I’ve been ruminating over my observations in this post for a while now, not sure if it was something that I would ever write about. Then I just watched this CNN report on slave trading that is currently going on in Libya. It makes me feel so sad and devastated for these men.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from all my travels is that people, regardless of religion, socio-economic background, or politics, all want the same thing. Safety and prosperity for themselves and their family. They want hope and a future.
A year ago we were in Paris. Returning 10 years after our first introduction to Paris during our around the world trip. I immediately sensed something was different. Touts had bombarded us at Gare du Nord, the train station that services the Eurostar route between London and Paris. They offered us taxi rides or souvenirs and if they were lucky, we might purchase both. It was a little overwhelming.
We continued to see touts throughout our time in Paris. Mostly at touristy sites selling the same cheap, colourful Eiffel Tower key chains, berets, and other predictable Parisian souvenirs. They were harmless but at times the sheer number of them offering their goods was stifling.
When we went to Barcelona this spring, there was a similar vibe. This time they were selling Messi football jerseys and balls. As soon as the police arrived, in one swift motion, they would bundle up their goods and walk away. They were experts at the pop up shop model.
This past fall in Rome a wave of empathy hit me as I saw the touts this time. A feeling I’d never felt before. I can’t say for sure but I have a hunch it’s related to my own newly minted experience as a foreigner, living outside my home country. I have struggles as an expat but nothing close to what these people are faced with.
In the past, unless they have been incredibly aggressive, touts have never really bothered me. I saw them as part of the tourist scenery. There to sell cheap souvenirs.
This time in Rome, I suddenly saw them as people who had most likely involuntarily left their homeland. People who were just trying to survive. They had to assimilate and learn the local language so that they could earn a living. I realized then that they probably didn’t want to sell the shit they were selling just as much as I didn’t want to buy it. They were there because they had no choice.
If I’m ever having a hard day, this idea of choice is what lifts me out. Even on the worst of days, I remind myself that I can choose my actions. I want all people to have the luxury of choice because it is just that right now, a luxury.