Monday, May 16, 2011

My Own Little World

Last week I had planned on attending the Danville Festival in the Park and writing about the event on this blog. I did attend the festival, but this post isn't what I had planned at all. I was going to write about all the wonderful crafts made by local artisans. I would describe the aroma of hot barbecue on a charcoal grill. I would talk about all the sights and sounds that I experienced. It would have been a very different post.

My son, his girlfriend, and I arrived at the Festival around 11:30 on Saturday. We walked through the masses of people, up a path filled with art, crafts, and charity booths. We were making our way up the food vendors area, (the smell of barbecued ribs had caught my attention) when my son stopped to talk with a woman he recognized from his college. I was distracted by all the sights and smells, and was busily taking pictures of everything I could for the blog, oblivious to the fact that my son had stopped. I heard him call out to me, and when I turned, I heard him apologizing to this woman for my lack of focus. I apologized myself, explaining that I had been "in my own little world".

My son introduced me to the tall, thin, dark-skinned woman. She was wearing a long black abaya with beautiful, intricate, golden embroidery. She wore plain white, flat, leather shoes. A black and gold Louis Vuitton scarf bundled what seemed to be long, thick locks of hair. Only the smallest tuft of gray, near the side of her ear, peeked out of its cover revealing the effects of time. The woman was neither a teacher nor a student at the college, but often used the library to do research, she told me.

I'm not sure exactly how the topic came up, but we began talking about the United Nations, foreign countries, and travel. At this point, I shared with her my "dream". If I weren't married, and had enough money that I didn't have to work, I would want to spend my life travelling. I don't want to stay at the five star hotels. I don't want to live as a tourist. I would go to places, set up a residence around the lower financial class of people. I would live where they live, work where they work, eat what they eat, and learn the culture. I would want to stay in one place for a year, in order to experience all of their seasons and traditions before moving on. One year I would live in a hut in Africa, working among the women taking care of the children, preparing food, and making clothing for the family. Maybe the next year I would live in India helping out on a farm. After a year, it would be time to move on again. In each place, I would learn about the people, and help the ones I could.

I watched her face light up as I told her this "dream" of mine. She asked me, "Can I show you something?" "Of course", I said. She led me to a picnic table only a few feet away from where we were. She opened a canvas tote and revealed a worn passport. She showed me the pages of the passport, all filled with stamps from various countries. She told me about her travels.

She had lived for a time in a hut in Egypt. She described the beautiful bamboo chairs and handmade rugs. She talked about walking out of her door in the morning to greet a view of the Red Sea. She showered outside in bamboo stalls. She had lived for a while in England and in France. She stayed a while in Kuwait. She lived in Israel. This woman had lived my dream. Through her stories, I was now living vicariously through her. I listened carefully, taking in every detail of her experience that she shared with me. I was like a wide-eyed child listening as my favorite book was read to me, imagining that I was the Princess in the tower (or in this case, the hut). I could write on and on about the places she visited and the stories she told me.

We talked for two hours, before saying our goodbyes. During this time, I didn't think to take even one picture of her. I had forgotten about the blog. I had forgotten about the festival. I had forgotten about the ribs that I was going to get from the vendor. I was no longer "in my own little world". I was in "her" world.

I have to wonder how many times we miss things in our lives while thinking we are experiencing the greatest thing around. I would have had a wonderful time at the festival, and I would have been none the wiser of what I had missed had I not met this lady on Saturday, but I would have missed all her colorful stories. Worst of all, I would have missed making a great new friend.

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