Where Are You From?

The bustling Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

The bustling Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

As we briskly walked through the carpet souk at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul a man stopped Dave to ask us, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhere are you from??¢‚Ǩ¬ù The United States, Dave told him. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhy don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t more people from your country come here??¢‚Ǩ¬ù he wanted to know. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a hard question to answer and one we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve heard all too frequently, from Bali onward. We usually give the standard answer that people are afraid. And indeed they are, for a variety of reasons. Recent bombings in Bali and Spain, both places on our itinerary. Imagined reprisals from Muslims. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s easy to get caught up in the fear from recent events. It was even suggested to us by someone before we left that we tell everyone that we are from Canada. That never seemed like a viable, or realistic, solution to any potential problems because of our nationality.

The face of Istanbul

The face of Istanbul

Cool guy sports Stef's sunglasses in hot Bali

Cool guy sports Stef’s sunglasses in hot Bali

Like everyone else our transport driver to Lovina Beach in Bali wanted to know where we were from. His response to our answer was a smile and then something along the lines of, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not sure I like George Bush.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s our turn to smile and say we don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t care too much for him either, which in this case and other instances becomes an easy opening conversation and an intriguing window into others?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ views of the US government. Another man in Bali assured us that he liked George Bush. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìHe?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s strong,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù he said. Interesting perspective. Going into an antique store on Jonker Street in Malacca, the proprietor came up with a surprising rejoinder after we assured him we didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t vote for Bush or much care for him. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìBut he IS your president,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù he said. Touch?ɬ©. A well-deserved come-uppance, I suppose. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI like Americans,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù the man at the caf?ɬ© in the last Turkish town before the Greek border told us on our way to Athens. But he went on to add, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìGovernment, uh, no!?¢‚Ǩ¬ù It seems to be the common sentiment.

Fruit vendor at Lovina Beach

Fruit vendor at Lovina Beach

At times it feels like we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re inhabitants of a lost continent whose fellow citizens have long since passed into obscurity. We scan guest books in museums and tourist information centers for nationalities. USA is a rare entry. There?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a look that passes over people?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s faces when we say we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re from the States, a mixture somewhere between wonder and remembrance of something long forgotten. Those who want to know more specifics and have heard of Chicago invariably say, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMichael Jordan, basketball.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù At least we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve moved passed Al Capone. Our travels haven?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t seemed that far off the familiar path of common destinations. Yet there it is. We?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve not encountered many fellow Americans so far or seen evidence of their passing through.

Penang profile

Penang profile

In all of the places we visit during this journey and have been to in the past, the most lasting memories will always be my encounters with people, not the grand vistas or historical buildings spoken of in guide books. Spending the night on the transit lounge floor in Bangkok airport with a group of central Asian pilgrims returning from the Haj, getting a ride to our Singapore hostel door from a pair of sisters when we seemed lost in the metra station, sharing a cup of tea with a carpet merchant in Istanbul, or talking with a young Bangladeshi man selling roses along the promenade at the base of the Acropolis are opportunities to catch a glimpse into another?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s world. Sometimes there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s little language except for a smile and a shared laugh, but that may be all that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s needed to bring us a little closer. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI am not like you,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù our desert guide in the Sahara remarked to us during our trip to Morocco in 2000 when we were amazed at his ability to walk the desert with only thin sandals and sometimes barefoot. Indeed, we are not. But our encounters with others along the way help us see the commonalities that bind us together, to see the human despite the differences. In this age of fear, I think that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s exactly what?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s needed.

New found friend in Penang

New found friend in Penang

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