Some of my favorite travel stories are ones I’ve heard rather than experienced.
My good friend, Jenny, returned from India recently, for example. One day in Mumbai she struck up a conversation with a stranger, a Hindu man, on the subject of religion. He could not grasp her atheism. Finally, exasperated, he said to her, “But there are so many gods to chose from. Can’t you just find one?”
Another story concerns a Spanish friend of mine who has lived in the United States for a long time in both Colorado and Washington, D.C. Her name is Isabel Rodriguez. It was while she was living in Colorado and talking to a cashier at one of the big box stores about the weather, just small talk, as Isabel said, when the cashier asked Isabel for her credit card. When Isabel handed it over, the cashier, an older white lady, studied it a second before saying, “You say that you are Spanish, but your name is Mexican.”
My husband travels for work, so unsurprisingly, he has his share of good stories. He went to Congo-Brazzaville once, where he met a Swiss guy working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This guy said he had friends back home who lived off of his stories. Here is one:
In 2006 the Republic of Congo was still recovering from civil war and many combatants were still members of existing militias in areas outlying the capital city. Not all had disarmed. An uneasy cease-fire held. The International Committee of the Red Cross in such circumstances aims to promote peace, help to disarm, and to protect the population.
The Swiss described driving into highly restricted United Nations areas, meeting with armed groups of militia, and, with the patchy help of rumbling generators and flickering projectors, making PowerPoint presentations to skeptical men on international law governing civil conflict.
He told my husband that the receptions he received were rarely warm and most often completely silent. But once, a hand went up at the back of the makeshift tent. A militiaman had a question. Militiamen used not their actual names in Congo-Brazzaville but rather their noms de guerre. The militiaman asking the question went by the nom de guerre of Gachet Facile, which means “Itchy Trigger Finger.” His question: “Under international law, what is the penalty for killing a staff member of the ICRC?”