A Charmed Life
As I think back over my trip, I’m mildly surprised that I came through the two years relatively unscathed.
I managed to hold onto my valuables such as cash, credit cards and my passport (with the exception of some bank account information lifted from an ATM in Honduras). And I was able maintain possession of my technical gadgets like my laptop, iPhone and semi-professional camera (with the exception of my backup camera that went missing during an airport security check in Beirut.)
But I’m not really talking about electronics here; I’m talking about my physical safety. I’m amazed (and relieved) that I was never physically assaulted in any way, despite moments of extreme discomfort in Egypt, Lebanon, Zambia, Malawi, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Now, I’m not a superstitious or a religious person, but I do consider myself a pretty lucky girl. And just maybe part of this luck came from some blessings and charms I picked up along the way.
Early in my travels, I headed into the Northwestern portion of Vietnam, into the hillside region of Sapa where I went trekking through the fields and villages for several days. My guide was a local shaman woman named Yia.
While we started as a group of 4, we ended as a group of 2, since I was going farther and longer than the other trekkers. So Yia and I hiked together, she gathering herbs along the way for dinner and potions, and me looking around wide-eyed and struggling to keep up.
Throughout the 3 days, we were surrounded by children, who always rushed up to greet us (mainly because I was passing out stickers and ballpoint pens along the way — a big luxury for kids in that region). Once, as a thank you for my ballpoint pens, three little girls presented me with a return gift: little stuffed squares of colorful silk with fringe and bells.
Although I was overjoyed at the gesture, I didn’t quite know what to do with these small treasures. I finally decided to tie one on each side of my camera bag and continued my journey, with the tiny silver bells tickling as I walked. Over the succeeding months of travel, I came to think of these constant companions as my good luck charms.
A Blessed Life
In addition to my talismans, I was also given a series of blessings:
Blessing #1 – Lebanon: My first blessing came while visiting a famous journalist in Beirut, Lebanon. I was invited to Joanne’s family home to consult on her nonprofit, This is Biladi, which works to protect and preserve Beirut’s architectural heritage.
During a tea break, I was introduced to her mother, a devote Maronite Catholic. We had a short, translated conversation about my trip and volunteer work. As I was leaving later that day, she came over to bless me in my travels. She said I had a guardian angel watching over me and implored me to always listen to the angel and let the angel guide me.
I was touched by her caring gesture and I sincerely appreciated her blessing and wishes for safe travel, especially as I was on my way to travel further into the Middle East and into the Horn of Africa.
Blessing #2 – Zambia: My second blessing was given to me by a group of nuns in Livingstone, Zambia. I was there volunteering with 5 organizations, all tied to the Catholic Church. One of the organizations, called Lushomo, was a home for abused girls, some as young a seven. The girls came to the children’s home while they awaited their trial and then stayed on after the trial if they couldn’t return home (like everywhere, many of the abusers were family members).
I met this group of dedicated nuns several times during my week volunteering. During our last meeting, a half-day workshop, they came up to say goodbye and bless me on my future travels.
Now, as a preschooler I went to a parochial school, taught (at that time) by nuns in full habits. I think meeting these nuns brought back deeply rooted memories of my youngest days at school, and along with these memories, feelings of guided protection. These blessings came at just the right time, as I started my overland journey through Zambia and Malawi, heading toward Mozambique.
Blessing #3 – Colombia: My third blessing came while I was staying for several weeks in Bogota, Colombia, attending language school. I was staying in a swanky apartment, while my friend Christian was in New York on business. The apartment had a housekeeper Betsy, who came once a week, and a full-time doorwoman named Ama.
I became fast friends with both Betsy and Ama, and would sometimes sit and have coffee with them after my classes. We struggled to converse in my limited Spanish and yet we had a grand time eating croissants and drinking coffee and sharing stories – mainly through hand gestures.
The day I left Bogota, I gave small thank you gifts of flowers and candy to Betsy and Ama. As the taxi idled outside, and Betsy wrestled my luggage into the waiting car, Ama held the door for me. As we hugged goodbye, she took me to one side and blessed me again and again, laying her hands on my forehead and shoulders, and truly touching my heart.
For the bulk of my two years, I carried these blessings from my earth-bound angels with me. I also held onto my Vietnamese silk charms, which started to slowly fall apart, one bell, one bit of fringe at a time. (Children loved to pull on them.)
During my final weeks of travel, the stuffing finally started to fall out of my one remaining charm and so I removed it from my camera bag. In my tent, in the middle of Patagonia, I was debating whether I should just toss it.
In the end, I decided to hold onto the disintegrating talisman just a little while longer, until I stepped back onto U.S soil. Just in case…
Want to read a few posts about some of the dangers I encountered? Check out:
This entry was posted on Sunday, January 27th, 2013 and is filed under On the Road.