Thursday, September 17, 2009

Trusting Strangers


“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese
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There have been so many exciting experiences in my travels. I've been happy and sad, frightened, even terrified, anxious, and overwhelmed. Like Stella, I've depended on the kindness of strangers. And this I've learned - people generally are kind. People want you to love their country, they are proud of what they have, they want to show off their truths, their landscapes, their art, their culture. And in the showing, they become the teacher.
When living in Korea, I had this amazing experience. I had gone to the grocery store and realized I couldn't read any labels. Oh sure, I could sound out the letters, but I didn't know what the sounds meant. The only ones I knew were "bap" (rice) and "oo yoo" (milk). That didn't help me much because I'm lactose intolerant, and I wanted lactose free milk. How do you say THAT in Hangol? I looked around me and realized that this must be what illiterate people feel. It is disconcerting to say the least. So what to do? I went to an adjumah (an older lady) and said "oo yoo" and then made a face and wiggled my fingers in front of my belly saying "blub blub blub" ... "Odi oo yoo ah nay oh blub blub blub?" (Where is the milk no blub blub blub?) Well, I could have felt silly, especially when she looked at me "ah nay oh blub blub blub?" She turned to her friend and fired words at her and between the two of tehm they figured out what I wanted, one went to the cooler and got me lactose free milk, and I thanked them profusely (kam sah hamnee dah). And I was able to have my cheerios the next morning.

Yes, we step out of our comfort zones, but in so doing we give others the opportunity to help, to connect, to share. What a gift to give and to receive!

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