In last week’s post, I wrote about traveling solo, something which intimidates a lot of people who are otherwise quite outgoing in different aspects of their lives. While I always encourage people to step outside their comfort zones, I will never judge negatively anyone who won’t or can’t, especially when it comes to travel. There will always be legitimate reasons a person is too afraid, or nervous, to travel to a dream destination. The current volatile state of world affairs being first and foremost. Heck, I’m the first person who will admit that it’s not always wise to travel to a particular country. (I often joke that someday – far, far in the future – my tombstone will end up reading “Brave, but stupid.” but that doesn’t mean I want that to come true.) So I plan my travels with the right amount ot caution, the right amount of respect for those I might impact, whether it be those I encounter while traveling or the loved ones waiting for me back home.
Still, I must say in reality, the world is not always as dangerous as the media wants us to believe, a tactic they employ for sensationalism and ratings. The majority of people all over this planet are kind, helpful, generous, and curious, and they eagerly welcome the adventurous, especially those open-minded individuals whose goal it is to experience their way of life, their culture, and their history. Even in countries that hate “America.” (They still love Americans, although it can often be for your tourist dollars rather than your sparkling personality.)
LIke the old woman in the bathroom at the Cairo Airport back in 2002. It was my first encounter where, in many places, the elderly or poor will appoint themselves as bathroom attendants, handing out towels and toilet paper in exchange for a few coins. I remember how her eyes lit up at the handful of British currency I pulled from my pocket (acquired during my layover at Heathrow). Even though the total was probably a lot more than the average tourist gave her, she was so happy to see it, I dumped all the coins into her eager hands.
And, of course, there were all those shop keepers eager to sell me any number of trinkets.
But then there were the teenage school girls on the Cairo Metro who surrounded me and, via the only girl who spoke some English, proceeded to ask me where I was from and (a question which seems to arise primarily in the Middle East) if I was married. I wasn’t, but I had thought it wise – traveling solo to Egypt – to wear a plain wedding band. I still remember the laugh of the old woman sitting on the floor after a translation of my answer to the question “was my husband pretty in face?” (handsome). I said “I think he is.”
And I still remember the girls, sensing my concern about missing my stop (they had surrounded me so completely I couldn’t see the names of the stations we were at), and how they made sure I got off the train at the right place.
Those are the moments which show me that other people – complete strangers – care, the moments which humanize the “other” that we in America seem to be so afraid of.
Yes, being surrounded like that made me nervous, but the girls were so warm and curious, I quickly lost any fear. I found myself wrapped up in our “conversation.” I use quotation marks on that word because it was only a partially successful exchange due to the language barrier. For example, I’m not sure they understood my explanation of where California is, but they knew “Hollywood” and that was close enough.
Given the current turmoil in Egypt, I wonder how those girls are. Happy? Facing their own fears? Married to their own husbands who are “pretty in face”? Are they alive?
I will not go back to find out, however. At least not any time soon. Egypt is simply too unstable. And even I’m not brave enough to face that. Instead, I will have to find a way to memorialize them by somehow incorporating those encounters into one of my stories. I haven’t yet, but I’m sure they will show up some day when my readers least expect it.
In the meantime, there are so many other Far Places on this gorgeous planet to visit, so many other ways to encounter, and conquer, new fears.