Back on November 14th, 2017 we arrived in India. We cleared customs & immigration and wandered through the terminal toward the exit. We had a few tasks to do like converting some currency, hiring a taxi to our accommodations, and grabbing an Indian SIM card for our phone. And there it was. A dead body. Right on the floor. Right inside the international terminal. I stopped for a second and looked. There were about a dozen people standing around her. They didn’t seem too concerned. There wasn’t much of a fuss. There was no police tape cordoning off the area. No flashing lights, no swarms of EMT’s, no crowd of onlookers. Just a very small group of people waiting. Not looking at the body. Not seeming alarmed. Like they were waiting for train. Passengers wandered by and so did we.
I had forgotten the scene because right after that we were in our own little dilemma of not having cell phone service, not being able to contact our Airbnb host, having to book a different hotel, and battling an obstinate, dishonest taxi driver. I had completely forgotten about that poor soul at the airport. Until 3 months later. Until now.
It seems like a fitting metaphor for the beginning of our trip. A dead, lifeless body greeting us as we got off the plane and made our way through the terminal. It symbolized the fragility of human life. The main reason we’re taking a year off and travelling is because life is short and you don’t know how or when you will die. We’re not travelling to see the seven wonders of the world, or visit all the different temples, or do the top 20 tourist things in every country. We’re travelling because life is short and death is unknown. I totally missed the metaphor at the airport but it reinforces my belief that we made the right decision about taking this trip. You can work and save and plan for all kinds of things, except death.
Next I should tell you that we’re not running around doing all the touristy stuff people usually do when they visit Asia. We made this somewhat unconscious choice right at the beginning of our trip. I’m glad we did. I’ve been in Bombay for a week and I haven’t done one tourist thing yet. I spend my days wandering around Kemp’s Corner, the neighborhood where we’re staying. I’ve found a nice little park with a flower garden, a beach with no trash whatsoever, and a Starbucks close by.
For me, settling in and meeting people, are what’s making this trip great. It’s the experiences that we’re having – meeting, talking and spending time with folks that I’m enjoying most. I met a fruit seller whose name is “Happy”. I met a man who feeds 3 stray cats every day on his way home from work, and has 9 more cats at home. We’ve hung out with people who take care of dying people, educate the poor, and feed folks who can’t afford food. We’ve accepted invitations into people’s homes and met their families. We followed a man into a 4 foot high tin and cardboard shack by the river. He and his guru were living in it. He runs a Yoga teacher training program in Rishikesh and he invited us to dinner.
Back in November I got to spend time and talk business with a hotel owner who was adding a restaurant to his property. Last week he sent me a dozen pictures of the completed project titled “Your restaurant Sir”. The restaurant looked great and I was amazed at the finished product. One day we hitch-hiked a ride on a truck to get through the jungle road over to the Ganga Prem Hospice.
I learned the cost of buying and financing an auto rickshaw in Chennai, and the required down payment and mortgage rate for a guesthouse in Sri Lanka. Along the way we’ve taken cooking lessons in people’s homes in 2 different countries. We cooked an entire Sri Lankan dinner with a family of 5 that survives on $13 a day. We learned some South Indian cooking in Kerala from a woman who runs a guesthouse and lost her young son 2 years ago.
We were invited to dance in the streets, blocking traffic with 1000 other people, as part of a huge wedding. We bought ice cream for 70 young women who could never afford ice cream. We walked around the base of a mountain, at night, with a stranger, until midnight. One day on a hike to a waterfall, deep in the interior of Sri Lanka, we crossed paths with an Afghan family. They had fled their home country as refugees and just been vetted to move to America. We’re friends on Facebook now.
It’s not always fun and games. We’ve walked through impoverished villages. I’ve followed people down alleys ways and up stairs and into places where I was sure I was about to have a kidney removed any minute. We’ve been out at night walking along the river. We’ve wandered off the beaten path many times and for 2 weeks we didn’t see any other westerners. At times my patience has been tested. Every so often I’m required to trust in someone or something. On some days fear arises – and I hold on tight – and I move through it.
Just today an elderly Indian man stopped us on the street-corner by our hotel. He spoke perfect English, apologized for intruding and asked which country we were from. As the brief conversation unfolded he told us that he believed we crossed paths for a reason. After some small talk and formalities he struggled for a few moments to codify his thoughts. Then he told us “never to approach anything in life with fear, anger or passion.” As we parted ways I told him, in Hindi, that it was nice to meet him. He said goodbye in German and French, laughed, shook hands, and walked away.
After 3 short months I find I’m a more patient, more trusting, and more fearless person – more than I ever imagined. I’m positive we made the right decision to travel at this point in our lives.