In many ways, the traveler is a dying breed. She has, in large part, been replaced by the tourist—a very different species. Foremost, the traveler is distinguished by her immersion in the place she travels. She insists on being susceptible to the dust, the dirt and potential dangers of the novel destination.
The tourist, meanwhile, plays it safe, reclines inside the bus, his shirt free from stains and wrinkles; he adjusts the air-conditioning vent and points his finger toward the objects of interest on the other side of the window.
Make no mistake, Edina resident Gail Shore is no tourist. She is a traveler of the first order. And thankfully for us homebodies, she is not a traveler whose immersion in her destinations—North Korea, Myanmar, Rwanda, Bhutan or a tiny village in Africa—is kept private.
Instead, Shore travels precisely because she wants us to see, know and understand more about the world than most of us ever will on our own. In understanding the world-out-there, she supposes, we will be more able to understand the world we experience before us every day.
Born and raised in mid-century Milwaukee, Shore grew up blissfully unaware of what lay beyond the breweries and the great lakeshore of Wisconsin’s largest city. She probably could not have invented in her wildest imagination the places she now knows intimately.
“I had no idea,” she says. “No idea at all about what was out there.”
In the late ’60s, without much thought about what might become of it, Shore accepted a job in the reservation office of an airline. She didn’t know it at the time, but that decision would both chart the course of her career and ensure that the travel bug bit her, and bit her good.
“As I’ve gotten older,” she says, “I can look back and pinpoint the precise moments when my life changed. Clearly, May 15, 1967, when I was hired in the airline business, was one of those moments. It was the first opportunity I’d had to take a step outside of where I had grown up.”
In those days—a bygone era without the fees, cramped conditions, and labyrinthine security processes that now define the airline industry—employees were able to fly, nearly free, to anywhere the airline went. Shore and her comrades took advantage.
“We were a bunch of bandits,” she says. “It didn’t matter where we went. It was just ‘Go, go, go.’ And we were gone. Everywhere.”
At first, they traveled only around the United States to more conventional areas. Soon though, they began going abroad, doing “the whole Paris, Rome and London thing.” But it was Shore’s first trip to Africa—to Nairobi—that became another defining moment.
“It slapped me upside the head. It was so profound. I was out in the bush. Of course the first thing I noticed was the animals. And then the land; I noticed that the land wasn’t parceled out. It was just wide open.”
At some point, Shore armed herself with a camera—an old Canon AE-1, loaded with slide film—so she could begin to document and share with anyone who cared to look at and listen to the amazing things she was witnessing.
To her surprise, folks back home wanted to see and hear about her now yearly trips. She began hosting gatherings for which she’d arrange the slides and write a script to introduce the people, places, landscapes and stories behind each one. More people showed up the following year, and the next after that.
While the portraits and landscapes she has brought home are stunning, the photography and even the stories have taken a back seat to promoting awareness and tolerance through her work.
“It’s easy to look at all these pictures and see how different a person or place is,” she says. “What I’m interested in is encouraging people to identify what the similarities between people and places are. By doing that, you are breaking down cultural barriers.”
In 2005, Shore founded Cultural Jambalaya, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization whose mission is “to promote understanding and respect for all people.” It does this by putting DVDs with the photos and narration about the photos into the hands of middle school and high school educators. This past spring, Cultural Jambalaya released its third DVD, which highlights Asia. Previous releases have highlighted the Middle East and other locations around the world.
“It’s a big stew,” says Shore. “We’re all stirred up in this thing together.”
Cultural Jambalaya’s annual event, “Destination Next,” uses educational and global diversity efforts to broaden worldviews of students. This year’s event will be held at 7 p.m. September 27, at Le Meridien Chambers in Minneapolis.