January 5, 2014
A Waffle House waitress, a hitchhike in Mexico and blanket in Melbourne
At a Waffle House in Tennessee somewhere on the way from Nashville to Chattanooga works a woman who can’t be older than 20. She’s from Arizona, and when we met her this Christmas, she was wearing a huge grin and a Santa hat that covered half her head. She had a noticeable curiosity for my fellow diners, Patrick (from Australia) and Chaja (from Amsterdam). She asked them what they did for their Christmas tradition.
She told us she was learning Japanese and how she wanted to travel. Chaja told Jamie how she used to live in Japan. I told her how she could easily work and live in Australia, and she listened hungrily, with a look on her face that convinced all three of us that Waffle House (great as it is) was not her permanent destination. She wrote us a kind note on a napkin before we left, giving us her skype name and email addresses. Chaja wrote her a note in Japanese, and we gave her our contact info.”Merry Christmas” we called to her and the other waitresses as we walked out the door.
We left her a $15 tip (the least we could do), and we headed to Chattanooga with a renewed faith in humanity. We hope she keeps in touch.
There is a chance of danger in every decision we make…
I don’t remember any of the names of the family of three who picked us up in front of a collectiveo stop in Southern Mexico. A collectivo is like a bus, only it’s a van that the drivers fill with as many people as will fit. It’s not incredibly safe. Collectivos are a great way to travel around Central America cheaply.
Earlier in the day, we’d taken a collectivo in from the town of Palenque. We were going to see some famous waterfalls, and an Austrian student along for the trip told us how he’d recently been robbed by Mexican police. Now, as the sun set and we prayed for a collectivo, Patrick and I watched 3 or 4 police pace the area, with guns as big as their wiry Latino frames. I did not attempt Spanish, nor did they attempt English. I felt antsy, and I heard the Austrian kid’s accent in my head.
“They told me if I did not give them my money, I would go to jail…”
At the stop where we waited, the policemen were protecting the villages and keeping the peace. In the past few months and years, locals fought regularly over who owned this waterfall that all the tourists (like Patrick and me) were paying to go see. Violence regularly erupted over whose property this natural beauty belonged. I’d paid money to contribute to this conflict, and it was a stunning waterfall. I had to walk/climb almost a kilometer to see it all.
Patrick and I didn’t want to ride back to Palenque with our Austrian friend.We were heading to Ocosingo for the night, and then later San Cristobal de las Casas. That morning our collectivo driver had warned us not to stay in the village past dark. He’d said it was dangerous.
Shortly after dusk, a white sedan pulled up and a man jumped out and asked in a heavy accent if we spoke English and where we were going. He told us he and his family were heading to San Cristobal de las Casas. Ocosingo was on the way to his destination, and he opened his doors and offered a ride. We saw his wife and little boy sitting inside looking at us with big eyes. The man opened their trunk as if to say, “are you coming or not?” We looked at the police, looked at the night that was beginning, and we threw our backpacks in. There wasn’t much time to think.
The ride was long, dark and winding. I spoke Spanish in the back with his wife and child, and their little boy kept correcting my muchos and muys. In the front the father spoke in English to Patrick about how the US, Canada and Mexico should join together to gang up on China. They seemed like a nice family, but I had moments of fear as we watched their dim headlights travel up the road. It was taking a long time to get there. What if they weren’t really planning on dropping us off at Ocosingo, what if they took us somewhere else? What if they dropped us on the side of the road in the middle of the jungle?
My head was dizzy from all the bad Spanish I was speaking, the curvy roads, and my uncertainty on anything in life. And then we saw the lights of Ocosingo. The family dropped us off at a gas station in town and would not accept any money from us. As I stepped out of the car I felt guilty for ever questioning them.
Kind people exist everywhere.
For every person who breaks you…
It is a nice and considerate thing to do to give a person a blanket if it is cold. But when the hosts I stayed with in Melbourne placed a blanket over me as I grasped for sleep on their couch on my third night in Australia, I could have cried for joy, not just because I was freezing, but also because it was such a meaningful gesture in my 23 years of life.
“Merci,” I whispered as they turned off the light and went to their bedroom. Before I succumbed to my jet lag, my faith in people was restored.
It’s easy to have blind faith in everyone when no one’s let you down, but the past two nights in Australia, I had been blatantly let down, and I felt like I was fading fast. I’d cried in front of strangers and been asked to leave a person’s home. I was second guessing everything. I was thinking about the US, about my friends and family, I was thinking that some people deliberately hurt others, some people don’t trust, some people let others down. So I fled my first Couchsurfing host’s house to go stay with another group of strangers, and I after my first bad experience, I was prepared for the worst.
I walked into my new hosts’ tiny home with a pounding heart, and they welcomed me like I was their sister. A French girl named Luci, an American/French couple named Aviv and Remi, and an Australian named Graham. They fed me, they showed me Melbourne, and that night as they put a blanket over me, my vindication flooded me. For every person who breaks you, there’s another who will love you unconditionally.