7 years ago, I started travelling. Because I wanted to see 'the greatest places in the world', of course. But even more, because I wanted to know and see with my own eyes other lives, other people, other ways.. than what I used to know. There's this great saying:
"Become friends with people that are not your age. Have conversations with someone whose first language is not yours. Try to get to know people that are not from your social class. That’s how we know the world. That’s how we grow.."
Well, I totally agree with that one. Though I also have to admit that it's not always easy. Sometimes/often/very often/way more then I'd want, my background, thinking habits and prejudices take over.
On this specific day, I was in a small town in the middle of Ecuador, the opposite of touristy. I went there together with Juan (Ecuadorean) who had to go buy something in the neighbourhood, and left me waiting a while at the local park. I was with my small kid who was playing around, all cool. From when I got there, four guys were sitting on the other side. They watched me (not abnormal as I'm the only Belgian around) but the 'normal curious watching' became longer and longer. Became talking, pointing, more guys came.. until it got to the point I didn't feel very safe anymore. Or better said: I felt like running the hell away. But I didn't really have a better optio, as Juan was going to meet me at that place and I didn't have a phone with me to tell him otherwise. So I waited in my corner of the park… until the guys started coming towards me.
"Here, take", one of them said. And he held out a 5 dollar bill in his hand. I totally didn't get what he wanted to say. "Take", he said again, "go buy some food in the food place at the other side of the park." I was totally baffled. You're offering me money to go buy food? (that's what went on in my head). Oooh I wished that at that moment I had an open mind, enough to just go sit with these guys and talk with them freely, get to know them, understand their world, their thinking. But no. I just remained speechless, maybe uttering something like 'I don't need..'. I guess they noticed my discomfort, left the 5$ under a stone, and off they went.
I went to have the meal they wanted me to have, and slowly collected my thoughts. I managed to pass my thanks at least to the guy at the food shop. I started to realize I was barefoot (which happens a lot, I'm a huge barefoot fan), and both my clothes and my kids’ were not very clean because we had been at a farm gathering bananas. Slowly I started to realize how they must have seen me as a lost soul way too far from home, without money even to get some shoes, and a small kid to feed. They judged me just as I judged them as guys with bad intentions towards the white girl from a rich European country.
Nope, it’s not easy to talk with people from backgrounds and perspectives so different than my own. But every encounter, I am getting better. Understanding a little more, bit my bit.
To live this in everyday life, together with Juan I’ve created a small community of nomads and locals. On the beautiful Ecuadorean coast -not that far from this remarkable encounter. Because only by truly understanding the world from within, we can make it better.
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They say it’s about the journey, not just the destination. But what about the people you meet along the way? The conversations you can’t stop thinking about, the people whose journeys and life stories stay with you and inspire you to change your own life.
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