Imagine this. You come from a country where girls don’t step outside the house after it's dark. Going to a different country all alone is absolutely out of the question.
But you have this urge to travel the world. To explore. To feel how people around the world live. And spend a fraction of your time trying to live a different life in this new place.
A life different from that of your own, which is tied to the demands of your culture and society.
And you do it. You pack your bags, create an interior, and travel. The money is less, but you’re positive that the experience will be worth it.
You want to do crazy things to experience life. Nah, not the fancy life of travel on Instagram. But genuinely experience things you haven't before. Meet strangers from across the world, make friends, make memories.
You have minor social anxiety and going to people and being a conversation starter isn’t your forte.
There are so many things which worry you — safety, money, new people, a new place. But deep in your heart, you trust that you truly want to experience this in life.
Swiping in Paris
I landed in Paris even though each of my friends had a scary story to tell.
It’s so unsafe.
I got robbed there.
My MacBook got stolen in a cafe.
And here I was, swiping on my Couchsurfing app. Yes I know, we millennials are swimming in the sea of instant gratification. We have a taxi and a date away one click away if I want.
But what is a better way to explore a city than to meet a local?
I have Couchsurfed previously in Stockholm where I had a local take me to underground cafes and local spots which I wouldn’t have easily found on my own.
But meeting somebody without a profile picture is absurd and calling trouble upon yourself, isn’t it? And yet, yours truly swiped right.
Now, there was this profile (let's call him Mr. A) which had all the red flags:
- No profile picture
- No personal information
- Tells me to meet him on the same day
And one green flag:
- Asks to see me by the river, in a public place
My gut was so sure about meeting this stranger. I absolutely had to meet him. Regardless of not knowing what he looks like or who he is, I had to see him.
Introducing you to Mr. A
Mr. A was a short man of about 5 feet 5 inches. He was bald, build alright, and met me with a warm smile.
Mr. A, in person, was full of green flags.
- Got me homemade hummus and pita (he was Syrian)
- Carried French cheese, wine, and chips in his bag (to give me a flavour of Paris)
- Didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. We sat at an arm's length with his bag in the middle.
We spoke for about two hours while staring at the river in front of us. The locals were around us, some French teenagers listening to music and couples sitting arm in arm. Here we were, with our feet hanging down as we had a long conversation with many walls of silence.
Little did I know that this conversation will change me. Forever. Here are some excerpts from what we spoke about, and I'm hopeful they will make you ponder.
Is your life really that hard?
I don't know why people have a habit of ranting about how hard life is. You know what’s hard? Being on a boat and not knowing if you’ll ever see the shore.
Mr. A covered stories of Syrian refugees. He was a videographer for a famous news channel.
People he interviewed came from two scenarios:
- A family is poor and needs to escape. Somebody asks them for an enormous amount of money to help them, and disappears. It leaves the family stranded.
- The family boards a raft (which is overloaded) and sets out to seek asylum. No advanced navigation tools. The only luggage they carry is important papers.
Their only hope is to spot land when they spend their days on a raft. Now tell me, is life really so hard or do we just enjoy whining about it?
The cup of life is too small, love fills it up.
Mr. A and his relatives lost their home because of the usual blasts, he claimed. I feel chills down my spine each time somebody normalises bomb blasts, and this wasn’t the first time because so did an Afghani man I met in Austria. But that's a story for another time.
His family is doing fine and are hopeful that things will get okay. He brightened up when he spoke about his family because it’s a blessing for all of them to be together.
I love and value my family, but I hardly think of how much they mean to me. Without them, no amount of money I make or the career I lead holds any value. It took somebody else’s story of a torn home to remind me this, that’s the real problem here.
It’s sad that it takes a tragedy for us to realise the value of what we have.
Take charge of your life.
This man had his house shattered and lost a huge part of his family. He supports his younger siblings to study because his education suffered.
He learned English by watching Hollywood movies. He was 37 when I met him, excited to finally start college.
His circumstances made it extremely difficult for him to turn his life around, but he kept going.
No amount of excuses that I’ve ever made felt worth it when I spoke to him. This man has had his whole world crushed but stands smiling, optimistic about what lies ahead.
What's your excuse?
Lessons I Still Carry to This Day
I met Mr. A in June 2018, that's 2.5 years ago. But my conversation with him gave me lessons I still carry with me today.
- Feel the sorrow of loss, but don’t carry them with you. Look ahead to create a better life.
- Your life isn’t hard. Stop crying — it’s not cute.
- Be grateful. You have enough.
- Give. Whether or not you believe in karma, make somebody else happy.
- Take charge of your life and don’t let your environment be a limiting factor
- Trust your gut instinct. My logical brain would’ve never met an unknown person, but my gut whispered to go ahead.