Sunday, April 23, 2017

To the People I Met Along the Way Around the World

Everyone should be so fortunate. I set out on a journey of unknown destinations two years ago, and one question I had for myself was - "Whom would I meet?" I knew I would probably stop and see certain friends in France, Ireland, England, and Japan, however who would come into my life and help change the way I see the world forever? What apparent irony to discover on a solo excursion the greatest lesson to be found in the people who choose to take the time to walk with you along the way.

It would take a book to regale you with tales of everyone I met and our times together, and I most certainly would inadvertently leave someone out if I tried. However, I have been on the receiving end of so many kindnesses while out in the world, I felt it was worth highlighting a few as this chapter of Walking Amadeus comes to a close.

Muona, Malawi
Barnabas and Henry
In rural Malawi, it is impossible for a non-African to stay for any length of time incognito. As a volunteer, I stayed in a small village with one main dirt road and not many places to go to socialize. However, there was a little hut that served maize beer and afforded one the opportunity to sit on milk crates outside with some of the locals. As someone who sticks out in a crowd on that continent, people seemed interested in discovering who I was and why I was there, and I met these two gentlemen. Breaking one of my rules of international travel - don't go places with strangers when you are completely reliant on them to get you back in one piece - I  rode bikes with them to a river in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, we had a nice time, and I was lucky to have been able to engage with them. In the end, I realized I had met two guys who had very little, but felt quite rich to be able to befriend me and share a slice of local life.

Valle D'Aosta, Italy
Susi and Roberto
Susi and I were fast friends while volunteers together in the Philippines. I enjoy people who have lively spirits and make it easier for me not to have to try to control the conversation. When I visited Milan, she introduced me to her friends, and we had a nighttime bike tour around the city. We shared an interest for food and wine, and I couldn't have been happier... or so I thought - we then went to the mountains to visit her dad. He cooked for us and I got to explore what I found to be one of the most majestic places on Earth.

Pievepelago, Italy
Chef Bagatti and Family
I met my friend Alessia also while volunteering, and she was kind enough to offer for me to stay at her family's hotel for a week. Little did I know that nestled in the mountains above Modena was a family that would take me in - not just as a hotel guest - but as new friend of the family. Signora Bagatti is the chef for the hotel restaurant, and she gave me daily lessons in her craft after my morning cappuccino. Alessia's sister, Matilde, accompanied us on excursions hiking and to a nearby old town of which her mother used to be mayor. To show my gratitude, I cooked an American-style Thanksgiving meal for the family at the end of the week. It was a splendid time.

Bangalore, India
Ritika and I were on the same team volunteering in Nepal. She is very intelligent and kind, and we seemed to get along well. I was allowed just a 72-hour visa to stay in India en route to Malawi, so I made sure to visit her. She and her friend met me out for dinner, and we must have sampled twenty different unique foods. While just a short visit, I appreciate that I had a very good experience.

Muona, Malawi
Our volunteer base in Malawi was inside the walled estate of Peter and his wife. Nearly every evening, we would meet after dinner outside for a chat. We talked about all sorts of topics, including religion, his country, the American presidential election, and others. I think he enjoyed picking my brain, and I was delighted in his perspective. As it turns out, he was also Catholic and invited me to his church for Sunday service. I feel really bad that I did not say goodbye when I left, but if somehow this reaches him, I'd like him to know that some of the best conversations of my journey were on his patio. (He is seated in the center of the photo.)

Makati, Philippines
H & J Crew
My first day in the Philippines, I went walking around the Manila metropolis and discovered that the heat and humidity of day was pretty unbearable. Luckily, there was an expat-friendly sports pub (with air conditioning) just a block from my hostel that was open all night long. The staff was so friendly that I decided to make it my hangout where I could escape the heat and watch international soccer and the NBA playoffs. The staff remembered me and made me feel at home each time, so eventually on my many consequent layovers in Manila, I made sure to visit Emy, Marlene, and Sha, as well as the others each time. They even helped me celebrate my 41st birthday.

Tacloban, Philippines
Fr. Ramil and Niño
When I knew I would be in Tacloban for some time, I asked if I could be a lector at Our Lady of Fatima Parish. From that day forward, Father Ramil (center of photo) brought me into the parish family and gave me a home away from home. He invited me on outings as well as to dinners. He would even find ways to work me into the sermons so that I was no stranger as long as I was there and made a point to try to find me a Filipina wife (so far unsuccessfully) so that I might stay indefinitely.

Niño (right) is a eucharistic minister at the church and took me in as both a friend and collaborator. We both have a passion for helping people in need in the Philippines, and it was wonderful to have someone to help explore some ideas for how to do so. He also encourages me to sing in Tagalog, which I hope the others forgive.

Tacloban, Philippines
The Grefiel Family
I was a foreigner and a near total stranger, but that did not deter this family from offering a place for me to sleep one night after a barangay fiesta. I would eventually become good friends with Maria and her brother's family of six (now seven). It was always a joy to be welcomed to visit and spend time with them.

Volunteers dressed in blue on a construction site

All Hands Volunteers
I have now been on five different projects with this organization in five different countries. Volunteers come from many parts of the world to help communities in need after natural disasters, and they are some of the finest people I have ever met. To volunteer, please visit and tell them I sent you.

Young Filipino men and women dressed in red in a church
Tacloban, Philippines
Our Lady of Fatima Parish Choir
On my last visit to the Philippines, the choir took me on a tour of the local Catholic churches as part of a special week. My friend Ray made sure I was invited. My friend Mitzi sang to me (and reprimanded me for not bringing gifts from home). The others made sure I didn't get lost, and we took lots and lots of pictures. Among of the best parts of traveling around the world were the times I was blessed to hear them all sing - very talented and friendly group of special people. I just have to remember the pasalubong next time.

To the good people I met along the way - and there are plenty others - thank you for being there, and I hope we will meet again someday. Best wishes until then.