Sunday, 28 February 2016

Tea with a Bedouin - chance encounters that make me travel

Traveling is one of my greatest passions in life. The desire to see and explore every corner  of the world is not one of the easiest things to combine with a day job that's currently based in Finland, but even that doesn't seem to stop me from trying.

That first time in a new country is so intoxicating I can only imagine that's how drugs feel like. Everything is new, everything seems possible. Excitement rushes though your veins and energy never seems to dry out. Senses seems to be working overtime, too: colours are more vivid, scents stronger, tastes more powerful. 

I've mostly traveled alone and in countries, where my albino complexion makes me stand out from the local population, ever so clearly marking me as a foreigner. But for some reason places where I'm not at home make me feel just that: at home. Being the outsider and not belonging are roles I feel strangely comfortable with.

New experiences, culinary discoveries, markets, glimpses into the every day life of the locals that tourist guides could never even touch upon... those are all reasons that make me yearn for the next place, the next take-off, the next high. But the most memorable moments are those chance encounters with people. People you'll never see again but who manage to leave an imprint in our heart that will forever stay with you and in your memories. 

One of those I experienced during my latest trip to Israel, in the maze-like alleyways of Jerusalem Old City.

This past year has been tough in so many ways. In addition to the turmoil of my personal life there have also been the challenges of a job I took on last spring; a job that's made me, too, the target of the incomprehensible hatred people harbour on the social media in the security of their anonymity. 

I've had it. With absolutely everything.  I've cried more than ever before. And wondered. Am I really cut out for this? When is too much simply... well, too much? Is it ok to just give up?

At the end of last year I sought refuge in my beloved Middle East. Not that even that would have stopped me and made me slow down: ever the conscientious achiever I stuck to my (far too) ambitious itinerary, even after coming down with bronchitis. I can do it, I'm the man (turned out I'm really not).

After a couple of years away I felt like an outsider there, too, in a way I couldn't even imagine. The unrest, going on since October only made me even more confused. I felt I no longer could understand anything: not my own life, let alone the world. I felt so lost in both. I had an endless supply of questions, yet no answers to any of them. Where to now? What was I doing here either? Is this what it's always going to be like - the cities and countries changing around me, yet me always staying the same; always alone?

Even a trip to Wailing Wall didn't offer me the solace I so painfully needed. As I stared at the bricks that had heard peoples's need and anguish for centuries and centuries I couldn't make the words to arrange themselves in my head to form even the most elementary cry for help.

Instead I continued aimlessly wondering through the Old City until I reached a crossing unable to decide which way to go. An old man met my frozen gaze and motioned me over. He took my arm, sat me down and gently said "the sadness will eventually pass, you know? Trust me". 

Then he disappeared, only to re-emerge a little while later with a pot of mint tea. As he poured that into little glasses he'd set in front of us he examined me carefully. "You're used to having to be strong and tough. You wear your face like a mask - never letting people in. You won't show your emotions and even now I can't quite read you".

"I'm fine", I protested, gluing an almost believable smile on my face the way I'm so used to. "It's ok", he reassured. "You don't need to be ok with everything. And you really need to show yourself some more mercy, you know. You will be fine, eventually. As long as you just learn to have faith in yourself". 

The totally unexpected gesture from the old Bedouin and all his kind words couldn't have come at a better time. The walls inside me, about to crumble for so long, finally started cracking in a way I no longer could put  back together. I tried to fight my fogging eyes and desperately fix them on something and stop what I knew was coming. 

"It's fine", he consoled. "You don't need to talk if you don't want to". And for the life of me, I wouldn't have been able to, either. And there, in front of a complete stranger, halfway across the planet, surrounded by fear and confusion I broke down and let the tears come. 

"We're both strangers in a foreign land", the man remarked as he gazed through the window into the distance. "I'm a Bedouin. This is not where my roots are. These are not my people". 

"Some people are simply not good for you", he continued, weighing his words carefully. "They will eat up your energy and leave you with nothing. And you'll wither. But there are other kind of people out there , too. The ones who'll shine on you like the sun. They will help you grow and flourish and it's because of them you'll have some light to give others as well. You have them, too, in your life", he reminded. "You're not alone".

And he was right. I'm not. And neither is any of us. Let's accept that light. And be that onto others, too. 





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