Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What do you get out of traveling?  Memories came rushing in like those scenes from some movies.  Here how it came to me:
People applauding in unison with the graceful swirling of that guy inside the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple right before opening the curtain revealing the image of Lord Krishna, it was a very festive mood inside the temple.  Stepping in at the neighboring Shahi EIdgah Mosque couple of minutes after marching out of the Hindu temple, it was a different mood, solemn, no festival ceremonies whatsoever, just people doing the sujud and ruku while praying to "Allah Almighty".  Both places of worship are inside the same compound co-existing albeit on a tight security.  [Scene faded].
Then, I remember the Indian family who I was sitting with on the dining table when our bus on the way to Agra made a stop on this popular restaurant serving one of the fiercest (hot level 5!) chicken masala I’ve ever tasted.  Watching them squash and mold the curried rice with their full hands and thrusting it into their mouth while chatting with me.  Easily one of the most memorable conversations I’ve had in years.   Then, I remember in 2012, one of those Kardashians showbiz celebrity once apologized to Indians after calling their national dish disgusting.
Then came to mind the cute little toddler crossing my way while I was marching the quaint street of old Damascus – possibly 2 years old - who extended his right hand to shake mine while flashing those endearing smiles,  it’s something that really warm the coldest heart.  You can never refuse an extended hand no matter how sticky it was. [scene faded].
Then came the loud chanting of a group of merrymaking  youths at the bus station in Buyuk Otogar in Istanbul while jointly tossing a guy in the air from the ground until they reach the inside of the big provincial bus.  Their lively mood enlightened the whole bus and I was startled and confused.  Everyone was laughing gaily, it was rowdy and I didn’t have any idea at all what was happening then.  The bus moved and the group of teens were all runni afterng the moving bus waving to the guy they were tossing in mid air just few moments ago now sitting beside me.  I’ve noticed, amongst the crowd were 2 elderly with a face glinting in a somewhat mixture of morose and bliss.  I’ve found out later that the guy beside me now will be commencing his 12-month compulsory military service and he will be away from home for quite a while.  That was a heart-warming scene.  

Assalamu Alaykum” says my friend’s cousin and the next thing I felt was his beard brushing both my left and right cheeks, along with a very hard grip (the hardest handshake I’ve had) of his right hand on mine, then a nose-to-nose to his cousin.  That was different but nice.  A hot cup of strong tea from this old man wearing a brown gellabiya holding a copper serving plate came right after we’re comfortably seated on a side street cafĂ© at the Sharia as-Souq in Aswan.  My newfound friend took me to a felucca tour along the Nile River after a while, it was fun and it was a bit unlike from most boat tours I’ve had in Palawan in that, here, it was more relax, sailing while we took turn on smoking sheesha which made me cough a lot while sipping sweet hot tea.
There came a donkey-drawn cart coming near me while I was descending the bus at the small rustic terminal in Siwa Oasis.  Where has the rest of the transportation mode gone, I murmured to myself.  The boy riding the donkey asked me (I’ve learned a bit of the Arabic Language from Jane Wightwick’s “Arabic On The Move” CDs) if I need a ride to the town center.  I leaped onto the wooden wagon at the back of the donkey, a primitive means of transportation that transported me back in time and in town, literally, in a town that resembles the wild wild west – dusty, a couple of old buildings that turned out to be where I will be staying, some shops, cowboy-ish restaurants.  It looked like old West Hollywood set, except that local men are wearing the gellabiya and women in their traditional milayah wraps.  I brought out my camera and about to shoot when a woman who appeared out of nowhere hollered at me, I was appalled, and I immediately flew.  This is Siwa Oasis, taking pictures of women or even girls is totally not allowed.  It’s very traditional and conservative out here, very much unlike metropolitan Cairo or Alexandria, where you could accidentally shoot your camera on women, though in general, one must not do that.  Mine was unintentional though, I didn’t see her there. 
Then, I’ve heard a bellowing scream, I turned my head and from a distance of about 30 meters from a small hill where I was standing aiming my camera on the horizon - where the majestic snow-capped Mt. Ararat proudly stands - was a man atop a 15-foot watch post standing just inside a cyclone fence with his assault rifle tucked under his side summoning me to come near, I hesitated for a moment, lots of things juggling inside my brain and then a blast went off. Silence.
I was stunned frozen and confused, all at the same time, it was a quiet chilly early morning in Dogubeyazit, people were still in slumber.  That moment, my parents who passed away, my childhood friends, my cousin who was killed in a dark street in Manila, came to mind.  I looked at my feet, legs, up to my chest, then I turned my view at the military personnel on the watch post, all these happening in 3-second bit.  The ear-splitting sound wasn’t from him.  I’m alive.  The blast came from the town center I’d guess.
I approached the soldier and he started speaking in his language that the only thing I apprehended was his motioning to me the brown metal sign of a man holding a rifle across his chest posted on the tall wire-mesh fence with texts that says “Askeri Guvenlik Bolgesi Girilmez” translated in English just below it “Military Security Zone Entrance Forbidden”. 
Five years later, I was seated inside the jeepney on my way from Sagada to Banaue engrossed on my book when a group of young teens (about 6 of them who I’d deduce to be from metropolitan Manila from their looks) seated opposite me, blabbering and laughing about the “Halo-Halo” (hodge-podge, a popular Filipino dessert made of shaved ice, milk, sugar, sweet fruits and beans).  One of them turned to me and asked if I’ve tasted the halo-halo in Sagada while the rest were giggling with delight.  I smiled and said “NO”.  And they continued on cackling and started telling me how “weird” (that’s exactly the word used) it was with some unfamiliar ingredients like coco-crunch, macaroni pasta and skyflakes crackers.  Then they burst out with those laughs that sounded (to me) something with a twinge of slur. I just smiled, and right there and then came flashing like some old black and white reel film flickering sporadically on the canvass of my mind - all those memories. 

Respect, Tolerance and Open-mind”.  That’s what I’ve learned and had embedded into my being after 2 decades of traveling in foreign lands.
My views on the diversity of people and nations changed significantly.  I’ve learned to be respectful and tolerant of others without prejudice.  I’ve learned to understand each individual or nations and their sets of norms that led me to better understanding of the world as it revolves around me.
People are different with different sets of customs, traditions, different practices that govern each and every society’s daily lives.  That’s the beauty of diversity. 
I’m on my 25th day of drifting around my own turf - the Philippines, and upon coming back to Sagada in a couple of days from today, I’ll be treating myself to a glass of Halo-Halo with macaroni pasta and coco-crunch – minus the prejudice.

JimmyJimmie @Traveling By Default

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Now, continuing with the next destination - SAGADA


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