Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the connections we make when we travel.
It’s one of my favourite things about travel. I love that moment when the wall between you and a complete stranger comes down and, despite differences in culture or language, you understand each other.
I’ve spent the last three weeks learning about health care delivery in India. We’ve gone to urban primary healthcare centres, where care is offered free to those who need it, to rural centres that provide all the basic care you need when a hospital is a few hours away, an orphanage for HIV positive children, and two private hospitals in the city. We’ve even been invited into village homes, to learn more about how local community nurses assess the health of people in the village and refer them to appropriate healthcare services. It’s been amazing seeing all these things that would be so impossible to see if I was just visiting India as a tourist.
The people we’ve worked with have been warm and welcoming, from the masters students who took us around the rural village, to the nuns who we stayed with, who hovered over us as we ate, making sure we all had second helpings, and even bought us a box of our favourite Indian sweets when we left. At a school for girls from rural villages, we met girls who wanted to know everything about life in Canada, and even cooed “awwwww” when we told them that in Canada, there are only love marriages, no contract marriages.
My favourite connections have been those I’ve made when I’ve managed to break through cultural and language barriers, and interact with someone as just another human being. The village boys who played cricket with us on a dusty street, laughing when we tried to bat (and even giving one of us the big compliment of “good batting!”), or the old man I sat next to on the train, who told me about his daughter-in-law, who is from Colorado but now lives in Hyderabad. She is now Indian, he said, but he shook his head sadly when he told me his grandson is more “American”. He then invited me to dinner and made sure he had my email address.
Yesterday I spent the day in a maternity hospital. When I arrived in the labour room, one woman was 4 cm dilated. I spent the morning with her and her mother, holding her hand during contractions, talking with her (in English, Telugu, and gestures) about her other children in between contractions. I was at her side when her son was born, holding her hand as the midwife put him on her chest, and tearing up a bit when she thanked me for supporting her during her labour. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
These moments are one of the reasons I travel. They keep reminding me that, despite cultural differences and language barriers, we all want the same things. We all want to connect with someone else. The children I met at the HIV centre were just kids, laughing and joking and fighting over who would get to braid our hair. The old man I met on the train was just like me, searching for a connection with the random person sitting next to him.
When I travel, I feel more open to making these connections. At home, it’s easy to get caught up in our ‘cult of busyness’, and the rushed, closed-off, self-importance that seems to take over our lives. Travel, for me, is a way to shake off that sense of being closed off, and become more open to experiences, food, adventure, and people. Sure, that feeling doesn’t always last once I get home, but being able to make these connections is the reason I keep interrupting my life, packing up my backpack, and heading out into the world.