Where in the World is Lorraine Basson?
When I think of a strong Jewish woman in my life, my grandmother, Lorraine Basson, immediately comes to mind. I admire my grandmother for so many of her traits: her passion, her love for her family, her intelligence, her sense of style, her chicken noodle soup recipe, her sophistication, her honesty, her boldness, her fearlessness, but one trait stands out in particular: her love of travel.
My grandmother has been to every continent. Yes, that includes Antarctica (she and my grandfather had a great time hanging out with penguins). She’s been to Italy, France, India, Dubai, Thailand, Myanmar, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile; name a country and she’s been there. My grandmother has also had some crazy adventures, including being tracked down by the KGB after my father and my uncle discovered a hidden microphone on a bus during a trip to Soviet Russia.
The first place my grandmother ever travelled to was Paris, and she has since fallen in love with the city of love. My grandmother loves to travel to Paris so much that she can’t even count how many times she’s been there. If she had to take a guess, she would say a little over 50. My grandmother will stop in Paris “on her way back” from South Africa because she loves the city so much. Her other favorites include Florence and Dubai.
When I asked my grandmother what started her love for travelling, she immediately answered, “Reading. Since I was never able to travel as a child, reading was my escape. I would dream about someday travelling to the places I read about.” My grandmother’s second favorite pastime is reading. I envy her ability to read a whole book in a day, a skill that could really help me get through Wuthering Heights. As a child, with every word she read describing mysterious destinations, my grandmother’s thirst for embarking on journeys to new places only increased. She wanted to break out of her limited New York City worldview, and experience the world firsthand. She said to me, “When you haven’t been to many places, the reality is, you think that people are strange animals every place in the world and that they’re all very different. However, the truth is, that all people are human and they all have essentially the same needs and desires, but they just have different cultures and traditions. Travelling teaches you a respect for different people and different cultures.” As is evident from her quote, my grandmother not only loves to explore every inch of this planet, but also to learn about every culture she encounters.
Of course, not all of my grandmother’s travel experiences have been positive. In fact, she has witnessed many injustices while travelling abroad, like the time a housekeeper in a hotel in Munich refused to clean my grandparent’s room because they were “filthy Jews,” or the time when she witnessed horrific working conditions for women in cashew nut factories in India. She explained, “We have seen extreme poverty in many places. You think to yourself, why should anybody have to live in such terrible conditions to the point where it isn’t even humane.” These horrific scenes have prompted my grandmother to truly appreciate her life in the United States. She told me, “There aren’t many places in the world like the United States where people have as much freedom as we do and are able to have hope to move up in society.”
Through travel, my grandmother has also grown as a woman and as a Jew. She has learned to never take her religious freedom for granted. For example, she was troubled by the division between men and women at the Western Wall in Israel, a site that she cherishes so much as a Jew. Although my grandmother knows that the patriarchy is still a very prevalent force in American society, she has seen it to be even more powerful in other societies. She said, “I believe that women should not be merely appreciated for cooking and taking care of a family, but also for their brains and their remarkable capabilities and accomplishments. I’ve seen the oppression of women everywhere in the world. For example, in Myanmar, a woman who has helped win so much freedom for the new country [Aung San Suu Kyi], is not allowed to be the president of the new democracy. Instead, there is a man who is essentially a figurehead president, while this woman is the mastermind in the background.”
Lastly, my grandmother told me about what she hopes all of her grandchildren will take away from her stories: “I hope they will have an appreciation for the rest of the world and will be able to see it. I hope they travel not only for the sake of seeing sites, but also for an understanding of the many different traditions and people in the world. There is nothing more that creates peace and tolerance, than travel and befriending new and different people.” I am inspired by my grandmother’s dedication to travelling. She has taught me to not only be fearless, but also to embrace the unknown, to step out of my comfort zone, and to see the world and all of the wonderful cultures it has to offer.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Bickel, Ariela. "Where in the World is Lorraine Basson?." 11 May 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 24, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/where-in-world-is-lorraine-basson>.