A week ago exactly, I was blissfully squeezed between my backpack and a bus window, watching the sky get darker and darker while ranchera music filled the air. The bus made a few stops during the long trip, first through the city, and soon through the country. I kept my eyes and ears wide open so as to not miss my stop to a village I had yet to meet.
A woman with a pretty smile was sitting next to the driver, her hand sweetly resting on his thigh. I think she was just along for the ride with him and I instantly felt grateful to share the space with her. When we made one of the stops, she got out and came back with two scoops of plum colored ice cream.
We kept going. The sky turned black and as big rain clouds showed up, I tried to learn how to put the rain fly on my backpack. Note to self: practice this sort of thing before you need it.
There is something about buses - especially for me, Mexican buses - that just wake up my soul. A bunch of strangers traveling together in a slightly messy way, an odd sense of community, forward movement. Knowing that at any given time we could all be sitting on the side of the road, and that somehow, that would be ok.
After a long time, the bus stopped on the side of the main road and the driver called out the name of the village. Several of us got out and I could immediately feel the sand under my flip flops. I followed a handful of surfers/backpackers across the road and eventually into town. It was dark, nothing was familiar and I was once again reminded of my favorite line from the movie l’Auberge Espagnole “After you’ve lived here, walked these streets, you’ll know them inside out. You’ll know these people (…) It will belong to you because you’ve lived there. That was about to happen to me, but I didn’t know it yet.”
I LOVE this feeling. Looking at all the unfamiliar and knowing that soon, it will be familiar. Feeling the little bit of angst and knowing that it is temporary. Not knowing yet where the Gifts are hidden, but knowing that they are. Wondering: Did I just walk past one?
But I didn’t know how fast this was going to happen, this time.
Between a connection I had made with a woman online (she rescues dogs and I had some questions about dogs traveling by plane) and the fact that I happened to arrive on the first night of the yearly music festival, I felt immediately immersed.
The next day, I meet Nacho (I’m not sure if that’s how he spells it, but it’s fun to think that it could be), an older gentleman with more energy and twinkle in his eye than most 40 year olds I know. We clicked within seconds and I now make a habit of spending time sitting in front of his beautiful clothing store with him, while he tells me stories about his many wives, businesses and books - and about the people passing by. He knows everyone here and I think that if he ran for mayor, it would be a slam dunk. When I’m not sitting on his bench, other women (most of them young enough to be his grand daughters) sit there, breathing in his energy. Yesterday, two of us decided that Nacho should start charging 20 pesos an hour to sit on The Bench. If I happen to catch him at closing time, he’ll lock the door, hop out and say: “So, Laurita, what fun things are we going to do tonight?” I’m usually ready to go to bed hours before he is, and I have no doubt that someone else will join him on the next adventure as soon as he leaves me at my door.
More music the next night, new connections. Time in the waves, an attempt at surfing, small bus trips to the next town, I even manage to make crepes in the mornings. Who knew French crepes went so well with avocado? I love fusion cuisine.
As I get lost daily in the small village and often go around in circles before finding my home, the streets become more and more familiar. My Spanish is getting better by the minute, fueled by sweet encouragement.
It continues to amaze me how quickly this can happen to us.
Writing this while chickens run around and as I get texts from friends about toilet paper vanishing from shelves back home, about two neighbors of a family friend who died of “the virus,” too - my mind is confused and I try to make sense of it all. I feel as though the ground is shaky and I can’t find the direction. I can’t find the “why.” I don’t know if there is a “why.”
But through all the wobbliness of my mind and the decisions that I need to make very soon, there is this funny little bit of something wanting to come out and say a few words. Quietly.
The Funny Little Bit of Something is holding its hand out and showing me photos of people wearing masks in my home country, in Italy, in Asia, in Iraq - and more. It’s showing me how similar we all are when we are sick. When we feel crummy and congested and scared, it does not matter one bit what our currency is nor the name of our god or where our borders start or end. The heights of our walls have no bearing when we fear that the ones we love might breathe in something fatal.
It’s showing me how UNITED we are.
At a time when so much is designed to make us believe that we are divided.
Divided between “s** hole countries” and wealthy countries. Between those of us who pray on our knees and those of us who pray on a carpet. Between those of us who eat from the food bank and those of us who shop at the Co-op. Between those of us who love one way, and those of us who love another way.
One race facing one problem.
Tragically simple. Painfully re-adjusting.
A bunch of strangers traveling together in a slightly messy way, an odd sense of community, forward movement. Knowing that at any given time we could all be sitting on the side of the road.