Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
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:
Some examples of delightful and atypical interactions are:
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,
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 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,
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 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.