talk to strangers, the zero dollars way to see the world

We introduced ourselves to a lady combing the Hornby Island beach for seaweed. She would later use it for a handmade facial cleanser. She told us there were considerably valuable varieties, some found in ice cream. I didn’t know that seaweed was found in ice cream. Perhaps that will slow my consumption.

“One sort of seaweed as valuable as gold,” she declared. “And only found here.” She told us she was a lifelong resident of Hornby, but searched the world for an interesting Masters program studying seaweed. She found that in Holland. When she returned, she brought back student loans, but that was all. “No one would fund this old hippie on an island”. She was eager to research seaweed further, and convinced that the stuff had kept her hair from whitening all these years. At 41, my hair is doing a lovely job of converting my youth into middle-age; perhaps I should take up seaweed.

Agnes, a mother of three, and five years younger than me, was married the same year as my husband and I. She had her children in the same years that I did. Her husband a doctor as well.

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Where I lived in a city of 90,000, drove a minivan and home educated my four children whilst travelling to the developing world, Agnes lived in a rural northeast village of Kenya, walked an hour for her housekeeping job, and had her three in a private school, and in her spare time, planted a few acres of ‘garden’ with her twelve year old son. Her husband had left her for another woman in a different town. But she remained in her neatly tidied hut with chickens and goats next to her husband’s family. She was a woman of wealth in her village, helping to fundraise for the double latrine of the 150 person school and helping community members get beans and eggs when they had nothing to feed their families of ten.

The Samaritan’s Purse native Kenyan driver brought us to a famous slum in Nairobi. We sat overlooking the slum, not entering the tiny streams of roads amongst the haphazard tented community. He told us they didn’t need to live in their poverty. We westerners came to see their poverty. We offer them whatever is on our backs, returning to our country with our poverty porn (pics of their poverty). And they are happy for it, so they can live like this, with our help.

When I suggested perhaps some of them really needed help, he, annoyed and emphatic, insisted: “No. No they do not.” He could have lived here. He worked hard to find his job. His wife worked hard to start her bakery.

In the afternoon, he photographed our six year old at the Starbucks-like café attached to a familiar style shopping mall, sent the photo to his wife from his phone and had a cake delivered to us on our last evening to celebrate our daughter’s birthday.

Taxi cab drivers have seen the world through other’s eyes. A young female in Las Vegas suggested she had a very good income as people were eager to blow their money in this town. A fellow in Amsterdam discussed socialism and the unnecessary use of bike helmets. A San Diego fellow brought his family from the south to become a chef. He didn’t continue, but still maintained a two bedroom by the Bridge and could barely afford it.

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If you’re not an eager traveler, talk to strangers, the zero dollars way to see the world.  See the world through other’s eyes; a less expensive version of true travel.

But when you travel, talk to strangers.

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