We’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to South Africa. It is, a beautiful country to say the least. And while I could write about all we saw and did, and maybe I soon will, today I’m writing about some of the fascinating people we met.
Because I firmly believe we learn from those we meet in our lives. And on this trip in particular, I learned many a lesson.
Her name was Margaret and she was missing her right front tooth. And she was beautiful.
We were on our way back to our room. It had been a full two days of traveling followed by a long game drive and late dinner. Needless to say we were exhausted, and truth be told wary even when she approached.
She moved slowly, her gait a little off, perhaps from years of backbreaking work. Her skin was a dark brown, wrinkled from the years of the dry, hot African sun. When she grabbed my hands and folded them into her own, I felt the warmth of Margaret’s spirit. She smiled broadly, welcomed me to her lovely country, and told me she’d be cleaning my room during our stay. And then-with those shining eyes staring deep into my soul, she closed her own and asked God to bless me. Never have I felt such love from a total stranger.
Lesson One: God himself can shine right through us. Through Him we have the ability to exude beauty, teeth or no teeth. When our hearts are aligned with his, we radiate love. No anti-aging cream in the world can compete with that.
On day two we met Diane and Ed. When this couple sat next to us for dinner, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, okay, I expected the conversation to lack. They were, I’d already observed, a quiet couple, older, seemingly nothing like us. Thank God for that.
Because they were remarkable individuals. Diane is an avid mountain biker, ranked third in the state of Arkansas. Next month she’ll be riding in Nepal (Nepal!). Her husband Ed loves to hike and repel. Last year he hiked Mount McKinley in Alaska. Diane, afraid for his safety, volunteered and trained to be an EMT on the mountain that summer. She spent three months in the elements helping climbers in need. Ed of course, lived to tell his story.
When she’s not biking, Diane works the search and rescue team for her local police department, guiding dogs to well, find bodies. Ed runs his own thriving business. Did I mention they have four kids? We met up with Diane and Ed again later in the week and discovered they’d climbed Cape Town’s Table Rock Mountain. We on the other hand, took the tram up…
Lesson Two: Never, ever judge a book by its cover. I was right that Diane and Ed were quiet, older and unlike us. But they did not lack in conversation, they were really cool people.
On day three of our trip, my adventurous husband went shark cage diving (yes, it was cool and no, he wasn’t scared). We had to drive to Gansbaai, a quaint fishing town on the coast known for its great white shark population. Here I met Randy.
Randy is a talker, the kind who talks a lot about himself, and apparently he’s a morning guy. Because at 4:30 AM as we pulled out of the parking lot for our drive, Randy, who sat directly behind me in the van, began talking (loudly) to his seatmates. God help me.
I learned he’s married. He and his (second) wife met through their daughters who play volleyball together. His son plays football but he isn’t too sure about this. Said son has never been into contact sports, so Randy is going to “wait and see.” His wife refused the shark diving trip but loves to shop, loves the spa and keeps him on the straight and narrow. He frequents Vegas, where he and the boys can gamble, drink beer and curse with the best of them. I didn’t want to know any of this.
I like almost everyone I meet, but at 4:30 AM I did not like Randy. Sigh….Yet I admit by about 3:00 PM, he’d grown on me. Even this nonstop talker had his moments. He bought beers for everyone after the dive, spoke kindly to the guys selling their wares on the street, and made sure to give our driver a generous tip. It’s possible I was just a little grumpy that morning.
Lesson Three: Even the Will Ferrell’s of the world have a heart. There is good in everyone, sometimes we just have to look a little harder to find it.
Also on the boat, was Linda. After three hours in choppy waters, we were both nauseated so I shared my QueaseEASE with her.
In fifteen minutes I learned the following: Linda and her husband frequently boat in the Bahamas. Here they’ve seen much larger sharks, an eighteen-footer even as well as forty-foot whale. While her husband flies there in a plane, she goes in her friend’s helicopter. She owns a house in New Jersey and a house in Florida. She and her husband are chartering a helicopter later this week. She isn’t too sure how she feels about staying at the Westin in Cape Town (as in, it may not be nice enough).
All I could think was: are you a pathological liar? Who lives like this? She seemed nice though and the further we talked, the more I liked her. Yet still, it seemed like every time I made a comment she was there with a story to one-up me. When I later shared my thoughts with my husband, he brushed them off, said he’d enjoyed her. Yes, I thought, I have a vivid imagination. Maybe some people do live like Linda.
He then shared that she’d told him she used to be paralyzed. I just looked at him.
Lesson Four: Sometimes, you’ll be dumbfounded, never learn the truth of a given situation. But maybe we don’t need to know. Life goes on, as it should.
Midweek we found ourselves eating dinner with Texans Patti and Farris. This was a group reward trip, so we had many outings/dinners with people we’d never met. Farris couldn’t have been a better Texan. He hunts, loves beer, and is a father to a son who aspires to be a professional rodeo roper. From Farris I learned this: show horses cost a mint to take care of. His son’s horse has its own private chiropractor and dentist. Who knew such occupations even existed?
Wife Patti was more reserved. But after exchanging stories about family (and a glass of wine) she shared that her mother had passed away this summer. The resulting stress landed her in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. Once she started talking, the dam simply broke. Together we commiserated on how as women we feel the need to remain strong for everyone. And sometimes, we forget to take care of ourselves.
Lesson Five: We can learn from and be a support system for others, even when we don’t know them well. We are all affected by life’s trials, and can all use a little encouragement (or a chiropractor) now and then.