When you are on the road, it’s often the people you encounter and the kinds of conversations that make the trip.
Yesterday, we were getting ready to board the bus for the 7-hour trip to Pokhara. The trip’s local organizer had provided four bicycle rickshaws to transport the students’ considerable luggage from the hotel to the bus.
Teddy, one of the two boys in the Aussie group, struck me right away because he looked up in his phrase book, “May I?” and then went to the rickshaw driver who would be pulling the luggage to the bus and asked him, in Nepali, if he could drive the rickshaw. And then proceeded to pedal the rickshaw.
[I have a video of this, but the internet is so slow, I will probably have to wait to get back to Bhaktapur before I can upload it.]
Not sure how we got into the subject of the 60s and 70s. Maybe because he was saying that he doesn’t like just to be a tourist, that’s why he drove the rickshaw. And I said, “In my day, we called it the difference between being a tourist and a traveler.” And then he asked me to explain why his father—of my generation, I presume—would quit college and just go traveling.
The first thing I said was that we believed that you could learn more about life by living it than you could learn from books. And that travel was seen as one of the best ways to learn about life.
From there the discussion went to American politics, greed, how the Republicans were changing the voting system, and then how he felt a bit apprehensive about how this experience, teaching for 5 weeks in a Nepalese school, living with a family in the Tibetan Refugee Center, would change him. So I talked about how he would understand something much deeper about relationships after his Nepal experience. The way people do relationships here and in many other parts of the world is just different. Our more individualistic outlook on life shapes our connections to people. Here, their less individualistic view shapes their relationships. When we spend time in a place like this, we gradually begin to understand this difference, this subtle and yet quite profound alternate universe of networks and connections.
I also told Teddy that he would not be able to actually articulate what he’d learned in any meaningful way. In fact, nobody would be particularly interested in what he’d learned about himself and life. This is one of the most difficult lessons, I think. Travel, really good, close-to-the-ground travel, profoundly changes us. But we are almost completely inarticulate about what and how and why. When we get together with other travelers, we don’t need to talk about it, because we all know what happened and what it means. When we get together with our very good friends back home, we just can’t seem to get what has happened to us across.
Afterward he said, “Thank you for giving me some food for thought.”
I said, “Road talk. This is what this is…”