Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Collecting Memories

     In an earlier blog or two I have mentioned bringing back things of interest from Third World travels. I wrote earlier about my collection of masks, about artifacts which I use for programs about my travels and folk necklaces which my wife loves. These, as well as miscellaneous, meaningful other artifacts and the knowledge I have gained on these journeys, have been important to me, but the most important collectibles of travel are the many memories that one has of events, places, and especially, people one meets along the way. These are precious as well as rather permanent and they are what makes the travel so worthwhile.

     As I search my many recollections of experiences, there are certain ones which stand out strongly, either because they were so memorable or moving, or because they were so surprising or scary or pleasant. Any of those characteristics tends to cement a moment in one's mind and it is a possession that just never goes away. I have mentioned a few of these earlier but here is a list of some of the most important ones. I leave it to the reader to attach the justifying adjective to the event.

     There was the boy I met in a small restaurant in Djenne, Mali, who was born unable to walk or even stand upright who had been taken to the States by a generous family that passed through his town invited him to live with them for over a year while he underwent a series of operations that enabled him to propel himself without crawling along the floor. The story he told me of his eternal gratitude and the generosity and self-sacrifice that the family from Texas provided him provided one of the most unforgettable personal interactions I ever had in my travels. There was the old peasant in My Lai, Vietnam who guided us through the little rice growing village remaining at that location while he told us the story of the bombing and cruelty which took place there during the war. His forgiveness and his commitment to the memories he carried with him were overwhelming.  I remember well the restaurant owner in Portugal who adopted me when I was younger and traveling alone and took me to the Fada cellar to hear his favorite music and to listen to him join the singers in one of the most authentic folk scenes I have ever experienced.  I can picture the young man who worked on the boat we took on the Niger River to explore villages in West Africa. After we had a conversation about the voodoo necklace that he wore, he saw himself as my protector and voluntarily walked next to me to keep village kids from "bothering me" as we hiked along.  I can picture so vividly the ovens in the Dachau Concentration Camp and the shard and bone laden paths in the Killing Fields of Cambodia as I trod through both of these sites of terror and torture.

     One can even retain niceties and courtesies from travels like the boatman on the Mahakam River in Borneo who ascertained my interest in maskmaking and stopped the boat along the river to take me to one that he knew who was in the process of designing a mask for an upcoming ceremony in his village.  One that same boat a day later, we ran into a storm, had to close the protective tarpaulin and suffered a long night of heat and insects. I guess things do balance themselves in the long run. The young woman I met in the slums of Acapulco introduced me to the kind of poverty I needed to experience for my own growth and the German tourist I met in Toledo, Spain challenged my newly acquired German skills by having me translate the words of the Spanish youngster who took us around to explain what the buildings were that surrounded us in that beautiful city. There were moments of pure frivolity like the evening I spent many years ago trading clothing for vodka and caviar for hours in what was then Leningrad. There was the discovery we made traveling with our young kids of a disney-like park which we all enjoyed for days in rural Guatemala for a quarter of the price of the original one and which we had pretty much to ourselves.

     But these were not all. There was also the sunset over the Taj Mahal and evening ceremonies in the Meenakshi Temple of Madurai. There was the boat ride on the Ganges alongside the crematoria
and the turtle release on a trip with our kids on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. There were the temple filled plains of Bagan in Myanmar, the distant Himalayan mountains viewed from the hills of Nepal and the heights of Darjeeling as well as from the Karakorum Highway in Pakistan. My eyes fill with such scenes when I close them and my brain stretches to contain the many reflections and memories I have accumulated. Those are the intangible, unforgettable moments which flood my mind as I write these words. The Third World beckons forever.

My Protector, Mopti, Mali

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