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Monday, January 9, 2017

The People You Meet

I travel for the opportunity to visit new places, to learn about different countries, people and cultures, and to be able to photograph these places.

My computer hard drive is filled with tens of thousands of digital images. But one of the things that stands out from my travels, even years after my return home, is the people I have encountered. I'm far from being a 'people person,' preferring my solitude and quiet to being in the thick of things. But every so often, I meet some memorable people during my travels.

I am still in touch via Facebook with my guide from my first trip to Kenya in 2014. We hope, his schedule permitting, to meet when I am again in Nairobi this summer. And I remember the conversations I had with some Russian women in Moscow when I lived there for a few months in 1999. One was an old lady sitting on a cement wall near a McDonald's restaurant. She was holding a sign asking for money to help feed her very old dogs, who rested near her feet on a piece of cardboard. I remember a brief conversation with another older woman near a famous Moscow convent. She was feeding a stray dog a cheese sandwich. When I told her that I would like to buy a bag of dog food for her from a nearby grocery store, after explaining that I carried dog food with me to help Moscow's many homeless dogs, she declined. She explained that while she lived on a measly pension, she wanted to help as best she could, and that whatever she did had to come from her.

I also remember sitting on a bench near the sea in Split, Croatia, during some free time. An older woman asked whether she could join me. In her broken English, she told me about life under the communist government of the former Yugoslavia. When she learned that I speak Russian, she recited a poem in Russian that she had been forced to learn while in school.

More recently in Ireland, I was in the small coffee shop of my hotel in Cork, having some tea and waiting for my room to be ready. A woman seated nearby engaged me in conversation and invited me to join her at her table. We decided to have lunch together. After lunch, she invited me to join her on a trip to the nearby marina. On the way, she treated me and the cab driver (whom she knew) to ice cream. I asked her for suggestions about what to see and do during my one full day in Cork, and we stay in touch via Facebook.

While in Kenya on safari last February, I fell and broke my wrist. The nurse who took me from my room to surgery introduced himself as Barack. I learned that he is a real student of American history, and he kept my mind off the incredible pain in my wrist by discussing American presidents. I told him he knows more about American history than do most Americans.  

The Scottish woman who was my tent mate during last year's trip to Kenya has become a friend, and we will once again share accommodations during this year's return visit to Kenya. We will be joined by an English couple we met on that trip. And I'm still in touch with a Kenyan man who works for the Save the Elephants group in Nairobi who kept me company as I waited to be discharged from the hospital following surgery. I was injured at the camp run by Save the Elephants, and the camp manager asked this man to keep me company. He assisted me in finding the correct office to accept payment for my stay, took me to lunch and then drove me to the airport to meet up with the camp manager and her husband, who flew me to my next destination.

I am still Facebook friends with one of the guides I met during my first visit to Turkey in 2013, and she has invited me to visit her and her family, something I hope to do. And an American woman I met during that trip has met me in Africa three consecutive years to explore that vast continent. She won't be able to travel in 2017 due to a medical issue, but we hope to meet again in Africa in 2018. 

I'm also still in touch with my Costa Rican guide from November's trips, as well as a British-American woman from Kenya who now lives in France. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to meet for dinner in England the delightful couple I met on a safari in South Africa.
And of course, I can't forget the several wonderful Americans I met during various travels with whom I am still in contact. 

Travel truly does make the world a smaller place. It broadens one's horizons and opens us to different ways of life. And it connects us to people we might otherwise never have met. When I hear about terror attacks in Kenya and Turkey, I can better relate because I have visited those places and I have friends who live there. Travel has taught me the value of making friends, and shown me that despite our differences, people are all the same.
I've heard it said that it is experiences, not things, that really matter and that we will remember. My life has been enriched by meeting these people, even if only for a few minutes. I treasure the relationships I have formed with those with whom I am still in contact, and I'm looking forward to creating more experiences and friendships in 2017.