One of the most often said words to me when travelling to new places by family and friends are : be careful. These words are usually accompanied by horrific stories of people being mugged, killed or kidnapped. It's basically the adult version of "don't talk to strangers." Hello, have you seen the movie Taken?
Certainly, I am thankful for the the kind reminders from friends and family. And if you must know, I do take them seriously and do everything I can to be safe as anyone traveling all alone in a foreign country should. I must admit that I do have the tendency to wander off and to a certain extent, consciously get lost. The romantic in me believes that this is the best way to get to know a city, to get lost in it. The Jason Bourne in me foolishly believes that I can kick anyone's ass. In New York, I can no longer count the times I've ridden the wrong train or took the wrong turn .
During my first week in Cairo, I was walking along downtown and suddenly found myself lost. I tried retracing my steps only to get even more lost. It took me a couple of hours to find my way back. In hind sight this wasn't the smartest move especially after I heard news of people getting tasered along the Nile bridge at night.
However, there is also something to be said about meeting strangers on your travels. In a way, I have been very fortunate with my travels because I have met strangers who have been very kind and generous to me even if they didn't have to.
New York has a reputation for having cold and rude citizens. People would tell me not too expect too much from New Yorkers and that I have to be tough on my own and not depend on others. But when I got there, during my first few days, I would always get lost in the subway and end up asking people for directions. And everyone I asked had always been very gracious.
One night, I found myself on the streets at 4am with nowhere to go because of some blunder with my living arrangements with a friend. I didn't know where to go or what to do. I was in Harlem. I found a Mc Donalds and ordered a glass of juice. It was all I could afford then so I made sure to take little sips until the ice had melted and it tasted like water. One of the staff came to me and said that they had to close. It was still dark outside. I felt so down thinking everything had gone wrong. On my way out, the staff member who talked to me before came to me and offered to replace my juice with a fresh one for free. That was enough to get me though the day.
In Cairo, I have been met with even more kindness. The other day I was printing all my documents for my visa application to Hungary (This in itself needs a separate entry, I tell you. ) The young man manning the internet shop was helpful and even gave me a discount. I asked him where the nearest photocopier was and I was surprised when he volunteered to bring me to the place, leaving the internet shop unmanned. He talked to the man in charge of the photocopy for me to make sure that I wasn't being cheated. I was already saying thank you over and over again when he brought me strawberry juice. All he said was that it's good and that if I had any problems just go to him.
Around 15 minutes into the photocopying of my documents, he came back to check on me.
These random encounters with kindness from strangers have been the best gifts I've taken with me from my travel experiences. Surely, I am not naive to think that every stranger on every journey will be overflowing with kindness. And extra caution will still have to be taken when traveling.
I am reminded of this scene in the Sandman graphic novels where the dream King plays The Oldest Game against Choronzon:
Choronzon: Ssso, You know the rules, dreamlord? If you win, I will return your helmet.
If you lose, you will ssserve as plaything of hell, for eternity. Ourssslave.
Very well. I have the first move. I am a dire wolf, prey-stalking, lethal prowler.Dream: I am a hunter, horse-mounted, wolf-stabbing.
And I feel the grass beneath my hooves, the flanks between my legs.All is real. Nothing is real. Choronzon’s move.
Choronzon: I am a horsefly, horse-stinging, hunter-throwing.Dream: There are many ways to lose the oldest game. Failure of nerve, hesitation… Being unable to shift into a defensive shape. Lack of imagination.
I am a spider, fly-consuming, eight legged.Choronzon: I am a snake, spider-devouring, poison-toothed.
Dream: I am an ox, snake-crushing, heavy-footed.I feel the snake writhe beneath my hoof, its spine crushed.
Choronzon: I am an anthrax, butcher bacterium, warm-life destroying.Dream: A change in direction, but still an old gambit. I think…
I think I understand how Choronzon plays. How I can turn it against him.I think I will abandon the offensive.
I am a world, space-floating, life-nurturing.Choronzon: I am a nova, all-exploding… planet-cremating.
Dream: I am the Universe—all things encompassing, all life embracing.Choronzon: I am anti-life, the beast of judgement. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything.
Sss. And what will you be then dreamlord?Dream: I am hope.