strivetoengage

Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving

Connections

As you can probably guess from the title of my blog, I like to make connections with people. At home in Australia I am selective about who I spend time with, preferring other highly educated, worldly, well read, left leaning, well travelled and unbigoted people. In my own culture I find it easy to read people and assess whether we can get along or not but more importantly whether that person can enrich me.

I believe that we should surround ourselves by people who can stimulate us intellectually and drive us to extend ourselves rather than be content with mediocrity.Similarly, Abu Muhammad al-Abdari, an Andalusian scholar who travelled from Morocco to Arabia in the 13th century, wrote in his Rihla about Algiers:

In setting foot in this town, I wondered whether one would be able to meet any enlightened people or any persons whose erudition would offer some attraction

It’s not often that I am thoroughly impressed by someone but this week at an international workshop I was privileged to spend time with one of the most pre-eminent researchers in my field and he deeply impressed me. I feel inspired and energised after meeting him. My presentation was directly after his and I felt at a disadvantage because I’m younger and less well known than him but between us we sparked a lot of interest in the audience and we were inundated by interesting questions. It was thrilling that he treated me as his equal and clearly enjoyed our interactions and conversations over a range of mutually interesting topics as well. So, for me that was a rare and gold star connection and the highlight of my current trip to Arabia.

When I’m travelling I seek interactions everyday across the spectrum. I have noticed that all anyone ever wants is to be noticed and not invisible. In all of my daily interactions I smile, make eye contact and use impeccable manners while dealing with everyone from a driver to cleaner to doorman. If I can guess at the nationality of the person I will greet them in their own language (if I know it) or make conversation about their home country. This generally leads to delight in the individual and makes me feel less isolated.

Without doubt I am helped by being a woman travelling alone and that I am youngish looking, tall, slim and with vivid eyes, especially in Arabia where solo female travellers are rare and I look distinctly different to the locals. I try to dress and behave in a way that blends in with the people around me. When travelling alone anywhere in the world, I never wear revealing clothing, drink too much, wander into ill-lit areas, or go into secluded places with men because I don’t want to be a target. I take extra precautions in Muslim countries and:

  • wear long sleeves and pants (even when it’s 52C),
  • in Arabia I wear the abaya and hijab,
  • keep my voice volume low,
  • keep my eyes lowered,
  • keep my distance from men,
  • never offer my hand unless the man offers his first, and
  • behave with decorum.

Some examples of delightful and atypical interactions are:

  • The Lebanese receptionist at the hotel I often use in Arabia who anticipates my arrival, greets me enthusiastically,  and upgrades me for free to a suite and gives me free use of the club lounge. I like to pass a few minutes with him on each trip, learning about his homeland. This time he was about to leave for Lebanon to visit family for Orthodox Easter. He did not seem overly concerned by the dangerous situation in Lebanon and simply shrugged saying that he had an obligation to visit his family. I do hope that he will be ok!,
  • Pokhara, Nepal

    Pokhara, Nepal

    In 2012 I was heavily involved with doing volunteer work for Room to Read. I took a trip to Nepal to see some of the program work that we were fundraising towards. On that trip I befriended one of the Nepali staff of RtR. We found that conversation was effortless as we discussed books, travel, life and adventures. We spent a delightful afternoon in Pokhara, second hand book shopping, talking animatedly, sipping cocktails, and my first experience with shisha. He’s bright, engaged, funny, and captivating and we exchange emails and ideas from time to time and each missive is a mutual thrill,

  • The hotel receptionist from Indonesia who was flabbergasted when I guessed that he is Sundanese and greeted him in Bahasa Indonesian. After I travelled across Java with my family in January 2014 I  learnt how to recognise the facial features of the friendly Sundanese people, who are from Western Java. The next time that I checked into his hotel, he upgraded me to a suite, and gave me a voucher for the hotel restaurant.
  • A Weka on Ulva Island, New Zealand

    A Weka on Ulva Island, New Zealand

    My dear British friend that my husband and I met on the top of a hill in New Zealand, while bird watching. He had the bird guide book and we did not so we started chatted and made an easy connection. Since then we have visited one another when possible in England and Australia and taken a trip together to Kakadu National Park for some amazing bird watching,

  • The Ethiopian and Nigerian cab drivers who are delighted to chat with me about their beloved but somewhat troubled homelands, poverty cycles, education and social change, and are amazed that I can guess where they are from. I will always remember connecting with an Ethiopian refugee with a prosthetic leg in Denver in 2006. He was a delightful man, softly spoken, gentle and thoughtful and excited because he was soon going to be able to bring his wife to America to join him,
  • My two dear friends (let’s call them John and Julie) that I met, separately, on flights in Australia and I meet up with whenever possible, including last week and we swap war stories about the life of the nomadic business developer. John finally couldn’t bear the demanding travel schedule any longer and quit his high pressure but extremely financially rewarding job in sales to join a start-up company that is doing really well and raise calves on his small holding. Julie is also heartily sick of her job and recently investigated whether her household could cope with her quitting but was devastated to find that it cannot. We criss cross Australia on planes and once caught up in Perth,
  • The Nepali odd jobs men working in Arabia who are homesick, underpaid and unskilled but eager to help and delighted to hear me butcher their language,
  • The lovely Dutch friend that I met while backpacking in Peru in 2003. We travelled together for 3 weeks, exploring Pisco, Arequipa, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, and Machu Picchu together. Her English is perfect and we found it incredibly easy to connect and spend time together, united in our quest to enjoy our travels. Since then we exchange emails and we have followed a similar path of marrying, having 2 children each, building careers, and buying a house each,
  • The German hotel manager in Bogotá who greets me as a friend, takes a break to chat with me in English and German, upgrades me for free to a suite and farewells me with a hug. He had moved to Colombia to be with his Colombian girlfriend but even after their relationship failed he has stayed on. It’s with a spark of mutual interest and connection that we enjoy our conversations as we jump from topic to topic, talking animatedly,
  • Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

    Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

    The delightful Finnish and American friends that I made at a conference on the Great Barrier Reef 12 years ago and then met again at a conference in Prague. I enjoy sharing emails with both of them as we move into the next stages of our lives and careers. Paul from Denver was incredibly generous when I visited him in 2006 on a scientific travel scholarship, by taking 2 days out of the office to take me to visit an important field installation in Utah. On the way we walked to the exquisitely beautiful Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. That evening after driving all day in quite warm temperatures we stayed in Blanding, Utah. We went to a bar for dinner and when I saw cow-skin covered saddles at the bar I tried to order a bar but was rebutted that it’s a dry county. I did not discover what those fancy bar stools were for,

  • My clients around the world who invite me to make presentations to them and treat me with deference, delight and respect despite me being younger than them and invite me to dine with them.
  • The morbidly obese African American man that I chatted with in Houston and whooped with laughter and shouted “Oh girl, slow down” when I misunderstood his strong accent. He was saying Astros but I couldn’t figure it out and could only come up with A*&holes. He then offered to introduce me to his white friend but I graciously declined,
  • These are two of the owners of the Coffee Museum, enjoying a coffee and conversation at the elegant bar

    These are two of the owners of the Coffee Museum, enjoying a coffee and conversation at the elegant bar

    The Emiratis running the Dubai Coffee Museum who had photos taken with me because I expressed my interest and delight in their excellent museum.

  • The impressive young Vietnamese American entrepreneur that I met on a flight from Rio and emails me from time to time, inspiring me to think laterally,
  • Jewellery maker in Kathmandu

    Jewellery maker in Kathmandu

    The Nepali man that spontaneously offered to take me on a tour of Kathmandu on the back of his scooter. He was a caring and generous host who showed me many great sites and took me shopping for a thangka and to have glass bead jewellery hand-made for me.

I could easily glide through my travels Teflon coated but then I would be so much poorer.

Some examples of less enjoyable interactions are:

Of course, it can also backfire and my desire to connect with random strangers leads to some lecherous men thinking that I want them to seduce me. Even while dressed in my abaya, I’ve had the misfortune of a taxi driver attempt to seduce me while I was a passenger in his cab in Oman. This is a significant disadvantage to seeking connections and not something that I know how to avoid. If you have a successful strategy that you can share then please let me know!

Even today I had a repulsive experience when the Bahraini driver was sleazy, wanted to know if I’m married with children, if I’m a nurse or teacher (typical occupations for foreign women in this region), said his wife is too busy for him with their 4 sons, said he told her he’d find a second wife and she said she’d kill him. I asked if he could afford to support 2 wives and he said he’ll find a woman who has a job and can support herself (as if!) and not have children, just relax with her. He then asked if I was meeting someone at the cafe to which I lied and said yes. Gross and deluded man who thinks I could ever be interested in him simply because I’m a woman travelling alone. Sadly this is not the only example, another that springs to mind was the man on a flight who tried desperately to seduce me and finally begged me to contact him if my marriage ever ends. The only way that I could get rid of him was to wound his ego by asking if he wanted to join the queue!

Such negative interactions are on the whole outweighed by the super positive interactions that enrich my life. So far, I have not been physically abused, not even travelling alone in places like Colombia or Rio, and I am truly hopeful that it stays that way.

My husband criticized my posts of late, as lazy, insubstantial and lacking in insights and unique content and he’s right. At all times I strive to be worthy of his praise so I wrote this post, sitting at the delightful French footpath cafe Lilou in Bahrain, in the hope that I can offer something more interesting.

Advertisements

One comment on “Connections

  1. Andrew
    April 12, 2015

    You forgot to include your racist, right wing, shire living tradie brother.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on April 15, 2015 by in Me and tagged , , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: