May 28, 2014: A friendly smile is all it takes to begin a conversation.
I board the plane home and plant myself down in the neighboring seat, glancing at his passport to discover that his first name or surname is Emmanuel, a man willing to share his life with just the slightest encouragement. This morning, he took a ferry from his hometown, a nearby island called Montserrat that was destroyed by a volcano in 1995. During his taxi ride to the airport, he saw the contrast between old, decrepit buildings beaten down by the sun and fancy, glassy fašades that mark the influence the tourist based industry holds over Antigua. Even I noticed on the car ride from the airport to Mill Reef. It begins in luxury and innovation and ends just so; the middle is reality.
There is something quieting about himůvery internal.
As we stare out the airplane window, watching the island disappear from our view, his elaborately carved gold bangles clack against the surface, while his hands tap the grainy table. They are smooth with wide set nails that gleam white in contrast to his dark skin. It's as if the sun has soaked into him rather than wither his skin with age.
Heĺs an artist and his work is beautiful, perhaps expected and conventional, but beautiful. Vibrant colors, indistinct lines, and island influence flow through his paintings and I secretly hope we will have this deep connection and he'll give me one at the end of the flight as a memory of our encounter... but that doesn't quite bear fruit. The conversation ends when I look ahead, as I have nothing more to ask. We continue our individual actions, as if unmarked by our recent conversation. Despite the transience of this encounter, I realized how valuable it was for me to learn about another man's life and culture.
Travel and the memories you craft are greatly shaped by the people you meet. They are a reflection of the destinations you settle into and the cultures you encounter. My recent trip to Antigua was not a country-exploring, culture-absorbing adventure but much more a state of languor. Despite this, I still met someone whose life I would not change but could change mine by giving me a glance into their reality that I call paradise. As you embark on your summer adventures, reach out to the odd looking tuk tuk driver who brings you to the sketchiest parts of Bangkok or that nasty looking village woman cooking something that smells vile in a Peruvian village. I promise you'll gain something from the experience.