How to Avoid Pickpockets and Other Stories

A small brown face rounded the length of booths that separated the sellers from the buyers. Her eyes were deep and her face devoid of expression. Nothing moved beyond the reaches of her mouth as questions and short answers were pushed at me, neither begging nor demanding, but landing solidly between the two.

I had purchased a plate of papaya from the woman she was with. Five Fijian dollars for five of the sweet ripe fruit. I had noticed the girl watching where I pulled the equivalent of $2.50 in American currency from my bag. Her gaze had grabbed for the few fives I had kept in that pocket.

At her second appearance, I swung my small backpack to the front of me. She’s going to try to pickpocket me. Maybe she won’t, but my traveling mama Heather taught me too well to think otherwise.

I purchased a mango from an Indian man, languishing in conversation behind piles of sticky fruit. He passed the plastic bag and a dollar coin into my hand.

I turned and gave it to the girl. Maybe she wasn’t going to steal. Maybe I could give something small. I wasn’t afraid of her. It was worth a shot.

I asked if she knew of good pineapple. Without an apparent thought, she pointed to the stall directly beside her. It’s likely she didn’t care. Maybe helping the stupid foreigner would get her a few more dollars.

(The pineapple did end up being good.)

“Do you need anything else?”

Nope. Thank you for your help. See ya!

I made my way to the bus stop. After two hours in a foreign city, encountering friendly temporary guides who got me where I needed to go, a creepy old woman leering into my face about hotel activity expenses, flirtatious men, beautiful and bored Indian women, a small boy playing peekaboo with me among the dress racks, and a swindling restaurant manager, I was ready to just go back to the hostel. Perhaps it wasn’t very brave of me. Perhaps I could have kept on and continued collecting stories.

But God I was tired of the internal alert I had set to make sure I was okay.

The heat I loved was licking energy from my body. An apt description would be to say the South Island had frozen me and now Fiji was using me for popsicle. I was dripping enough. No matter how much I was happy to sweat instead of shiver, I could not deny the drain it has initially.

I tried to stride with purpose past groups of men who I knew meant me no harm but instinct devoloped in California streets kept me moving forward intently. I could not count the number of “Bulas” called over my shoulder with a smile that did not mean I would chat.

“Wailoaloa Beach/New Town” read the piece of wood dangling over about 18 inches of sidewalk. I didn’t heave a sigh of relief, but I did look over my shoulder to see if the girl had followed me. If she did, my bag was staying firmly in my arms.

I didn’t see her and my flip-flops slapped against uneven concrete to the bus stop.

A stony face appeared again at my side.

Okay. Well. “What’s your name?”

“Patricia.”

“Pretty name.”

Nod.

And then she asked if I had any more money.

I fished $3.50 out of my otherwise empty pocket.

She asked if I had more. If I had my card with me. What my name was. My parents’ names. More cash. Am I staying with a Fijian or Indian family. Stand closer to her. Am I coming into Nadi tomorrow. She needs a helper for something. Am I sure I don’t have anymore money.

I don’t condone dishonesty. But my parents’ names are not Em and Allen. I am not leaving Fiji 3 days ago. My money is never left at a hostel without me.

I don’t care what I looked like with my bag sagging into an artificial beer belly and my hand on my ass holding my phone, I climbed onto that purple bus with all of my belongings and a small thank you to the woman who took me across the world throughout high school.

Patricia, if that was her name, has a story I don’t know. I don’t blame her for anything. After all, she technically didn’t do a single thing wrong. I gave what I felt I could without jeopardising much more than a few dollars.

No matter where I go, each new shift wrecks me from the inside out. I churn with the uncertainty of a different country, my safety, and the creation of another home. Do other backpackers and travelers feel like this?

Maybe it’s just me wrestling with a significance I assign to another country. Or it’s everyone. I’m not sure.

For now I’m on an island, removed from all but the occasional ego of an Israeli and the enthusiastic greetings of comforting staff.

I’m liking one of my new nicknames though. “Locke and Load.”

Bula, Bro.

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You F***ing Idiot

The amount of times I have almost been run over in Wanaka is too many to count.

To be fair. Most of them were my fault.

Some of it comes from a “I can totally make it if this person doesn’t think I’m an idiot” type attitude. Others are from a “sprint! If I was in Asia, it would be fine!” kind of outlook.

And most of them usually happen while I’m longboarding.

“Do you wear a helmet?”…no…

I remember watching skaters go by and thinking “show offs” or “I wish I could do that.” Since I taught myself to not easily be killed by a plank of wood on wheels, I have found I am in the loop.

Skaters are totally showing off.

Because they can. No breaks. Speed. The ability to swerve through people and traffic. Stunts. Hell, just the knowledge of how to stand on one comfortably endows the rider a confidence that they definitely know the world can see.

And it is not that hard to learn.

Believe it or not, I am far less afraid on a longboard than I am a bike. I am far less afraid careening down a hill than behind the wheel of a car. I am far less afraid of the prospect of falling off than I am of tweaking my back injury some other way.

I’m not sure why. I have less control. I have a high chance of injury. I often find myself distracted by the stars overhead or the mountains beside. It is the characteristic stupidity of the young.

I guess maybe I’m just showing off.

…then damn, I look cool.

Practice Dying

“What is the hardest part of being on the trail with people?”

“They get boring.”

I have been reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It basically talks about death, life, and meditation. I’ve been thinking a lot about these topics and the futility of ignoring and avoiding death. At literally any moment we could die. I had a person tell a suicidal friend that they didn’t want to continue a close friendship because they didn’t want to become close to someone who could die at any moment.
I swear if I was in America that person would not be having a good day right now.
But that’s not the point of this. The point is death is inevitable, anyone could die at any moment, and everything Western culture perpetuates is a facade trying to help us forget that fact.

As I was talking to a new friend who is in the process of hiking the length of New Zealand, I realized that so many people choose to find themselves in the clutches of futile worry and allow themselves to become uninterested in the world around them.

I don’t quite understand.

Perhaps it is because we feel that if we allow ourselves to find everything fascinating, we reduce our problems to the rather minuscule thing they are. (I understand that there are many people who are dealing with actual very difficult problems. Trying to survive war, starvation, natural disasters, and many other things are not small problems. My readership though is primarily made up of individuals privileged enough to avoid such things.)

Nor am I trying to say that life is easy. It isn’t. It hasn’t been. It never will be. Period. Life is change and change is our chance to practice dying. Therefore, life isn’t easy.

But,

Our world is overwhelmingly full of beautiful things and interesting things to learn. I have had two people ask me if I feel fully alive now that I am in New Zealand. I responded that yes I do feel fully alive, but I did before I came. Before coming to New Zealand I was trying to learn guitar (work in progress-will update next time I actually pick one up to practice). I pointed out every butterfly I saw and complimented people with cool hair. I planned a day trip up to Sequoia National Park on the $15 shuttle with my best friend. I let myself love where I was and made it beautiful, even when I was ready to be in New Zealand.

Now I’m in New Zealand, I’ve taught myself to longboard. I weaseled my way into volunteer firefighter training. I still point out every butterfly I see and I compliment people on their hair.

“Though we travel the world over in search of the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Travel does not automatically make you interesting. As someone around a LOT of travelers, I can verify this. It is what you pull from your travels. How are you at conversation? Can you listen? Do you need a drink in your hand in order to be comfortable or can you be drawn into the life experience of people ten years older, or younger, than you? What do you love? You think birds are cool? Awesome! What’s your favorite? Please please please get excited about it!

Have you ever watched someone in love with something talk? Not someone, but something. They smile and gesture and laugh as they speak of clouds, Jazz, herbs, fitness, food, baking, life.

Read. Watch butterflies or documentaries. Be bad at something. Color your hair. Look up a YouTube tutorial on hip hop dance and shut the bathroom door as you move. Go for a walk and wander into a random store. Find a moment and watch the sunset.

Be alone.

If you can be alone, without music, without a person, without a device, you will watch the world and even as we find ourselves barreling towards a death we do not understand, we will be living.

From Far Away

As of tomorrow, I will have been in New Zealand one whole month. Last week sometime I thought through that fact and freaked out a bit. “Time goes so fast! It will be a year before I know it! Ahh!”

I’m learning how to not be afraid and also give myself permission to be honest when I feel fear. It’s a balance. I spent a good chunk of the past several weeks pulsing with nervous or anxious energy in some form, telling myself that I knew without a doubt that it would work out and be exactly what I needed.

To my delight, I have walked through today without an ounce of fear. I found the correct platform, was thankful for the wonderful bus driver who ensured my luggage and self have been on my destination bound buses, and I am watching the world go by. Or maybe I am letting myself go with the world.

I could not feel more eager for this job and place. I know I will have more hard days. It’s inevitable. I also know that I will only continue to grow in ways I cannot see and collect memories from moments I do not anticipate.

On a side note: sheep are really cute from far away and so are the baby cows. (I do know they are called calves.)

And did you know that New Zealand has one of the most interesting collections of flora in the world? The Ice Ages did not eradicate as much of the temperate vegetation as it did in the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, it is not as homogeneous a native forest as it is across the temperate zones up north. There are much fewer conifers and deciduous trees down here.

I am rather fond of trees.

Shake Gently Before Opening

(This was written in my Notes as I was getting jostled around. I am okay and next time I use this airport I am confident I will not be so afraid.)

 

As I sit on my second flight to Wellington, I am doing my best to unknot the cord of fear spanning the length of my torso. When I was little, nothing about planes scared me. I liked the turbulence. Then sometime in the past six months, that shifted.

On my way to Dominica, there was a flight with the worst turbulence I could remember, (which in the grand scheme of things wasn’t too bad). Without any understandable reason, I was shaking uncontrollably as I curled up in my mom’s lap trying to tell myself this was no different from any other flight that I had taken. Flights crossing the continental United States are frequently windy.

From that flight on, I could not help but feel the adrenaline that shot through me the second we hit bumps.

My mom is the kind of person that inherently sees the best in everything and everyone. Her philosophy on a bumpy plane is something along the lines of “Well. I’m on the plane and can’t do anything about it so I’ll just be in a good mood and sleep.” Not me. My way of seeing the world is finding why. I like finding the best, but I want to know why there is the worst.

Before our last flight home from Dominica, I found a co pilot and a few flight attendants waiting for their flight to arrive. I walked over and first told them thank you for all of their work. Then I asked the pilot what turbulence is. “Think of air kind of like water. The turbulence is where the cold air and the warm air meet and consequently it’s a little rough. Also wind.”

There was more, but that’s the gist. It helped me immensely. While on my flight from LAX to Fiji, I was able to think through it all again and come to complete peace.

Even yesterday when we got turned around because it was too windy, I was alright as I sat next to two women who were strong and unafraid. This was normal.

But after having done it once, I am sitting in bad turbulence again near one of the windiest airports in the world, trying my best not to panic. Let me describe this Wellington turbulence to you. *ahem* your stomach and brain switched places, switched again, and are being gently shaken as though you are a bottle with a little label advising that you do just that. I am currently watching the tops of heads in front of me bob in synchronization from side to side. Oh hey I can see the ocean.

I wish I could easily switch to my “Oh it all works out” place. Because I know it will. Worst comes to worst, we pull up quickly again, and go back to Auckland…or you know we plummet out of the sky and all that jazz.

That is the tiny voice that causes my fear. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m not in control. Or both.

All that being said, I feel a little better having written this. I’m going to be at my final destination shortly and I have my bag now so that’s even better.

Now we are landed. And I have a new story and an increased heart rate. I think I can wait a wee bit for my next flight though.