The first time I ever traveled in country very unlike my own and without my parents and five star hotels, I went to West Africa, to Togo, with an anthropology class trip with my professor. This was the first time I experienced a rougher style of travel where comfort was not a part of the itinerary. We stayed in a local village which had its own chief where we slept on the ground in mud huts, ate food that gave us parasitic infections, learned the meaning of no air conditioning ANYWHERE, and rode the local buses and mammy wagons in the blazing heat of Africa.
I was on one of the mammy wagons, a van stuffed full of sweating people and a goat or chicken or two, a vehicle which sat in the midday son for a couple of hours collecting more bodies to fit in every nook and cranny that I began to lose my mind. I started twisting and turning in my allotted space, rubbing my neck, sighing, grumbling under my breath, and then outwardly whining. I started going on about the ridiculousness of the situation to my American friends, feeling worse and more angry by the minute. I had worked myself up into quite a lather, added to the one the weather had already given me, when I looked to the back of the bus and saw Lauren, the Professor’s daughter, sitting there quietly her hands folded in her lap, looking as if she was sitting in her backyard under a big oak tree, resting and at peace with her surroundings.
I remember being amazed by the sight! How was it possible? How could she be so calm in such a miserable circumstance? Lauren was quite a world traveler by then, her father having taken her on numerous trips around Africa. Was her behavior the sign of a seasoned traveler?
I never discussed this with her but that moment imprinted in my memory and to this day I can still see her sitting quietly in the back of the mammy wagon. And what I observed became clear to me as I traveled more and more around the world. I realized that one must, as Indians say, “adjust” and take things in stride without making a fuss. And, in doing so, it is quite amazing how much easier it makes the circumstances, whatever they are. It is a bit of mind control that serves one well.
I visited south India a number of years ago with a friend and she took me to lunch at one of the homes of a woman in the neighborhood. We put on our best saris and spent a number of hours at the home where all the women chatted in Telegu and I hadn’t a clue to anything they were saying. The lunch was delicious and the atmosphere was lovely…but, it was a looooooong afternoon in which I had to sit politely on the sofa in my pretty sari and look happy. I remember Lauren and I folded my hands and took long calming breaths. I studied the ladies, listened to the language, observed the tiles on the ceiling, smiled and moved my head from side to side as if I was participating in the conversation. My friend noted later how pleasant I was and how the ladies liked me. It wasn’t exactly the way I preferred to spend three hours, but I “adjusted” and stayed calm and I found it was much easier than getting all bent out of shape about being unable to understand the language and being the odd woman out.
I have used Lauren’s mentality in my travel every since I noticed the difference between how she behaved and how I behaved on that mammy wagon. If there is no option to change the situation in a positive way, I think Lauren’s behavior is the way to go! Stay calm, help yourself manage the situation, and make it easier for everyone around you as well.
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