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.

Blurred Out.

If something is worth saying, it should be worth hearing. That’s the filter I ought to use.

I am not good at marketing myself or even presenting myself on social media. I constantly have to remind my ego that what I say and do isn’t for anyone else’s benefit. And I still forget that sometimes.

It doesn’t help that I have a high opinion of who I am coupled with a desire to never make people feel inferior or incapable. But I definitely know that I can be an asshole. After all, people can just be so stupid.

But that is a product of the society they have been born into, stories I can never know, and a variety of psychological factors produced by genetics, nurture, and scientists don’t even know what else.

The belief that I am completely unique resides alongside the knowledge that I am no different from anyone else. It is hard to define the gap between faith and reality. And often I can find my mind blurring the two.

“Brag girl! Brag all you want. You are amazing! You are living.

“Yeah and if they are annoyed with you, tell ’em they can go suck a fat one.”

I am also trying to find the border between bravado and confidence.

But borders are myths. Creations designed to keep us functioning on scales larger than we usually take time to fathom. (This is true if we subscribe to the Yuval Noah Harari method of thinking. He is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. An intensely beneficial subscription when held in careful balance with the games we play to survive the present.)

It all comes back to I’m just winging it. And so are you. You have no idea what you’re really doing.

It’s okay though. You’re not alone.

You can’t be. There are 7 billion people.

Rock Up

“Abiel!!! Welcome home!”

A few months back I fretted about how I was going to make my way up the North Island. I was fraught with self-made pressure to see things I hadn’t seen. Try not to spend money better saved for next destinations, but still get yourself to those places you ought to check off your list.

I’m so damn thankful I stopped letting my mind spout that BS.

I bought a plane ticket from Queenstown to Wellington. I listed the 3 places I wanted to go because they held people I wanted to say goodbye to. I have hitchhiked and bused my way north, reflecting on how much has changed since I last did this.

I did it. I f*cking did it. I am 10 days short of a solid year away from home and 3.5 months shy of seeing that home again.

And yet, as I rocked up to Howard’s Mountain Lodge, my first workplace, and poked my head into reception, I grinned widely. Man. I made this my home.

“Abiel! You’re back! We have a bed for you upstairs or wherever you like. You know how it works. It’s so good to see you. You’re home now.”

Yeah. I am. I woke up to reggae pounding through the room. I baked cookies and wandered streets I loved so well. I watched snow drenched mountains show off their majesty. I knocked on doors hoping for hellos.

Hugs enveloped me. “You’ve changed Little Blue. You don’t talk down to your hands anymore. You are so confident.”

I guess I just know it will work out now. I actually know it.

I baked one more batch of cookies, watched Romeo + Juliet, curled around reflections of who I was before. “I reckon I’ll hitch up to Taupo for a night.” My manager called the sister hostel. “They’ll give you a bed free of charge.”

If you find a new way to say “thank you so so much” please let me know. I think I’ve exhausted my quota.

I’m the experienced one now. I remember watching the people who had been here for almost a year or more. The understanding they had that you can manage anything. I get to reassure other young women that they can hitchhike. I can give them advice on where to go. I can sit in a corner of the common area and feel completely comfortable with all I have done and seen. I can go to hot pools alone and watch the girls who are there be surprised that I’m doing this without anyone. I’ve done it. With all the work and self doubt that came first.

“Aw mean! When did you get in?”

“The guys who picked me up outside Taupo just dropped me off here. They said they didn’t trust Rotorua to leave me anywhere else.”

“Come in! You know where your room is. You picked the perfect time to rock up.”

And she hugged me, fed me, talked to me, welcomed me.

I will make my home as hospitable as you have made yours. I will model my generosity off of yours. I will always remember the home you gave me. I will always be thankful that instead of pushing my way through new places, I cultivated the relationships who shaped me as I worried my way through the beginning of 18.

“Love ya, girl!”

Borax Mines

Four deep, rich eyes filled with curiosity watched me as I answered their questions one by one.

“Is there Borax in America?”

“What kind of cars are in California?”

“Can you send me pictures of the big cities?”

“What sort of music do you listen to?”

“How do you solve a Rubiks cube?”

“Why do you have to leave?”

I’m rarely at a loss for words. And I definitely wasn’t here, but at the same time, it gave me pause.

Why do I have to leave? If I really wanted to, I could have stayed.

And then I remembered, I don’t want to stay.

I’m not good at hiding. Or being quiet. Or subtlety. I hate feeling stuck. I am constantly aiming to expand the places I feel at home so I have more places to return to. I’m addicted to thinking and consequently I always see the possibilities beyond my current place.

With each home my roots grow, and the rest of me shudders with the anticipation of my next move.

Yes there is Borax in America. I’m pretty sure the mines are near where I live.

I think there are more kinds of cars in California than here.

Of course I can send pictures.

Not the kind of music you know well.

You memorize steps and practice.

Because I was not created to simply stay.

.

.

.

And because I’m getting emails from the New Zealand Department of Immigration saying I have to leave…

Putting the I in Write

Why do I write?

I’m in the process of considering this question and I came upon a piece of the answer today.

It’s a less obtrusive photography.

I can pull out my notebook and highlight what I want to remember about you. The pieces that stand out. The funny thing you said. But my camera may just make you uncomfortable.

I stood in The Spice Room kitchen trying to photograph what I could with the gentle shutter clicks. Still it felt…off. Maybe their stories didn’t need photographic evidence or maybe I just told myself that so I didn’t have to admit how little I know about my craft.

But with a pencil, it is not immediately known that I have seen. Omit a name and it was never about you. Rearrange a few words and suddenly the world gets what I wanted them to notice.

With words I can show you that pureed spinach actually looks closer to an emerald or the jungle than it does vomit. I can note the scars of chefs who have burnt and cut and created until their bodies subtly reflected the lives they lead. I can tell you that some of my favorite smiles come from these men who sing to themselves and say “the curries will miss you.”

I write because it’s how I think.

I write because we are saturated with images.

I write because this way, you see what I see.

And sometimes my occasionally egocentric self just prefers it that way.

(also I’m constantly in awe and it’s nice to share that)

Sauntering in Love

I have a weird aversion to the phrase “in love” when it comes to a person. I am always in love with so many things. I fall in love with places and moments like there is no tomorrow, because I am aware that there may not be one. I fall head over heels with stories and poems and memories.

And I wholeheartedly love people. I can adore who they are and all that they offer the world without a thought of what that could look like to anyone watching.

However I cannot use the phrase when I am romantically interested in an individual.

Maybe I am the sort of person that could use that phrase genuinely. I instantly know when I want to understand an individual more deeply. I habitually understand that if I wanted to, I could easily see that person as many times as I wish, even if they live across the globe. I’m hopelessly romantic and my words to those I love reflect this. I genuinely live my life as if it is a story going to be told through writing, film, and photography. When you look at the world that way, interesting camera angles and beautiful words just kind of pop up everywhere.

So I suppose I could use the phrase “in love.” Perhaps I have fallen in love many times and I am in the middle of another casual stumble that sent me careening over a cliff edge. Writing this out, I think I’ve figured out my reasoning a bit clearer.

I don’t want my choices undermined.

If I say I have fallen in love with a person, it sounds as though I tripped into something unexpectedly. It sounds as though my world was suddenly turned upside down by the arrival of this perceived to be wonderful person and oh goodness I can’t live without them and how did I live without them before? That is just not the case. With every question I ask, I understand an object of my current affection more deeply. I can smile at the thought of them, tell stories of conversations, and sing along to love songs with a face in mind. But it is not because I fell there. Maybe I jumped or ran or sauntered or swam or got a little lost and kept walking in a general direction, but that still requires purpose.

I am not falling. I am not helpless. And I certainly don’t need whoever I happen to sing for.

But I’ve chosen them for a while.

And I would rather say that to a person’s face than any sonnet of the unexpected rush of hormones that comes with a desire to be held.