Sun. May 19th, 2024

By Samuel Strait, Reporter at Large – January 27, 2021

For those of you that regularly read the Crescent City Times, you will
no doubt know that I enjoy traveling around the world experiencing new
and strange places, and meeting new and interesting people in those
places.  I suspect that is a big part of travel for many people without
them even being aware of those sometimes brief bits of pleasure talking
to someone you have just met in a restaurant asking about CD’s produced
by local musicians, wrestling over the thorny problem of purchasing a
metro ticket in Hungarian, or trying to get back to the ferry on the
eastern side of the Bosphorus from a taxi driver who only speaks
Turkish. Those and many other delightful experiences have littered my
travels over the past seventy two years.

While spending time in Cairo, Egypt, my wife and I were frequent
visitors to the main market, Khan al-Kalili, in the center of this large
frenetic city.  Having the opportunity to spend nearly a month prowling
through the city, it seemed one of the most interesting and regular part
of the trip was sitting in a chair sipping mint tea while my wife
examined, quite thoroughly as you can imagine, the wares of a
silversmith.  While patiently waiting in my chair in front of his shop,
I became somewhat of a fixture in the market and was often greeted by
local shopkeepers in the area and encouraged to talk about how different
America was from Egypt.  In the process I learned a great deal about
Cairo and the people of Egypt.  On our last day in Cairo, my wife had to
take one last trip to Mr. Hasan’s jewelry shop.  Upon arriving, the shop
was closed.  As we turned away in disappointment the shopkeeper across
the way shouted, “A moment Mr. Sam, Hasan has a fire at his house.  I
call him and he be down, ten minutes only.” Some how Hasan appeared,
both arms bandaged to open his shop to my wife’s delight.  He had hoped
to see her before we left as he had made a beautiful silver necklace for
her as a parting gift.

Just one of the many delightful experiences we have had.  The young man
in a restaurant who waited our lunch table in Montmartre, who had spent
eight years in Detroit’s music industry and recommended several French
bands who produced CD’s to my wife’s specifications.  Soon to be had in
a giant Virgin record store we were directed to by the young man.  Over
the course of lunch we learned that he also was the member of a local
band and invited us to a club where he was playing.  VIP treatment at
the club, front and center table, and introductions around.  It was a
very stimulating evening.

Hungarian is not the easiest language to negotiate, and buying tickets
for the metro from the lady in a ticket booth who spoke no other
language was an adventure.  The adventure was soon resolved when a young woman who turned out to be a local school teacher stepped into the breach and in perfect English asked me what I needed, then proceeded in a bewildering fashion, hand gestures included, to not only relay my request, but proceeded to pay for the tickets.  Refusing to accept
reimbursement, my wife invited her to lunch.  She readily accepted and
we spent the next hour learning about how education had changed since
Hungary’s separation from the Soviet Union.  Quite revealing.  She had
learned her impeccable English as the daughter of a diplomat and had
spent six years in our nation’s capital.

As I look back, in just a few short years we accumulated experiences of
a lifetime.  Not to be left out, travel in the United States can be just
as magical.   While waiting for a trailer repair in 1950’s New Orleans
as a child, spending time on the sidewalk outside the shop,, my sister
and I, were being solemnly educated in the ways of the local
neighborhood by a young black child of ten.  The repair shop owner’s
wife buying us a bottle of soda pop out of an old fashion soda machine,
and providing buckets to sit on under a near by tree for shade. Then,
when the repair was to take longer, directing us to the neighborhood
swimming pool for a refreshing dip.  Those and many more experiences
crowd my head with the pleasures of relating to people while traveling.

It is something every one may enjoy, in places where things are done
differently than at home.  For some it may take some adjustment, but
listen and learn, and you might just be surprised by how friendly people
can be in places that are very different from what you may be used to.

One thought on “Foreign Faces in Foreign Places”
  1. What The Hell has been an intrepid traveler like you, Sam. My two fondest memories were the Giza Pyramids (how in the hell did they stack those stones?) and a gentleman at the Vatican that was weeping uncontrollably in front of the Pieta. He had seen it as a youngster at the Seattle World Fair where it was loaned and wanted to see it one more time before he died…..

    Appreciate the human interest stories. It reminds us that it should not be all gloom and doom (even though lately we’ve had many “What The Hell” moments).

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