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     Volume 8 Issue 90 | October 16, 2009 |

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Food for Thought

Travel Tales
Crisis Management

Crisis Creation

Farah Ghuznavi

Travel not only takes us to unexpected places, it can sometimes bring out unexpected people lurking within us. I have always believed that you don't really know anyone until you have seen them lose their temper; I would argue, similarly, that you don't completely know someone until you have travelled with them. Of course, it's not necessary to actually do that in most of one's relationships - it's simply that you're likely to see new (and sometimes interesting) sides to people when you find yourself on the road with them.

Apart from anything else, travelling with friends can make you realise just where your similarities end! I came perilously close to losing a friendship on a trip to India some years ago. I was travelling with someone I thought I knew well, although I was aware that we had differences in style and approach. A classic example of this was that she refused to communicate with anyone (or even to attempt to communicate with anyone) in Hindi, on the grounds that she didn't speak it well. Neither, for that matter, did I, but this left me with the somewhat onerous responsibilities of dealing with everyone we encountered on the trip who didn't speak English. And I mean everyone - from the tradesmen in the markets, to the staff at the guesthouse where we stayed, to the porter at the train station whom we had to bargain with when he was carrying our bags.

Needless to say, this got old fast! And it wasn't helped by her reaction, when I suggested that she try speaking Hindi at least on some of the occasions. She sarcastically responded by saying, "Well, I'm not like you! You don't care if what you say is grammatically incorrect, and you're clearly not bothered by what people think about you. I don't want to look stupid!" On that occasion, I grit my teeth and refrained from asking her how she expected anything to get done unless I was willing to "look stupid", but the truth is, our relationship never really recovered from the trip.

It's not that you have to travel with people who are just like you; that is, if you're fortunate enough to have friends similar to yourself! It's more that it's a good idea to recognise the differences and be prepared to live with them amicably; and ideally, to use them to your advantage. So on another trip, when I was travelling with a friend who is as dissimilar to myself as it's possible to be, we found that it worked very well for her to do the background research and planning (including identifying possible options for sightseeing), and for me to deal with the communications aspect of our travel. Of course, it probably helped that she never referred to me as stupid, or I her…

Another factor that should be taken into account is that some people are naturally more intrepid than others; if you are shy or not particularly adventurous, you should take great care in selecting travel companions - otherwise you may be in for some surprises! One of my friends discovered this for herself when she accompanied her sixty-eight year old British aunt on a recent visit to Switzerland. Determined to go downhill skiing, against all advice (and unmoved by her relatives' refusal to accompany her), the old lady went to a ski resort on her own. But once on the slopes, she quickly found herself getting tired, and fell down in the snow several times. The last time this happened, she was rescued by a middle-aged man, who kindly walked over to help her out of the snow. Once upright, she spotted his snowmobile, and lost no time in playing a part as the helpless old lady, in order to score a ride back to the resort cafe and a steaming cup of hot chocolate!

On another occasion, this lady went into the bank to change some money and felt that people were looking at her strangely. Coming out into the road again, she felt slightly chilly. She looked down to see that although she was wearing thick woollen leggings that fully covered her lower body, she looked more than a bit odd because she had actually forgotten to put her trousers on! Undeterred, she decided it was too much trouble to take the bus back to the house where she was staying, so she did her shopping, pastry-eating in the cafe and a few other errands in her long thermal leggings before finally heading home in the late afternoon... While undoubtedly embarrassing for her niece, one must reluctantly admire the old lady's savoir-faire in handling a potentially awkward situation.

Sadly, my own family has a rather different style in terms of handling such challenges. On occasion, we have been known to create our own! On a recent visit to Italy, my parents were standing with a group of people and waiting for their water taxi to begin their journey, when a couple of late arrivals clambered aboard. My mother was not impressed that the gentleman was carrying just a small wheelie bag, while his wife struggled with two large suitcases. In a not-very-quiet undertone, she commented on it to my father in Bangla, "Just look at him! He should be ashamed of himself - carrying that one little bag while his wife has two suitcases to manage!" But it was her turn to be ashamed when the irate gentleman responded in Bangla, "Achha, what can I do?! I have broken my leg - that is why she is carrying the suitcases!" To their further embarrassment, my parents discovered the following day that not only did they share a language with this understandably disenchanted couple, they even had common friends there, who had arranged for all of them to have coffee together. Not a great success, as you can imagine.

Another, less tension-ridden encounter took place at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, where my folks were impressed by a group of three and four-year-olds who had been taken to the museum, presumably in order to learn to appreciate modern art (I'm still working on that one myself!) Anyway, because there were so many of them moving around together, each little one had a red circle painted on their nose - a measure aimed at facilitating swift identification and recovery if a child got separated from the wider group. It soon became evident, to general amusement, that the exotic sari and even more exotic red teep worn by my mother was attracting more attention from the children than the masterpieces of art in the museum! Or perhaps they were just wondering whether she was an adult who got lost easily. Very possible, given that she was wearing her red dot incorrectly on her forehead, instead of on her nose…

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