The ‘tick-tock, tick-tock’ of a clock was unnaturally loud. Garlic and coriander hit my nose through the cracks of a crumbling hut, blending enticingly with the damp grass. I entered, a bell chimed and an elderly woman grinned at me from behind a wooden bench, displaying toothless gums.
The bell chimed again and a shuffling sound announced the arrival of the woman’s husband, home from a day at work. He pushed a small cart in front of him and pulled his legless body behind it, using the momentum to propel him forward.
Match sticks, smudged fridge magnets and rusty lighters made up his kitty. He pulled some baht out from under a blackened tin and coins chinked together musically as they scattered across the cement ground.
His tattered shirt dripped from the downpour outside; the monsoonal downpour I’d been caught in when his kindly wife had gestured for me to enter her tiny hovel – doubling as it was as a makeshift umbrella stall.
She smiled down at her husband, collected the money from the floor and started to fuss over him, but not before offering me a hot bowl of noodle soup. I refused vehemently, thinking the soup may be feeding them for a week.
Insisting with fiery stubbornness, she finally smiled with sincere delight when I relented under the intense assault. She watched with pleasure as I spooned the spicy mixture into my mouth.
Buying three umbrellas, I ventured out again, leaving behind their sparkling eyes and easy smiles with a heart full of useless sympathy and a mind full of awe. Though I’d had a lovely personal experience, the black and white facts typed their way across my mind. An elderly man with no legs, living in poverty with his wife in a leaky hut with no hygiene, warmth or possessions, selling items of little worth on the streets.
The story is common in much of the world and generally viewed as a negative situation. In black and white like that, it is. But only because, in comparison to those of us with jobs, possessions and houses in clean, structured neighbourhoods, the above situation seems appalling; at least on the surface.
However, the feeling I left with changed my perspective completely. Yes, there was empathy for their plight, but my rainy-day rescuers embodied love, kindness, ease, friendliness and sincerity, despite the hardship. I thought about the daily, stereotypical dilemmas I observe in my world and how people deal with them. You know the scene. The wealthy business man screaming at the traffic jam. The pampered wife bitching about her friend’s awful new haircut. The entitled teenager demanding the latest tech gadget.
They have legs. And clean drinking water. And food. Yet, smiles don’t seem to come as easily as anger.
Sweeping generalisations, yes, and most of us do have appreciation for our lives. But how did we ever get like that in the first place?
If you could choose to feel happy, wouldn’t you? If you could choose to offer help to someone without any form of resentment or reluctance to share what’s yours, wouldn’t you? To accept, without judgement, what is around you, if you can’t change it, is a step towards staying positive in a world that is sometimes negative.
This is how travel, for me, provokes life-changing thoughts.