities.
I have started sharing the lives I am learning about on my website. Consider starting your own “in my backyard” community and sharing your experiences of connectivity with me. I promise it will take you on an unforgettable adventure of learning about yourself and the world around you.