A new addition to my international family
For those of you who don't know, which would probably be the majority, my roommates (Addie and Laura), Hannah (one of the other CSB interns who lives in Mostar), and I went to Croatia last weekend. Our original plan had been to go to Montenegro for the weekend. However, after struggling to figure out how to get there using public transportation, we decided to go to Dubrovnik, Croatia instead. However, at 10:00 the night before we were supposed to leave, we decided on a whim to visit the Croatian beach town of Makarska instead (never heard of? neither had we, but you should all go, it’s amazing) because Hannah had been told by work friends that it was cheaper and had better beaches. So with backpacks filled with beach attire and a very faint idea of where we were going, we set off for Makarska (by bus) Friday morning.
Since our plans for Makarska were so last minute and unsolidified (one of my favorite ways to travel in all honesty) we hadn't really figured out where we were going to stay once we got there. So after disembarking off the bus (after a long and cramped 7ish hours) we didn't really know where we were headed. However, we asked at the bus station recommendations on where to stay and were told to try the Makarska Youth Hostel and pointed in a vague direction down the street. We got about a block from the station and realized we had no idea where the hostel was but would just keep walking until we found something.
At that point someone (maybe Laura) pointed to a lodging sign half hidden in rose bushes advertising rooms. We decided we might as well check it out since we were there and because it said it had wifi (kind of a big deal to Hannah who doesn't have it in Mostar). So we walked up to what looked like just a typical Croatian house (yes, after 20 minutes of being there I was already enough of an expert to make comments on their architectural practices). As we awkwardly stood in the yard for a few moments trying to figure out which door to go to, a cute little old women stepped out and asked what we needed. We told her we were curious about getting a room and if we were in the right place. She smiled and waved us in. Instantly we knew the place was going to be great. The stairway was lined with drawings by her grandchildren and the place had a cozy, homey feel to it (basically because it was her home and she just rented out a few rooms on the second floor to tourists). We asked her if she had a place for four girls for the weekend and after convincing her that the four of us were okay sharing one room (it had a queen size bed, a pullout coach, and a cot) we were set with our lodging for Makarska. As she was helping us get settled into our room, she introduced herself to us as Ohmom (no idea how you actually spell it) and told us about what good timing we had in coming this weekend. She said her grandkids were arriving the next week and she probably would not have had room for us if we had come then. She then declared herself our Croatian grandma for our time there and with a smile left the room.
We didn't see a lot of Ohmom during our time in Makarska. We spent most of our time out at the beach or wandering around the town. But whenever we did see her, she would always check up on her ˝grandchildren˝, ask if needed anything, and give us a smile. On Sunday morning as we packed up to leave, we asked Ohmom if we could take a quick picture with her. She laughed and said of course. After the photo was taken, as we were standing in the front yard about to leave, Ohmom gave us a little talk. She warned us to be careful traveling home, to take care of each other, and to remember that the world isn't always a nice place to young girls traveling on their own. But what she also told us, was that we would forever be her grandchildren and that if our life journeys ever brought us back to Makarska (which I sincerely hope mine does, I loved it there) we would always have a place to stay and someone to look out for us. She gave us each a hug and sent us on our way.
While her words might not seem like a lot, the sincerity in which they were said conveyed enough. In just three days, Ohmom had opened her heart to us and we would forever have a ˝home˝ in Croatia if we ever needed it. The whole exchange caused me to do some reflecting.
It got me thinking about many of the amazing people I have met during my travels. The people, old enough to be my parents or grandparents, who had opened up their hearts to me throughout my travels.
I thought of The Guy Who Loves Us (if you haven't read my China blog that name will mean nothing to you) who adopted Sarita, Cindy and I as his own while we were in Beibei. He made sure we were well fed, even making dishes that weren't on the menu just for us because he thought we would like them. He celebrated with us as our Chinese improved to the point where we could actually begin to understand characters and respond to his questions with actual sentences. He acted like a dad when the Chinese boys would stare just a little too long or make some remark that we had no understanding of, but he did. He even teared up when we said our goodbyes after our last meal there. He took care of us for our four months there and created a place for us in his restaurant that felt like a home.
I thought of Evan's mom (another China blog character), who had never before met Westerners in her life, but invited Sarita, Dan, Guy, Bert, Luke, and I into her home. While we shared no common language we spent hours together eating and laughing and just enjoying being together. I reflected on when we got ready to leave and she made Evan translate to all of us that if we ever returned to Chengdu we were not allowed to stay at a hotel. We had to stay with her at the apartment and she would take care of us.
I thought of the amazing staff at Anjali - Ratnaboli, Aditi, Sudeshna, and all the others – who opened up their lives to a group of lost looking American college kids trying to film a documentary. Who made us as much chai tea as we could drink (it was SO GOOD) and fed us more cookies, and weird jelly filled powder sugar covered pastries (not our favorites) then we could eat. Who put up with us sleeping on the office floor when we got we so tired from lugging around tripods all over Kolkata. Who fought hospital guards for us, executed covert camera missions, and smuggled our tapes for us all because they believed in what we were trying to do. Who on our last night made all of us promised that we stay with them if we ever returned to Kolkata.
Overall, I thought of how lucky I am. How lucky I am to have been ˝adopted˝ by so many caring individuals around the world. Individuals who barely know me, who have no idea what I've done with my life so far, nor what I may do with it, but who despite that were willing to go out of their way to help me, to care for me, and to believe in me.
I have no idea if my travels will ever take me back to these amazing individuals who for a time became my family. Part of me hopes it does. Part of me envisions walking into the noodle shop of the Guy Who Loves Us and being able to ask him (in Chinese because hopefully I've actually learned it by then, if not, yay Google translate) if he remembers those three American girls from all those years ago and then sitting down to a delicious (and hopefully super spicy) bowl of noodles. Part of me hopes to return to Kolkata and sit around the Anjali office sipping tea and hearing about the incredible strides the women of Anajli have made in addressing mental healthcare in India. Another part of me though knows that chances are I will never see any of them again and is completely okay with that. People come into our lives at certain times for certain reasons and then often vanish forever, surviving only in our memories. They each played important roles in developing my love for their respective countries and in shaping my amazing experiences there. I will remember them, but it might be best if we do not meet again.
For now, I can't wait to see where my next new ˝family member˝ is going to be found.