I think often about some of the people I have met along the way and some of the experiences I have had; be those bizarre or ordinary. In many cases, I have kept contact with some of these wonderful people. Take our truffle hunter for example – we bonded with him over the pursuit for truffle mushrooms one fine autumn season in Italy and ended up returning twice that following year to visit him. He’s taught us how to make fresh pasta by hand, and we even picked grapes with him one year and spent hours stomping on them to make wine. Or, my Canadian friend Rita who I originally met in the aisle of the supermarket because she was wondering if I knew how say “Chedder cheese” in French.
But there are some people I have only met once in life, and even though we bonded over something, and they inspired me in some sort of way, we didn’t exchange details and we haven’t seen each other since. Here’s a tribute to my top three most unique encounters with serendipity. Perhaps a small smidget of me also hopes that these people might one day read this and know that they motivated me (and hopefully get in touch!
- Flashback: It’s 5 in the morning and I am sitting on a curb in a dirty Brussels street with my new roommate (a well educated and equally well mannered Austrian chap), a self-proclaimed grey-haired rock star in excessively tight leather pants, and a truck driver who was formerly an attorney in London – his so called ‘career switch’ was due to both boredom and resentment (his father forced him to study law. He himself hated it). Or so he said. As the rock star belted out “No woman No Cry” two guys from Finland stopped to join in. One was carrying a crow bar (honest to goodness truth). This might just be the most perfectly weird experience. Ever.
I should mention that my roommate only just moved in a few days ago and we’re out because I wanted to show him where to go, where not to go, and who to befriend. We had started at one of my favorite places in the city, l’Archiduc – a trendy all-nighter prodigy that still rocks the original art deco style. It was there we had met these two travelling companion characters. The self proclaimed rock star was from the US and trying to make it big albeit not having many followers (his words). So he hired his friend, an attorney-come-truck-driver from the UK, to be his music manager. As any good bar conversation goes, we talked about everything from being born in the wrong place, to quitting your corporate job, following your passions, complaining about life in Belgium, and everything in between. What I remember so fondly about our conversation is that these guys were so passionate. About music. About making it big. About making people happy, with their music, regardless of not yet having made it big. All the world’s a stage… and we are… singing to Bob Marley on the curb. At 5am.
(This is something that could only happen in Brussels)
- Many years ago I was visiting New York City. Pressed for time, I had to make it up to the Upper West Side from downtown and I decided to do something that I rarely do – I hailed a cab.
Very Manhattan of me.
The cab driver had a prayer card on her dashboard along with an Ecuadorian flag, both of which caught my attention. I started speaking to her in Spanish and told her that Ecuador actually changed my life. “Si??” (with great surprise in her voice). I told her I spent a week there in college to do some volunteer work and it opened my eyes to a whole new world. I had a really poignant experience that resulted in me desiring to devote more of my time to social justice causes (Young, restless, and naive, I was convinced I could change the world). She stopped the taxi. In mid-drive. And turned around to look at me. It just so happened that I had spent a week in the very town where she is from. In fact, the organization I volunteered with was helping to support her family. She moved to New York a few years prior with the hopes of earning enough to send money home to Ecuador, but she wasn’t sure if the emotional toll of missing her family was worth the little money she made as a taxi driver. Not to mention, her fear of being robbed again and the loneliness she felt in such a gigantic city. As she told me about her dream to return to Ecuador one day soon, she tore a corner off an envelope and wrote down her mother’s name and her sister’s name. No one had a phone number and no one had an address, but she gave me directions to the house based on a famous landmark, and told me that if I was ever in Ecuador again, they would welcome me into their home. The experience brought tears to my eyes. Here I am, in New York freakin’ City. Whaddoyouknow, it really is a small world after all! I treasured that piece of paper for many years, and carried it everywhere with me, both as a form of memorabilia and a goal – to go back to Ecuador, just as I had intended to do at that time. Well. I never went back quite that quickly. In fact it took me almost 10 years before visiting again. In the mean time, that piece of paper was (sadly) stolen – well better said, I was mugged in Brussels once and everything I had on me was stolen. Regardless, I still think of this experience all the time, and am reminded of just how very small the world is, and how connected we can be.
- Everything about that flight was cramping my style. First the plane was majorly delayed, which meant I would inevitably miss my connecting flight in Frankfurt (of all places). Second, I couldn’t get my desired and coveted window seat and was plonked in the middle of the center aisle (of all places). You know, the one where you’re wedged between not one, but two other people, fighting for leg room and arm rests. *Sigh*. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, an air hostess and her delayed reaction deemed the guy adjacent to us as being too intoxicated to fly, so we had to sit on the runway for an extra hour while he was escorted off the plane and his luggage found. I was utterly convinced that this would be the most miserable 8 hour flight. Somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, after a stale bread roll and 2 grapes (otherwise known as “breakfast”) the lady to the right of me started talking to me. She was flying back to Austria after 8 weeks in the US with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. She goes every year to see the family and mentioned that as much as she loves them she grows to miss her routine and is happy when she can fly home. I smiled because in a way, I knew what she meant. Shortly before landing she told me about how she married her childhood sweetheart and how he recently died. We talked about love, loss, and fate. She thanked me for listening to her story and told me she would pray that I would find “the husband of my dreams”, get married and live happily ever after, wherever in the world that may be for me. Perhaps it was just chance or perfect timing, but a few short weeks later I met the man who I would marry three years later…
Travel isn’t always comfortable and it isn’t always organized. Every time I am in a situation where I assume the worst, I often think about this experience and the good that came out of it!