I met Nadiah in a museum in Singapore. I was alone and she helped me take a few pictures with the remarkable artifacts at the place. I guess that’s what helped us strike a few conversations. Her mother was from the Philippines while her father was a Singaporean. We met the next day for coffee and she told me about her university, her family, their way of life, their perceptions of India and her fondness for the movie, 3 Idiots.
Then, there were three American women I met in Bali while I was unaccompanied in an eco-cycling group and needed people to talk to. We cycled together across the rice-fields and villages, ate breakfast and lunch, shared experiences and jokes and met again for yoga and a stroll across the market. In the hours that I spent with them, I learned so much about their culture, their ideas and their curiosity to know about my country. I am still in touch with them and look forward to meeting them sometime, in some other country, with some new stories.
So, there is this amazing thing travel does to you: It pushes you to newer boundaries and gives you all the reasons to befriend people who might be different in the way they look, the languages they speak, the food they eat and the routines they follow but they are inherently just like us; overflowing with emotions and the need of social interactions.
Every time I have traveled, be it in India or abroad, I have come back not only with experiences and memories but also with wonderful friendships and stories. There was this man from Australia who I met at Tanah Lot, the famous Balinese temple. He had recently been divorced and decided to travel alone to get over the whole emotional trauma. Also, I met two girls from Netherlands on separate occasions, one of them a student volunteer and the other a graphic designer, each with their different yet enlightening tales of existence.
The more I meet people from diverse corners of the world, the more I realize that every little moment can bring about a beautiful story. To think of it, it was amazing to befriend this young village girl from Indonesia who worked as an escort for people climbing Mount Batur at sunrise as a part of an adventure team. I was in awe of her determination and diligence at such a small age. I accept that I wouldn’t have been able to trek that volcano if it wasn’t for this girl. From my conversations with numerous people I met on the expedition, I remember stories about the tooth filing ceremony, the cremation, the fact that people in Bali do not sell their houses and that they love Bollywood like we do.
No matter how many young and old people I have met who follow dissimilar cultures and religions, I’d never be able to forget my Greek girlfriend. So, when Greece was in a financial crisis, I could hear first-hand stories about the exact situation faced by its natives. We traveled to Jaipur together and all through the journey, she kept checking her phone for news of the Greece verdict for which her parents and brother had voted. I realized how strong an impact the whole decision lay on her. She is a teacher in Sweden who has volunteered in Kenya, taught in China and is here in India for an assignment with UNESCO. Every time I see her, it’s more like merging two diverse cultures together, finding roots to several practices, discussing ideas, thoughts and perceptions, trying a variety of Indian food and taking in the fact that we are so similar.
Therefore, the next time you travel, widen your horizons, make new friends, learn about their mores and ethnicity and allow them to take a peek into yours as well. The only thing you need to know is that despite the race, country, profession, culture and religion, each of us has the same heart, the same feelings and the same love for the rest of the world, for humanity and also for travel.
Go, set yourself free.