When you’re traveling you are bound to get lost, or need help of some kind, or need to ask a stranger a question. It is in these times of need I have found that other women have really had my back. In two short weeks I have had more positive, touching moments with women than I thought I would have on this whole trip.
Yesterday my travel buddy and I found ourselves in the local market. Feeling uncomfortable in shorts, and unable to find pants that fit her (she is very tall!), we were browsing a fabric stall when we found ourselves asking if longer shorts could be made for her, and how long it would take to make. Before we knew it, there were five women gathered around us, all trying to communicate when we barely knew each other’s languages. I was surprised by their gentleness and willingness to make it all work. The delicate way the seamstress measured my travel buddy’s legs, waist, and crotch. How she touched the buttons on my shorts to ask if she wanted buttons like mine. I found it all very graceful.
Thanks to Google Translate on their cell phones, and a lot of gesturing, the seamstress said she could make the shorts before we have to leave.
This interaction was so invigorating to me. This was a group of women, unable to communicate fully with each other, relying on nods of gratitude, smiles, and the number of fingers held up to get the message across. Before I went to Asia for the first time a couple of years ago, I had never been to a country where I didn’t speak at least some of the language. I was scared of not being able to communicate with people. Once I got here, though, I realized there is a universal method of communicating through gestures. Telling someone you have to pee is the same in every language!
I can go see the most beautiful temples, and swim in the warmest oceans, but I will always remember the positive interactions I’ve had with other people more vividly. Here are some of the sweetest moments I’ve had with other women on this trip:
- We were a little lost trying to get back to our Guesthouse the other day, and it was nighttime so we were also a little spooked in this new town, and concerned about our safety. We went into the nearest store to ask for directions, which happened to be a Vinamilk store. A Vinamilk store sells only dairy products: milk, yogurt, ice cream, baby formula, etc. This store was run, seemingly, by only women, and only women shopped there. We asked the ladies behind the counter if they spoke English, and if they knew where our hotel was. They did not, but immediately looked it up online to find a map and walking directions. In that moment I was so grateful, I wanted to tell them “thank you” in Vietnamese, but I didn’t know it. I have since learned to say “cảm ơn” and use it freely!
- The ever-so-gentle touch of the woman who took my hand to look at the ticket I was holding at the mud spa. She held my hand for much longer than I had expected, as she talked to a person across the room. After not having any personal contact with another human for two weeks (aside from an accidental bump), it was a shock to me- in a good way.
- The owner of the Guesthouse we are currently staying in, called Funny House, has been so kind, sweet, and helpful. She called us a taxi to the mud spa instead of us finding one ourselves because it would be cheaper for us. She upgraded our room to a bigger, nicer room. She taught me how to say thank you. She did our laundry. All simple things she would probably do for anyone else, because she is a sweet person and business owner, but the little things add up.
- The woman down the dirt road from my airBnB in Kampot, Cambodia who made it a point to wave and say hello to me every time I walked or drove by. One time she even stopped me to tell me I was beautiful. I blew her a kiss and blushed.
These interactions might not seems very important or meaningful to everyone, but to me they enliven and enrich my experience while traveling. When you’re traveling so far from home and don’t know a soul or even speak the language, it’s the smallest kindnesses that can mean the world.