Learning to travel abroad is a process. There are lots of different experiences that teach you how to hold your own in a new country. However, getting to that point is impossible without the kindness of strangers willing to lend a helping hand in needful times.
An experience that comes to mind is when I decided to venture into Bangalore for the first time without Meghana or Mallory, my two co-interns. Meghana had recently ordered a large number of books by South Asian authors, something that I thought would be valuable in understanding different cultural perspectives in India. As a result, I looked up a used book store in Bangalore where I could get different books by South Asian authors as well.
I planned to leave immediately after work. I had dropped a pin in the maps app on my phone. I had tried to familiarize myself with the area by studying the map, trying to find different landmarks that would assure me that we were heading to the right spot and locate the bookstore with ease.
As soon as work ended I hopped into an rickshaw gave the address and we were off. Midway into the drive a torrential rain hit which made visibility on the road nearly nonexistent. I got anxious, any landmark that I had hoped to identify would be impossible because of the rain. I tried to see my location from my maps app, but I wasn’t receiving a signal throughout the latter portion of the drive. As we slowly inched our way throughout Bangalore because of its infamous traffic, it began to darken and became evening.
Suddenly, the rickshaw driver pulls over and says that this is the general vicinity of the address I provided. I looked out, trying to make out through the rain any familiar landmark, shop, street that I had seen on the map before that would allow me to ascertain where I was. I looked onto my maps and to no avail, the lack of signal wasn’t allowing it to load. Feeling anxious, the only next step I could think of was asking people on the road if they knew where this bookstore was.
The first three people we asked had no idea where the store was or hadn’t even heard of this particular used bookstore. I was getting nervous. Did I find a bookstore that had gone out of business? Did I completely misread the address and send myself on a wild goose chase? I figured the only possible thing to do was to keep asking people. The next person I asked thankfully had heard of the book store, but didn’t know its exact location. She pointed us in the general direction of the bookstore and told us it had to be amongst a line of shops.
Still heavily raining, the rickshaw driver headed in that direction making sure to look with me at every storefront in search of that bookstore. Despite our efforts we couldn’t locate the store. I was about to tell the driver head back to where I was staying and prepared to pay double the fare. But, the rain had started to let up and although it was evening it gave me confidence that without the rain I could spend some time wandering until I managed to find the book store.
I paid the rickshaw driver and started walking amongst more storefronts hoping to find the bookstore or anyone who could tell me where it is. After five minutes of walking I came across a woman and asked her. Coincidentally she too was heading to that bookstore! We headed together to the book store and saw that it was sneakily tucked away within an alley, impossible to spot from a rickshaw in the rain, but amongst the storefronts and streets that we had driven through.
Getting to the book store was such a great feeling, especially because in the process I came across so many generous people who were willing to help, when they could’ve easily just ignored me. As the summer progressed I learned to become more independent eventually taking weekend trips alone and backpacking alone once the internship ended. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do this without knowing that there are always generous people out there willing to lend a hand