wanderlust

Advice to all travellers out there: Listen carefully to the people you meet!

Illustration by  Akageno Saru

Illustration by Akageno Saru

About one year ago, after I closed the door of an advertising agency telling my boss that I really need a break to think about what I wanted to do next, I bought a bag of pretzels and stayed in the middle of the street, near a marketplace. While I was raising my head, the first thing I saw was the sunset, like a blaze of vivid purple towards the horizon. Then the black birds who were filling the upper atmosphere with an echoing croak.

I started to eat and watch people at the market. The merchants and the customers. The countrymen, the gypsies, the women, the children, the rich, the homeless, the antique shop owners and their books spread on the pavement. Far away I heard the cars horns and the hurrying people, the rumour in the streets and the yellings. I stayed there for an hour, grateful for everything that happened around me.

Sitting unconsciously at this border between two worlds, I felt how I was waking up, becoming aware of the fact that life was happening in front of me every day while I was passing by. With my head hanging down, with an air of glumness around me, not happy about my job, I had never seen the daylight and the people around me like I was seeing them at that time.

Life is elsewhere, I said to myself, remembering the title of Milan Kundera’s book. A few days later I came back to the office. I quit my job.

And from that moment on, having in mind what I really wanted to do, I read every travel blog I found back then. After a good friend of mine told me that the puppet ropes I see around me are not there in real life, I admitted that I was only talking about freedom and ideal jobs, but not doing anything about it. So I took a piece of paper and created that ideal job using words and drawings. Then I started to believe in them and gave life to each letter and stripe.

One day, I woke up, took my backpack and my notebook and without telling anybody, I went on the road. While I was hitchhiking with a friend from Bulgaria to Romania, a Turkish driver pulled over. One of my childhood dreams was to have the courage to do that and most importantly, to travel by truck. We ran after him and threw our luggage in this large road vehicle. From the beginning he asked us to walk barefoot in his car so even if it sounded strange, we did it in the end. We listened to traditional Turkish songs, we ate together but we couldn’t have a conversation because none of us knew the other’s language. I asked, using signs, what made him stop. He smiled. He was supposed to be alone on a long road to Germany, so he was needy for human presence.

I watched him for six hours and even if we couldn’t speak too much, when I came back home I was able to describe the good person he was in five pages. You don’t always need words when you have feelings to pass you on the same message. You can stay next to each other. You can open your eyes and see behind the mask. You can be a simple witness, without judging and having preconceptions. In this way you can contemplate the inner beauty of an individual.

Talking about me, from this moment on I knew for sure what I wanted to do.

The long-term travelers I met afterwards confirmed me I was on the right path. Three of them made me stop, get my recorder and press play. A mexican, a brazilian and an italian. The first one probably cursed me for making him answer twenty written questions. I’m not sorry for that.

Because he is a shaman-storyteller who has many inspiring life stories to share after visiting 30 countries, learning to live in the moment, enjoying every little pleasure and pain, and being grateful.

Painting by Jorge Santos

Painting by Jorge Santos

The second one saves money for a while and then with all the savings he takes his backpack and travels around the world. Only that sometimes he doesn’t know when he is coming back. How is this possible and how could this be achieved? Have patience with the ones you meet and all their life altering stories will be revealed to you.

You will notice the fact that while some of them trust all the people they met on the road, a few trust only themselves.

I live now in Northern Gran Canaria, in a small village up the hills and I am documenting the lives of people living here. All because one day I realised my authentic role is to stay in villages and tribes and look for the old people who are going to die without passing by the tradition and youngsters that are following their passion, struggling for transforming their dreams into reality. This is my role now. I am here to listen and write about the strangers who are waiting in the backroom. More than anything, these people need to be not only heard, but understood. I am here to make them visible.

This story is not about me, it’s about the fascinating humans I’ve met all around the world. So let the journey through their lives begin. Take your seat, put on your glasses and listen to them conscientiously because what you are going to hear may as well change your life forever.

Smaranda Rutzui is an adventurer. Cultural journalist. Long-term traveler. She writes about human culture and traditions in danger of extinction around the world. She is here to listen and write about the strangers who are waiting in the backroom. More than anything, these people need to be not only heard, but understood.