A third-grade dream

Norway or Bust

  I’m often asked: “When did you know you wanted to travel the world as a correspondent and photojournalist?”

  My answer, always immediate, always surprises.

  “In third grade.”

  Well, that’s not completely true. The travel part is, at least to a particular country. The rest of it, I was clueless.

  I was eight years old in February, 1959, and attending DeVeaux Elementary School in Toledo, Ohio. My teacher, Mrs. Muhn, had portraits of Washington and Lincoln posted as Presidents Day was approaching. In those days it was celebrated on Feb. 22, Washington’s birthday. [Mine, too, as well as my father, George Washington Tanber.]

But something else Mrs. Muhn posted on the bulletin board captured my attention and would not let go. She had decided we should get to know other countries and Norway was the chosen place for February. Our assignment was to write and draw what we might see if we traveled there. [I only remember that part because of the photo posted above. That’s me in the middle – black hair, plaid shirt.] I don’t remember what I wrote but I was in awe of the photos I saw of steep mountains running down to bodies of blue water called fjords.

  Right then and there I told myself: I will go there one day and see for myself.

  Coincidently, my life turned upside down a few days after this photo was taken. We moved to a different part of the city. Left behind was Mrs. Muhn - my favorite teacher - and all my friends at school and in the neighborhood, none of whom I saw again.

  The next week, in a different school, I felt like I had been shipped to the moon. I was teased on the bus and in the classroom for my dark skin and large nose. [My one and only new friend, Wendy Taylor, is someone I have never forgotten.] But over time it all changed for the good. I made new friends. I grew comfortable in my new school. Memories of DeVeaux and Mrs. Muhn began to fade. But my fascination with Norway remained strong.

  And then my grandmother returned from a trip to her native Lebanon where she met for the first time a nephew my age.

  “His name is Elias; he’s your cousin,” she said. “He’s very smart and wants to learn English. Why don’t you write him a letter?”

  I did, gained a pen pal and added another country to my must-visit list.

  Soon after my parents bought me a world globe. It remained by my bedside. A quick spin of the sphere took me on many fanciful journeys for as long as I lived at home.

  Fifteen years later, on June 25, 1974, at age 24, I boarded a flight for Madrid. It was intended to be a three-month backpacking trip around Europe as I was nearing completion of my Master’s degree.

  I did, of course, make it to Norway. It did not disappoint. In fact, it was even more beautiful than I had imagined.

  Three months turned into two years. My path was set for a career on the road, but not aimlessly. My degrees in journalism and communications helped provide focus, direction and travel budgets.

Nearly 100 countries and an equal number of adventures later, I can’t help but think back to my third-grade class, Mrs. Muhn and that special February so long ago.

  I think I still would have become a traveler even if she hadn’t introduced me to Norway. In retrospect, I believe it was the experience of moving to a new school mid-year and learning to cope with the challenges of abrupt and dramatic change that helped, in part, guide me through my years on the road. There, almost every day, I asked myself a simple but often complex question: “What now?”

  The fun part was figuring out the answer.

Body part A when photo present

Cover Photo
Cover Photo

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Body part B when photo present