Thursday, March 8, 2018

Women I Have Met Who Inspire Me

I am from a generation where it was normal for men to travel alone, but never women and being from the US the media was always telling you to be afraid of something. It is a fearful society and women should not even go out alone after dark to the local grocery. Always look in the back seat of your car because someone could be hiding there to kill you! Bla bla bla!

The first single woman traveler I met turned out to become my beloved daughter in law. At that time she was in her late 20's and had just returned from working with the Peace Corp living in a small village in Poland for two years! She had major reverse culture shock coming back to the US and I had no clue what she was going through or how to comfort her. Her stories never ceased to amaze me and her intelligence and courage left me in awe more times than not. I always learn something when I am around her. She is a beautiful, passionate, thoughtful, loving and a deeply sweet woman. She is a scientist, educator and one of the smartest people I know. I am comforted that she is fiercely protective of me and adores me as much as I do her.

I was fortunate to meet two other courageous women travelers she made life long friends with during her time in the Peace Corp. I only spent a few short hours with these two woman and again I was rendered speechless and wanted more than anything to hear just one more story.

Barbara: While Lisa is tall and quiet with a sharp (when you least expect it) wit that will have you gasping for air as you guffaw and choke on your coffee, Barbara is short and feisty with a “Have party...I'm there” lively attitude. She is sweet and full of energy. I wish I could hang out with her.

Martha: Well, I don't know where to begin. Martha was in her 70's when she was in the Peace Corp and between the stories Lisa and Barbara recounted and the ones Martha told at brunch, I wish I had an auto-biography of her life. She climbed fences in the dark to get back into the closed area they were living because she stayed out too late. When she lived in America she frequently crashed University lectures. I remember when she was recounting a particular incident of her time in Poland and someone interrupted her. She turned her regal face and quite firmly said, “Excuse me, you are stepping on my story!” To this day we all use that line! How do you meet someone for a couple of hours and instantly fall in love?

Winnie the Pooh:
On one of our cruises while we were in the theater waiting for the show, the woman sitting next to me turned to me and pointed to the person on her other side and said, “There are so many old people on the ship and so many in wheelchairs!“ She happily introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Winnie the Pooh!” I thought…..ok, this should be fun. I gladly let her do all the talking and found out that she is 80 years old and at the age of 14 she took her first “boat ride” she called it, by herself from Indonesia to Holland where she stayed for two years. She said with humor in her voice that there were many orphans on board and the crew thought she was one of them and nearly shipped her off to an orphanage. She also hitchhiked across Europe twice when she was in her twenties! She has been traveling alone since her husband died and still loves to meet people. She volunteers with autistic children which is where she got her nickname Winnie the Pooh. When the band finished their intro song she actually, and quite loudly I might add……….”Woo Hoo’ed” I couldn’t stop giggling and enjoyed meeting her very much.

We met through an online forum about retiring to Thailand. She had recently moved to Chiang Mai from Germany and when we visited for our scouting trip she kindly showed us around. We stayed in touch for the next year and eventually moved into the same condo building in Chiang Mai. She took me to the grocery store and showed me how to take public transportation. We chatted over a German favorite of hers.....Sprite and Beer. It was surprisingly good....who would have thought! After 6 months or so we started to go our separate ways but I will always be grateful for her kindness to a scared new expat. Oh, by the way, she was 65 years old when she up and left Germany to live in a new country by herself!

Is a writer, wanderer, teacher and possible stand up comedian. She has lived in Ecuador, the US Mainland, Hawaii, Thailand and Cambodia. She is now with her boyfriend, but she did not always have company. Lani's writing makes me laugh and think deep thoughts about myself, my circumstances, my choices and life in general. We met through social media and have stayed in touch with that little “Like” button and comments to each others blog posts. We met twice for lunch and it was not nearly enough because she is someone that is a hoot to hang out with. Thanks Lani, I am sending you good vibes for whatever journey you are on at the moment.

We said hello as I was taking out the trash. She was wondering if the “new people “ that moved in down the hall from her were the ones blasting their music ALL night long loud enough for the hotel next door to hear it! We immediately bonded over “Mr. Loud Neighbor” in between our condo units who is also an expat and thankfully only in the building 3 months at a time due to his work. There were times when Chissy and I would LINE chat at 3am when we couldn't get to sleep because of his music and it really helped us to keep our sanity. When the power would go out in the building or the time there was a drunk woman screaming in the hall at 2am we would send each other texts to see if we were alright.

We went to see hot air balloons and sat on the grass eating french fries and watching children laughing and playing. She took us to some of her favorite restaurants for Vietnamese Pho and amazing wood fired pizza with deep fried zucchini sticks! We celebrated Christmas together and had a small get together for New Years when we met her mom Cheryl and sister Celine. They are all strong, beautiful and an inspiration to me. Chissy has a fearless sense for adventure and the courage to live alone in a country different from her home in the Philippines.

One of the most amazing experiences I had with Chissy was when we visited a Karen Village where the Hill Tribe People have several elephants. Our adventure began by picking up 4 other women in their 20's and we spent the day with elephants by hugging, getting in the mud and spreading it on the elephants, washing, scrubbing them and then taking a bath in the river that flowed through the village to get the mud off of us. We met several of the village women and their small children and took a ton of pictures. The women with us that were making their dreams come true were from Mexico, England, South Africa and the US. They were trekking all over the planet from place to place, staying in hostels with their backpacks only long enough to taste the food and make life changing memories. Little did they know how they inspired a woman 40 years older than them.

Lady from Sweden:
Our current residence was in a condo practically on the beach near the sea town of Hua Hin in Thailand. Most of the units are weekend get-a-ways for the owners that live in Bangkok and some are rented out as holiday stays. So was the case when we met a woman from Sweden on the common roof top area. She was in her 60's and traveling alone for holiday. She related a story from the night before when she went to town and the remains of a tropical storm hit and flooded the main streets. By this time it was dark and she couldn't find anyone to bring her back to the condo. All efforts to flag down a taxi were no use and no one would stop for her. She found a policeman and told him that no one would help her get back to the condo. So, the policeman had her hop on the back of his motorcycle and he drove her back to the condo himself which takes about 20 minutes. She was laughing about the adventure and said she was overwhelmed by his kindness but terrified being on a motorcycle for the first time in her life and riding in the flooded streets!

Maria: We walk the beach early each morning before it gets too hot. For weeks we have passed a cute 60 something woman on her way back to their condo. She walks like a house a fire but always has the biggest smile and waves to us as she approaches. She is from Slovakia and the only form of communication we have is to wave, smile and say “Hallo”. I adore his woman even though it is a very brief connection she exudes aliveness, happiness, love and joy just with her smile and the giggle in her eyes.

Nada: Is from Croatia and has been traveling the world with her husband and 3 children for 20 years! Managing the logistics of traveling and setting up a home in various countries for months to years at a time while bringing up two boys 14 and 5 years old and one girl 11 years old just boggles the mind. They are well behaved, polite and grown up beyond their years. Nada has boundless energy and really should be a world travel agent. The excitement she has for travel and experiencing new places and people is amazing. I'm sure she could sell an ice house to a snowman!

Sylwie: Is from Sweden and comes to their condo in our building several times a year with their daughter Annie who was 9 when we met. The family is kind and so friendly and lovely and Annie is always approachable and happy to see us even though she only speaks Swedish. It is encouraging meeting children that are traveling the globe as those experiences do have a profound effect on how they look at the world and how accepting they are of different cultures. I look forward to seeing them again.

Sacha: It was an online date for pizza when Sacha and her husband Jmayel took a chance meeting us in Thailand. We had no idea we would be adopted by this woman, her husband and baby daughter. Social media has given us opportunities we never would have had and it has given them the courage to move from England with their dog Eden to Thailand and beyond. Just as we were thinking of moving to Portugal, we met for lunch and they told us they were also moving to Portugal and only 30 minutes away from us no less! She was newly pregnant as they moved to yet another country to make a life they have dreamed of far from the 9 to 5 cubicle day. We have supported each other, vented about life, grouched about expat challenges and laughed so much our face hurt. They are so easy to spend time with. I see a little bit of my young self in her and can't help compare the differences. Sacha is so wise, full of knowledge and composure I only wish I had even now. I appreciate her candor and the love that she gives me. I am always surprised how much trust she has and my heart is forever changed having her, J and their amazing daughter Story in my life.

E.V: We moved from Thailand to Portugal a year and a half ago. Our first and only visit to Coimbra was a solid coming home feeling and we decided to make it our forever home. A year after we moved, we connected with a woman from the US that decided to move here also. I have met many Americans visiting the city on holiday and they are usually “typical” loud, entitled, and snooty which makes me want to run the other way. So, when we met E.V. for the first time, I was on my guard and had a plan for escape should the conversation become uncomfortable.

Our good friend Jmayel said, “ Say yes, embrace the little moments and take a chance, because you never know how it will turn out”

Meeting E.V. was one of those times. She is a calming influence, extremely educated, a writer with numerous publications and three books so far. She raised three successful sons, has owned many horses, dogs, cats and who knows what other kinds of furry creatures have been lucky enough to share her home. We chat and text daily and meet for tea a couple times a week. We can have deep conversations, vent about global woman's issues, laugh at a darkly twisted story or just sit in silence. Friends like this don't come along often.

Carolyn: Speaking of rare special women I can't forget this one. We have a long history with many stories of laughter, tears, parties, sitting on the kitchen counter while she created delicious food, hangovers, loud music, deep conversations and more caring and love than anyone has a right to. We have not hugged in person for a very long time, but we still keep in touch and there will always be a very deep connection no matter where we are. She is and always has been a rock, a sanctuary and a woman overflowing with a passion for fairness, equality and justice. Thank you for everything you have done to make me a better person.