Leo asked me a good question under my post "A Review in Short Form": "What was an encounter that you still like to think back to?" The answer is very long. Here we go...
On my journey, I met a lot of people. These encounters are often the reason why I have continued. In moments of panic and desperation, these have helped me find my way. I think back to them with sadness, as I'm sure I'll never meet some of these people again. The memories of those encounters are as bitter as they are sweet.
Above all, I reflect myself on the blog, because the people have no say if and how they want to be portrayed. Often the ones who helped me along the way are suspicious of the internet, and I can't blame them. I have written about some of them because they played an essential role in my journey. However, I always write these texts in the knowledge that my descriptions reveal more about myself than about the person I'm talking about. They have become so much part of my narrative that sometimes I'm not sure if the individuals are the way I remember them, or if they have become characters in my memory.
The people I meet are what makes my trip unique. Often, I wish I had my recording device on me 24/7, so I don't forget the words we're exchanging, and memory doesn't have a chance to modify them later.
Here are a few encounters from my journey that I like to think back to.
WITH PEOPLE I HAVE VISITED
At the beginning of my trip, I booked many accommodations through Airbnb. I had some wonderful hostesses. Especially in Helsinki and Riga, I had conversations with women who were older than me, that seriously broadened my outlook on life. In my every day I am trapped in my age group, surrounded by people who have not yet made the big decisions of their lives and have little interest in my musings or make those arrangements with someone else. People who make choices with a partner have a different approach to life than someone who decides on their own.
My hostess in Riga was a businesswoman who became successful young and later suffered significant setbacks. What I mainly remember about her is her tea shelf and the knowledge of mixing precisely the right combination of herbal teas for me. At that time I thought: I would like to know how to do that. Now I read books about herbs until one day I can stock my own tea shelf.
My hostess in Helsinki was a single mother of two daughters with a turbulent past, a migrant background and a job in the artistic field. The way she talked to her daughters impressed me. The girls grew up trilingual and formulate their thoughts and ideas more clearly than I ever could. They are taken seriously and decide for themselves.
On Crimea, I taught two groups of young Russians. When I moved on, they gave me a whole bunch of little messages and little notes. What started as a simple exercise in the classroom became a safe haven. I still keep the notes in the back pocket of my travel journal. If I need them, I can pull them out. They are a slight nudge towards a more forgiving, a friendlier attitude towards my shortcomings.
I like to think about my nightly visits to the studio of a wedding photographer in Teheran, where I was allowed to climb a throne with two giant Persian cats or when I was allowed to sleep in the guest room of a couple whose apartment was furnished in a western style. They loved the same films that shaped me, wallpapered their walls with screenshots of critical cinematic moments. I was profoundly shaken at this moment of my journey and these two nights in familiarity gave me the strength to continue.
Somi and Hani were my first contacts in Iran, and they just took me along in their lives without overwhelming me with activities and commitments. I was allowed to sit in their parents living room and watch the family go in and out. I was allowed to watch and learn what a private Iranian life feels like. My time with them has laid the foundation of my understanding of Iran. Without them, I don't know how I would have coped.
Matti, the first Iranian with whom I exchanged a word, I saw thrice in my two months. To this day we are in contact. Together we navigated a problematic encounter that is not supposed to exist in his society. He is the source of the hardest truths, which I had to look in the eye. He answered my more personal questions and asked others in return. A beautiful exchange and what I'm looking for in cultural encounters.
And then of course my host families in Vantaa (Finland) and Samara (Russia). I often look back on my time with them and look forward to the end of my journey when I can plan visits.
WITH OTHER TRAVELERS
The drive from Tbilisi to Borjomi in Georgia in the jeep and with a friend of a friend of mine was beautiful. Older than me, she lives on her own, far from that one narrative I was raised with. She balances her life between Georgia and Berlin, taking the best of both worlds.
Jonathan accompanied me through Iran for two weeks when I was mentally and physically exhausted. He travelled without money from Paris to Bangkok and showed me what that means. A magician and life artist like me, just very different.
Margerita, Michael and Manoli in Shiraz were breakfast acquaintances. Margerita is an artist in Berlin and does performance art all over the world. Michael cycles across the globe and Manoli travels six months of the year to discover the world. All three lead very different lives that have enriched my perspective immensely.
My times with Leo and Sebastian from Eins2frei blog, of course!
WITH HOME ABROAD
On my trip, I have met two young women travelling alone from my hometown Halle (Saale). The city isn't big. At home, I would never have met either of them. For although we had mutual acquaintances, we have never heard of each other. M. in Samara (Russia) I meet at a German “Stammtisch”. She is a few years older than me and works at the Goethe Institute. M., on the other hand, is as old as me. I meet her at the hostel in Bangkok. When I see a photo of her at the train station at home weeks after our meeting, my eyes drop out of my head. That's where I started my journey.
And those are just the ones that came to mind this week. I have already written about some others in the past, others I will remember as soon as the post is published. These encounters are the gold that draws me into the distance. That's what it's all about.
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