Recently I learned kitesurfing. Although I had several occasions over the last few years, I never took any of them. There are a few reasons for this: I don’t like to crash, I am a difficult student and suspicious towards teachers, the latter because I am one myself, I guess.
I was told that there is no better place to learn kitesurfing than Egypt. So I flew from the East-African bush, my current home, to the blue-ness of the Red Sea.
The first step in learning how to kitesurf is to learn to handle the material: the kite, the harness, the kite lines, the board. It is an art not to lose any of this in the sea, not to cause any life threatening wounds to anyone and to keep everything in the right place. Once that hurdle has been taken, you learn to body drag: dragging yourself in the water, pulled by your kite, a rather pleasant feeling.
Next is the water start, a phase that, upon successful completion, will lead to grandiose euphoria. You are euphoric because you are finally standing straight on the board, but few seconds later you have no clue about what you are expected to do next. This results in helplessness, countless crashes in true Laurel & Hardy style, to the amusement of those who are watching.
Meanwhile, from a distance, the instructor is waving his arms and with slight despair is trying to keep you on track, while you are losing your wits and let your buttocks sink into the water, in full frustration.
Eventually, I learned kitesurfing quite easily, yet with bruised knees and a blue shin. I remember the moment I was kitesurfing independently, looking around me, the silhouette of the mountains in the far back, the different shades of blue beneath me and the instructor who, from a distance, gave me a thumbs up. Right then, I felt intensely satisfied and proud, as a child that just learnt to ride a bike. I realized that this was due to the fact that I had really been open-minded.
The kitesurf-instructor was an ex-history teacher, someone who carefully chose his words and didn’t hide his appreciation for my countless crashes.
My most memorable history teacher once said: ‘History is the rearview mirror of mankind.’ I had always remembered that, but only recently truly understood what it meant. One should display open-mindedness in order to dare to look behind, not only in one’s own rearview mirror, but also in someone else’s, who has something valuable to share.
The kitesurf/history teacher who is patient to such an extent as to witness, time and time again, students crashing, shake the sand out of their hair and ears and carry on, that teacher inevitably has to believe in a better world (or become utterly desperate).
You do not necessarily become open-minded by living abroad, neither does it have anything to do with traveling extensively, studying at a prestigious university, reading Paulo Coelho or eating sushi. Open-mindedness truly means wanting to crash, wanting to listen to the ideas of someone else and add them to what you think you know.
I have lived in three different continents and travelled quite a bit, but I only truly became open-minded whilst learning to kitesurf, when I was willing to listen and to crash. Gloriously.
This article was commissioned by Vlamingen in de Wereld and will also be published in Dutch in the June-edition of their magazine.