Hosting foreigners is our closest way to meet the world

換日線 Crossing 

一踏無途/Yi

An invitation from a stranger in the market

The old vehicles slammed past the dirt roads of Turkmentabat.  These brown-coloured houses seemed so worn-out and lifeless; there was certainly no sense of luxury left here.

 

I walked around the centre of the city market; it was quite an interesting place.  You were able to see the real life under the bright sunshine; this was also the place for people to absorb the liveliness of the market.  The livestock and the grocery areas were smartly divided into separated sections.  People crossed through the streets to look for things they need in their daily lives.

 

In this town, there was no supermarket, nor department store.  Instead, there was this city market where everything could be found.  I enjoyed observing the enthusiastic faces of the vendors, and the body movement of the customers.  It felt like watching a fascinating stage drama.  My soul gained a certain degree of satisfaction out of this.

 

Most people prefers no surprise in their routines.  If there’s no surprises during a travel, how boring would it be?  Expect the unexpected; the unexpected surprise is like a decoration that helped us to reminisce the trip.  Bad surprise might be bad luck, but the good one could be a gift.  No matter what kind of surprises they were, they certainly deepened the meaning of travel.

I wandered around the market in circle trying to find items that could catch my eyes.  Hopefully, I would be able to find a memorable souvenir from this beautiful place.

 

Suddenly, something, or someone touched my shoulder.  At this instance, I was so surprised and even panicked a bit.

 

“Are you a tourist?” a young, petite girl asked me in English.

 

“Yes I am.“ I replied.

 

“Come to my house, please.” She said it without any hesitation.  It left me stunned.

 

Had I heard it wrong?  Was this girl genuinely generous?  I raised my guard as I should be more careful with this invitation from an opposite gender.  On the other hand, I doubted if she was up for something.  The girl just left after the invitation.  To my own surprise, I followed her, subconsciously, as if I wanted to explore something.

 

Her hair was wrapped in a bum.  She wore a dark rouge flower shirt that was commonly seen on the street of Turkmenistan.  It suited her well.  Let us just call her Adelia (note 1).

 

Adelia was the same age as me.  She had been working in a patrol company operated by Chinese people since 19.   She used her spare time to take accounting classes.  She was an ambitious girl.

I believed she caught the suspicion on my face.  She said one sentence to let down my guard “I live with my family, we are a big family.”

The big feast from a local family

Adelia’s home was in a small village called Firap that sat right next to the border of Uzbekistan.  The nearby streets were rural roads filled with sand and rocks.  People lived in close vicinity.  All kids in this neighborhood played along with cats and dogs together.

 

Her house seemed big from the outside, but the interior was rather simple or bare.  The bedroom was built within the living room.  Except for an old TV, there was no other furniture inside.  The red carpet on the floor showed the courtesy to the guests.  On the opposite side of the room was a traditional kitchen that used burning wood.  Electronic devices seemed uninvented here.  This big house also had a backyard with a pit toilet, a shower, a clothes hanging yard and a big wooden bed.

 

Adelia’s parents welcomed me with big smiles.  They seemed to expect my arrival already.  They gestured me to sit down as they put a picnic matt in front of me.  They started to set up the table.  I was genuinely surprised by their hospitality.  Adelia’s young nephews and nieces were so over the moon when they saw a rare visitor like me.  They just ran into me with great enthusiasm and played with me.

Adelia showed me pictures of her previous visitors and the gifts received from them.  Now I got it!  Whenever Adelia met a foreigner, she took the initiative and invited him/her to her house.

 

“We could not travel the world.  Hosting foreigners is our only way to meet the world.  You are our unexpected guests.  All of our family welcome you.” Adelia said.

 

For the past 3 years, I was her only visitor.  There were really few visitors in Turkmenistan, not to mention a small village like this.

 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Adelia started working at young age.  Her fluent English was self-tought.  As I shared with her what I had seen and heard, and even my confusion in Turkmenistan, she listened carefully with a smile. When our conversation brushed against sensitive topics like president, government and such, she dodged them politely and skillfully.  I, then, learnt to avoid the taboo as well.

 

At dinnertime, I sat with Adelia’s family on the wooden bed in the backyard for some simple potato pancakes.  Here, having food alone could be a luxury.  It did not matter what you eat.  Under the moonlight, looking at the little kids grasping the pancakes with their fatty hands, taking big bites into the pancakes, leaving greases on their chubby faces gave me a very blissful and blessed feeling.

 

Adelia invited me for a walk after dinner.  She took me to the place where she grew up.  Frankly speaking, this village appeared to be quite unfriendly under the burning sunlight at daytime.  As sun went down, some ugly sides of the village did get covered up.  However, a different form of pressure and boldness pressured the passersby.  Once we stepped out of her house, the darkness spread rapidly, and it nearly engulfed me.  It was only fair if I used tattered or worn-out to describe this very village.  There was barely any streetlight and the roads were never even.  This whole village seemed to be still in wartime.

 

Adelia seemed so used to all these imperfection.  She simply did not care for the feedback from a visitor like me.  She tried her best to introduce the nice corners to me without reservation- the one and only sports stadium, the BBQ stands, and the grocery stores where kids bought their snacks and drinks.  All these beautiful things formed her village, not the tattered walls or fallen roofs.  At a grocery store, we each bought an ice pop that she recommended, and enjoyed the simplicity of happiness in life together.

The importance of trust

 

I asked Adelia “I found it unbelievable that you had the courage to host me? Weren’t you afraid?“

 

She replied with a smile and said, “Yes, you were right, you could have killed me!“

 

“I was truly impressed with your courage and hospitality.”

“Well... It’s based on the trust in human beings, and a helpful heart to whoever in need.  That’s all!  I believed firmly on this, so did my family.“

Adelia had not spoken much, but she had made an impact on me with words like these.

People gradually lost faith on one another.  Doubts and suspicion, then, contributed to arguments, conflicts, or even wars.  None of these could be changed in a short time.  However, if we could start trusting each other beginning with ourselves, there was certainly a possibility to fix the situation.

Adelia’s family had turned me into a firm believer in trusting one another.  Much like a beautiful flower blossomed in desert, Adelia’s family gave off a scent of hopefulness in this dusty and brown-coloured city.

 

The next day, Adelia saw me off.  Before leaving, we gave each other a big hug as if this was the last time seeing each other.  In the hug, there lied our great appreciation to each other.

Adelia’s unexpected visit to my life has, without a doubt, redirected my seemingly disordered trip to a light that I could follow.

 

Note 1: Adelia is one of the most common names for girls in Turkmentabat.

* This article was originally published in Chinese on Crossing on this page.

** Photo credit: Yi

Storyteller's Bio:  

換日線 / Crossing

《換日線》集結了來自全球各地超過 110 個城市的 200 名新世代作者(持續增加中),他們就是你我身在異鄉的朋友,無私而自然地分享他們的故事、他們的見聞、他們的觀點,與他們從台灣出發,在地球不同角落留下的足跡

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一踏無途 / Yi

大學前從未離開以家為中心的圓,十九歲才真正開始探索世界。踏出這步後發現從沒有規劃好的路,只能越走越遠,越看越深。從混沌詭譎的中東至花香鳥語的歐洲,至今足跡橫跨歐亞非三十個國家。以攝影破除偏見,以文字代替喧嘩。堅持旅行的價值體現於分享,亦珍惜旅行引發的一連串自我革命。堅信一個人小小的改變,都能帶給世界一點點的不同。