Travel does at times confront us and make us squirm, which it should. Travel also can make us appreciate our good fortune and the sheer luck of being born in a clean, safe and socially mobile country.
I had a confronting travel moment one day during a trip in India. I launched out onto the dusty, noisy roadside outside my hotel in Hyderabad and waved down a tuk tuk. Now to travel in a tuk tuk in India is to take your life in your hands and discover, even momentarily, a new faith. The trick in riding in them is to cast your eye in the distance and pray. If you actually follow the road and the surrounding traffic, then you physically cringe and flinch hundreds of times a minute as you expect the crunch of metal and the squeal of brakes. Your blood pressure soars and heart failure seems imminently possible. Clinging onto the metal rail in front of you is highly recommended as is keeping your hands and feet inside the carriage.
I had taken several rides the day before and the usual procedure was to hail one down with a wave of the arm, say where I wanted to go and then haggle about the price.
One of them suddenly appeared and stopped in front of me and I began to state where I wanted to go when the driver put his head up and looked me squarely in the face. I hope my face didn’t react the way my brain did.
The man had clearly been badly burnt at some time, with patches of blackish skin in between patches of very raw pink skin. What had happened to him and how? I knew that many women had been victims of acid attacks or ‘accidentally’ burned in the kitchen by disgruntled husbands, but I didn’t know it had happened to men.
He gave me a price, which I thought was very low, and I jumped in. All my intuition told me that he really wasn’t expecting me to go with him. He drove slowly and safely, watching all the potholes and certainly not careering around like a lunatic hell bent on scaring the foreign tourist, like my previous rides.
When we arrived at my destination I gave him more than he had asked, and he seemed very surprised.
For the next few days he was often on my mind and I told this story to a friend who lives here. She said that the price he offered was low because he needed the business and many Indians would not have travelled with him, believing his physical state would bring them bad luck. He would have had to be extremely lucky to get many customers and probably eked out a very miserable existence.
How fortunate are we back home, with good health care, less superstition and a good standard of living?
Have you ever had a similar experience? Why not share it with us in the comments below?
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