Saturday, November 14, 2015

Talking to Strangers

I heard it was supposed to be 39 degrees at the kickoff for the Texas Longhorns vs. the West Virginia Mountaineers football game today (which WVU won, by the way). That is where I would have been today had I not joined the Peace Corps. Instead of bundling up for the game in Morgantown, I went to the beach this afternoon for a swim with some of the youngsters from our village.

As we arrived at the beach area, I noticed a rent-a-car and four white folks. It was the first time I had encountered what appeared to be tourists at our little beach. However, when I arrived it was apparent that they were enjoying a peaceful rest in the shade of our coconut grove, and they didn't seem to react to the Peace Corps shirt that I just happened to be wearing, which most Americans seem to notice. Had they obviously been Americans, I might have struck up a conversation to see where they were from, but I decided they must be foreign tourists who were not from America, so I joined my students in the ocean.

Eventually, I wandered back to shore and headed for the shade and soft short grass under the beachside palm trees. By now, these guests were stirring about, and a couple of them walked past me down to the edge of the water. As the last one returned past me, I decided to strike up a conversation—and I'm grateful I did!

I found out that they were on vacation from Lyon, France. This guy I spoke with and his friends had stayed last night in Portsmouth, and had not been watching the news. Then he got a crazy phone call from his sister in Paris assuring him that she was okay. That is how they find out about the terrible tragedy in their homeland.

It seems his sister had tickets to one of the big events that the terrorists had targeted. However, she had not been able to get away from work as early as she had planned on Friday, thus making her late arriving at the venue. As she approached with her ticket, she heard the gunshots, and was able to get to safety before getting inside. Unfortunately, one of her friends whom she was getting ready to meet inside was wounded in the shoulder. Who knows what might have happened had his sister been able to get away from work earlier and had been standing beside her friend?

Needless to say, after the unexpected phone call and a night of following the news (with very little sleep), they just wanted a quiet little beach where they could relax, listen to the ocean, and recuperate. Somehow, they ended up driving to my little village, which is definitely off the beaten path for most tourists. However, it certainly fit the bill for what they needed today. I'm glad my village could assist them!

Children especially are often cautioned about the dangers of talking with strangers, but as adults, we should not be as afraid. As someone who is more of an introvert than an extravert, it would have been real easy for me to avoid interacting with these people. However, after passing up several earlier opportunities, I finally took a chance as he walked back by me for the last time before they had to leave.

I'm so glad I made the effort, because it was a very interesting conversation. I definitely let him know how much my friends all were reacting to the Paris news on social media, and expressed my own sympathies and support for France. It blows my mind to realize that I was talking to someone whose own sister was there at the attacks.

One thing I've learned in the Peace Corps is that it is indeed a small world! Vive la France!

Since I don't take my phone when I'm going swimming, I don't have a group picture of my French friends to share. However, here is a photo with a new angle of our beach, showing “L'Islet” jutting out on the far side, the shed used by our local fisherman, and the edge of the palm trees mentioned in the story above. I took this shot after climbing up the rocky hillside recently.

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