“Traveling don’t just captures beautiful scenery but it also captures life’s stories.” – Solita
(Dear fellow readers, I have to caution you that this post is particularly longer than usual. I have edited and shorten it a few times, – this is the shortest that I could get ;-). I have removed several narratives to shorten it but attempting to do more I’m afraid might lost its substance. So I THANK YOU in advance if you can finish it until the end :-D).
One of the great thing about traveling which I truly enjoy are having what I call “Angelic encounters” in the form of strangers to help you with just anything you need at that time. Some of them you meet just once while some become forever part of your life :-).
I couldn’t thank enough for always having this angelic encounter in every place I go, some of those I forgot their names but the kind deeds they have done and how they made me feel is constantly etch in my memory.
So before it slips away, (because I believe I will encounter more :-D), I may not return the favor they’ve done to me or the lessons I learned from meeting them. But I hope to continue the cycle of helping one another regardless of who they are and wherever they maybe. Majority of these Angels were those I met in Europe. I would have a separate post for Asian Angels :-).
1) Paul and Veronica. (I take them as one because they are couple). Showed genuine act of kindness to a stranger. I end up in Lisbon because of Paul. I was looking for the booth where I can buy ticket going to south of Spain to see Andalucia where the first setting of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” took place. Then my gaze was caught the sign Lisbon, I thought, that’s the capital of Portugal. Out of curiosity, I approached the counter to ask about Lisbon. Paul was kind enough and told me it is very safe to visit Lisbon for a woman traveling alone, and there’s no problem to travel by bus at night. I thanked him and told I hope I could visit it the next time I come again. I don’t have any friends from Lisbon and have not made any research, where I could stay for instance etc. I think he had sense my thirst to see Portugal. He then immediately, invited me to come inside the office, (it is off limits to passengers, so he went outside and accompany me inside so no one would question me, he said). He offered to use his laptop so I could search and book a place to stay. He even offered to use the printer so I could keep a copy of the documents. He wrote down several places of interest that I should not miss to see then handed me that piece of paper. Paul by the way is a Portuguese so he knows his place very well. Veronica came and he introduced me to her. She was a very lively woman and talk a lot of things in Spanish where I only understood uno, dos, tres.. 😉 while she can only say hi and hello in English :-). But we had a great time talking to each other without understanding a word! Hehe. I guess that’s how non-verbal acts come into play and you just understand everything. Paul then translated that they will be very happy to see me again when I return to Madrid and if I have longer time I contact them and they will be very happy to show me around and welcome me back again. I was touched by that remarks and before I could go on, I told them I’m worried that it’s few minutes to 10pm and I need to board while I still need to figure out where the bus is. They told me not to worry because they will send me up to the place where I will take my bus. They talk to the driver and I was offered the first seat :-). Talk about how a place I am intending to visit could change in a matter of minutes because of these people who help make things easy for me. Isn’t that great! 😀
2) Francoise. An epitome of a woman who had lived life to the fullest in spite of the hardships she has gone through. She was a Parisian I met at the Chateau de Sacy. She stayed for a week as WWOOFer. Before she left the Chateau she invited me to stay at her place when am back to Paris and told me she will show me those places I have not seen before and those off-the-beaten-path. On my 3rd week in Chateau, just before I leave the next day, Francoise called Hermine and talked to her. After Hermine talked to me and told me I should not miss this opportunity offered to stay at a Parisian’s house because Hermine commented that it’s not very typical Parisian to invite a stranger to their home. She told me I should not take it for granted and find time to meet Francoise. Francoise is just 65 years old by number but she has a very youthful attitude! There was never any dull moment with her. That’s why I was very sad the day she left the Chateau because I feel like I lost a very good friend I could trust. Am glad that I did make it meet Francoise in Paris and it turned out to be one of the best time I had. She has a very lovely home where I love very much because her living room is full of books!!! As I stepped at her place I could sense very well that I am at an artist’s house and oh how I love all those fresh flowers and plants! She introduced me to her daughter and grandchildren through photographs 🙂 because they are now living in Germany. She cooked me some special French cuisine. She really made me feel at home. The next day she invited me to join her Tai Chi class – it was soO wonderful experience! The instructor even tried to speak in English so I could understand. I met all her classmates and one of her friend invited us for lunch at her home. We’ve seen some Paris-off the beaten place, where perhaps not majority of the tourist visits. She brought me to a very beautiful park, we went to the cemetery where famous people – French artists, philosophers, musicians, writers were buried, I think it’s called Pere Lachaise cemetery. It was very lovely and peaceful! We even went to a gallery arts exposition of all kind of trees. Told her I am a Forester by profession but have always lived and worked in the city. I saw her eyes light up as if awe in surprise. You’re not a teacher?! Hihi. I had experience part teaching in a Korean school way way back and had the chance to be a volunteer teaching kindergarten in my uni years, I said.
Staying with her for 2 nights and 3 days had give me a glimpse of how she does her day to day living and having learn what she has gone through (a lot) from growing up years, to being a young wife and mother up to her old age, this is what she told me: “I have gone through so much pain in my life. Life was difficult for me before. The important thing is to follow your dreams and just always have the courage to do whatever you want to do, whatever makes you happy. I am now contented and happy with my life – I live life to the full on a day to day basis.” I noticed tears fall from my eyes. She sent me to the train station for my next adventure. We hugged each other and I felt a heavy heart parting ways with her.
3) Ed. To protect his reputation, let’s call him Ed. A gentle soul who went through a lot of hardships and is trying to find his place in the world. I was at the shop looking for something when I asked the cashier but he hardly speaks English. Then someone at my back talked to me in English and asked me what I need and how he can help me. Am always happy when I can go to a place where I can speak with someone in a language we both understand. It makes things easier. The next day I was having lunch at an Asian restaurant and he bumped into me again. I told him, you’re stalking me! And we both have a loud laughter. That’s how we became friends. He started to keep asking my number and insisting to always meet him. I don’t find it too common to meet a guy who talks more than I talk :-P. I thought maybe he wants to practice his English hihi. For someone as talkative as me, talking comes easy with troubles in lending an ear. Consequently I am liking it now as it offers an avenue to practice my listening skills. I learned that Ed was born in France from an English mother and a Yugoslavian father. Grew up in New Caledonia. Moved to London. Lived in Spain. When the economic crisis hits EU the business he had established in Spain collapsed and lost all his penny. He looked for a job in Marseille but luck has been out, tried in Paris and was fortunate enough to find one before December ends. When he was starting, he had lived in a tent for months and had to bear the cold winter as he could not afford a rent in a flat. He has to jump over the entrance of a subway station so he could get a free ride (Note: I did it once for adventure’s sake, it’s S-C-A-R-Y! I don’t recommend! :-P). He has to sell some extra stuff to complement his hobby – Mua Thai while working as a cashier in a popular shop in Paris. His failures had taught him to value family more over any material things. He could lost all his hard earned money in an instant, there’s no security in it. He resolved to live his life in a more meaningful way and to keep moving from all the troubles he is currently facing. He told me how lucky I was because there are many people who are opening their homes for me while his own relatives don’t let him stay at their homes because he could not pay the rent.
On our third meeting after our long walks along Champs Elysees, up to the stretch of Musee du Louvre, passing Seine river until we reach Eifel Tower we had our supper. While taking dinner, we’re having a light discussion, out of the blue, …he asked me to marry him! I didn’t know he was serious. I thought this guy’s really crazy! He doesn’t know who I am. He has no idea what I was going through that time. And no matter how talkative I am, as if automatically my lips are sealed when it comes to matters of the heart.
Learning from his personal troubles and brokenness made me feel lighter about my own heartaches. Although he felt bad that I didn’t share much about myself except I said I am on a temporary break from work. I clarified, in time he will understand me. Before we parted ways, he asked permission to hug me. He hugged me tightly. Then let me go. I saw the sadness in his face that made me not want to look back. The surroundings immediately appeared to be a melancholic place and the effects of winter as if felt colder than ever.
4) Marina. An intuitive woman who is open, warm and sensitive about other’s culture. We met at the hostel in Marrakech. I was having breakfast at the rooftop when she and her friends joined me. We talked about what we want to see in Morocco. I shared with them that I’ve been wishing for a very long time to have a desert experience. And then am ok for anything. I only have a week stay in Morocco while they have longer time. The other groups heard us and they express their interest to go to desert as well. So immediately we agreed and the next day we traveled to Zagora. It was Marina who haggled for the price package as she’s the only one who can speak fluent French in our group. Later in the afternoon, I’ve seen how the hostel in charge scolded the receptionist because the original package tour price from 650 Moroccan Dirhams we were able to haggle to 450! The hostel in charge told me we can’t have such amount, that is too cheap so he said we look for other agent who would bring us to the desert. I told him we paid already, gave the money though we have no receipt yet so the hostel in charge has no choice but to issue us a receipt. He again scolded the receptionist in a strong Arabic language. We then learned later that each of the guide in the desert are receiving only 15 dirhams regardless of how many tourist they receive!
Among the other people in the group, I’ve observed Marina’s sensibilities and sincerity. She has an excellent way of treating the locals so they would not feel intimidated. When we were in the desert – Imagine the other people in our group asking our guide how many camel does he needs to have to get a woman and marry her? Do they have a retirement plan and asking a lot about things the west have that doesn’t seem fitting to the life in the desert. That made our guide walk out, excuse himself and leave us. Apparently we thought, the other groups who joined us aren’t sensitive at all. On our way back to Marrakech, we had several stop over at a beautiful village of Ouarzazate. Marina had mentioned about the other people in the group who seem to be oblivious of the dress code in a highly conservative Muslim country of Morocco. People complain of harassment when they dress as if they’re only hiding their nipples and they’re sitting next to the driver!
Marina invited me to Berlin with her flat mates and to her parent’s place at the north east of France for winter ski. I let her know she is the kindest in the group that I’ve met. She told me, she is a traveler and she knows how it feels. I told her that’s my line as well. We both laugh. I guess, it’s a cliché when we meet other fellow travelers we received and offered them in whatever way we can help because we know how it feels to be a traveler when you know not anyone in a place. Marina’s friends were kind and nice too but it was with Marina that I not only had some varied intellectual conversation and those meaningful ones.
5) Chris. To keep his privacy, let’s call him Chris. Shown unconditional love to his son regardless of the physical disabilities he had suffered. When some events turned unfavorable more often it led us to another better opportunity. Thanks to my Japanese American co-WWOOFer who introduced me to the site for possible work opportunities while traveling abroad. When I didn’t hear from my host to Epernay I was very worried where to go next. So I began searching where I could find luck – and YES luck! I found them. That’s how I get to know Chris family. Chris is a single parent to his college son Tom. I helped Tom for his English subject, they told me I will be an English tutor but it was 2-way learning because I think my French get better every time I talk to them.
I was taken a back when I met Chris at the train station where he picked me up one afternoon. I was not aware of his physical condition. The more I became a little bit uncomfortable when I found out Tom’s parents are living separately. I don’t know what it’s like to live having just men around. I have no brother and since when my father passed away, we’re all left girls that includes my mother. But they were so kind and so considerate that immediately my worries fade away and I felt as if I am a member of the family. I have my own room and I am free to do and go where ever I want to. My only responsibility is to help Tom learn English. Because of his condition, I did help in doing some household chores because I like cleaning and decorating home. Chris taught me how to cook some simple French cuisine. There were days when his brother who is living in the 3rd sty helped in the grocery because it would be not easy for Chris to carry heavy stuff. There were days I helped out as well. I don’t know how to describe the experience, the trust that they gave to me. I was a total stranger but the day I arrived in their home they give me my own key, handed my weekly allowance. The best part of it, my fare back and forth were reimbursed! God, there’s so much goodness everywhere!
I forgot the name of this kind of sickness, Chris got it from an accident while doing ski in the highest mountain of the Alps region – Mont Blanc. I learned that after the accident he and his wife divorced. He didn’t know he will be paralyzed and will not be able to walk anymore. He was teary eye when sharing about his experience while showing those photos of baby Tom with his mom. I don’t know what to say or how will I respond. I just find myself sharing about my father, who is almost closed to his age. When at the age of 42 suffered from stroke, survived 7 years while having his half body dead. I mentioned it was one of those down moments in our family. But my mother never give up on my father. I shared, at some point they have lived and rent a cottage nearby the pacific ocean for my father’s daily therapy. It was not easy and I saw how my mother struggled. But they remain intact. They’ve always stayed together. I became very emotional. Chris appeared trying to prevent his tears. He spoke in a hoarse voice: that’s life. Sometimes you don’t know what will happen. Life’s maybe not fair. But I have to go on and continue living for my son. I just broke into tears because there’s no other way I couldn’t do otherwise.