Dear People I’ve Met While Traveling,
Just this morning, I glanced up from my laptop as a couple sauntered into my little cafe. They spoke in languid Italian as the couple beside me labored on in stilted English-German / Englerman.
Scottish burrs and English lilts, pops of French and Polish, German, Japanese – it’s my life here in Edinburgh, both in these rustic cafes and my own hodgepodge of an apartment.
We’re a blend of language and culture, and the more French and Portuguese I hear, the more I realize that this eclectic diversity I grew accustomed to in Paris is what I missed from life in Milwaukee. It’s the people I meet, and the stories they bring, that I love about traveling to new places, and living in diverse cities.
Sometimes I’d rather be alone. Like deep in the Welsh wilderness, or while exploring the Kirkstall Abbey ruins. The places have enough character and personality for me to learn and feel and see something beyond myself. And sometimes that’s enough.
But other times – oftentimes – the people make the place.
Like this guy sitting across from me at the cafe right now. He’s sporting a man bun and reading a dark-covered book with a title I have yet to glimpse. He also smiles when he reads, which is quite endearing. I’d take a picture, but that would be creepy. He spoke briefly, and if I had to guess, I’d wager he hails from Bulgaria.
That’s all I know.
But tomorrow, when I reflect on my day working, I’ll remember the man-bunned reading (potential) Bulgarian.
And so I remember:
Once, while flying from Paris to Chicago, a Frenchman, Louis, explained that he was visiting the States for the funeral of his long-time spouse. James. They had met in San Francisco in the 80’s, and so began a trans-continental love affair. Until James lost a long battle with cancer. I had been crying over leaving friends and loved ones behind in Paris and I remember being ashamed for feeling so unbelievably upset over such minimal problems. So, I dried my face, and we healed our wounds with cheap airplane wine for seven hours.
And so I remember:
My first night in Edinburgh, I met two Frenchmen and two German girls. We shared curly noodles and discussed the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon in three languages. I don’t know any of their names, but I remember the salty, buttery dinner, and the hot vent in the hostel living room, where we warmed our feet late into the night. And I remember that one German girl seemed quite taken with one of the Frenchmen. I wonder if anything ever happened there.
I have two weeks left in this city. It’s a lifetime to people traveling around the world – the kind of people who only stop in cities to wave goodbye the next morning. But it’s the briefest snippet of time for someone like me, who prefers to make roots and grow into a place.
And as much as I love Edinburgh, when I leave, I’ll remember the people – every person I’ve met. I’ll remember you.
I’ll remember shared complaints about the rain at bus stops. Discussing life in Birmingham while botching up my DIY manicure. Saturday eggs Benedict and Scottish accents. Morning kisses and neighbor’s smiles. Stories of your sister, or of your long distance relationship that began two days after meeting, and is now becoming a marriage. Images of you fighting with your brother in the street, or vacationing in the Isle of Skye with your two sons every year.
I love the stories. Love seeing them in painted blues and yellows in the air; images of hot desert skies, or murky Irish waters, shadowed Canadian forests and Thai sunlit footprints fill my mind.
I’ll remember you when I leave. You, my quirky French flatmate who gives me awkward high fives on the way to work. And my Scottish flatmate who found the Australian sun tiresome, and missed Edinburgh’s gloomy, grey skies (seriously though).
And you, who met me in the classic speakeasy bar Panda & Sons, so nondescript you’d miss it if no one told you where to go. You laugh when I say weird things. And when unchecked, I think I say a lot of weird things. So it works.
I’ll remember you when I leave, as I remember all of you from my past.
To the French baker who offered me free baguettes at closing hours,
To the family I worked for in Paris, who let me be apart of their lives,
To the adorable Parisian children I babysat and carried around on my back while pretending to be a horse,
To bittersweet Paris spring nights of tea, ignorance, Firefly, and bridges.
And now, to our road trips along the Scottish coast, learning about you and the old mining towns. Chocolates and coffees, holding sea shells in my palms, and laughing about nothing.
I don’t remember all the names. I don’t even remember some faces. But I remember stories, and how they made me feel, and how I tried to make people feel, and the fact that beyond it all, beyond the impressive mountains, or rolling hills, desert sands or cobblestone streets of my travels, the people have stayed with me.
Some relationships have hurt. Some of you have disappeared in shocking displays of apathy. Or you may have faded into the background noise, just as I may have faded into yours. Perhaps you only knew me for a brief ten minute conversation on train platforms, or deep in the Sahara Desert while sharing a plate of aubergine tajine. You matter still. You may always matter, and continue to fill my mind with the stories you told me, of Vancouver, Barcelona and Belfast, a Saudi Arabian commune, and London.
You may not remember me.
And that’s okay.
Because some of you do.
And I remember you.
You’ve made traveling worthwhile.