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Honorary Mentions -- Women Write Stories to Inspire Other Women

 

She Discovers Barcelona By Night

Written by Journeywoman:
Ranjita Biswas
Calcutta, India

The invitation to attend a Conference in Barcelona excited me no end. A fan of Ernest Hemingway, I always wanted to visit the country he wrote about so passionately. However, things didn’t go smoothly. The plane left late from Delhi and there was hardly an hour left to catch the connecting Iberian flight from Heathrow. Finding the departure lounge in the melee of summer holiday rush was a nightmare and the ground hostess warned that it was unlikely that my luggage could be loaded in such a short time.

As I had anticipated, there was no sign of my baggage at the airport. By the time I finished the formalities regarding lost luggage, it was almost midnight. I had with me only a vanity bag with my passport and money, not even a change of clothes. I couldn’t locate the ‘conference bus’ meant for delegates (if it was still running this late at night). Desperate, I hopped into a city-bound bus. It dropped me at a huge square. I saw some cabs parked at the square but no drivers. I stood helplessly, with no clue how to arrive at my destination and unable to speak Spanish. Luckily, Barcelona’s young crowd party late. Some were around trying to hail the few cabs whizzing past. I asked for their help. A girl knowing a smattering of English asked incredulously, “Alone? From India?” She managed to hail a cab (bless her!) and explained to the elderly driver to take me to the university campus. I relaxed at last as we drove through the still-crowded streets.

Eventually, the cab stopped in front of a building. But it was not the one, I said frantically. I showed the driver the picture of the building the organizers had sent. The old man almost burst his blood vessels. Angrily he rattled off of which I couldn’t understand a word. However, I could get the idea that my destination was far away. Then it dawned on me, the university had moved and he was refusing to go that far and wanted me to get out. But I was equally adamant. I just told him: “Sir, I am a guest in your country. Please take me there!”

I don’t know whether he melted at my pleading voice or knew that I was not going to disembark anyway, but he drove on though muttering all the time.

Then I knew why he was so reluctant. The university campus was very far indeed. We soon left behind the city lights and were on the highway. So here I was, clutching my bag with my money and passport traveling with a stranger in a strange country at 2 o’clock at night. Horrendous stories of murdered women flitted across my mind.

But the driver didn’t abandon me. He went around the huge campus to locate the guest house. I tipped him handsomely and muttered the only Spanish word I knew “Gracias!” He smiled then. Once again it vindicated my belief that people everywhere in the world help when you ask for help.

 

She Speaks Rusty French in Nice

Written by Journeywoman:
Su Hartung
DeKalb, USA

While I’ve traveled alone, I never tackled a country where I’d have to speak their language -- a language I didn't really know. With my rusty high school French, I decided to head to Nice, France by myself, where I’d be forced to speak no English for a week. I was scared. How would I get from the airport to my hotel? What if I couldn’t communicate? I set a short-term goal. Everything would be OK as soon as I lay down on the bed in the little hotel where I had booked a room. That bed was my anchor.

Once I calmed down everything was quite wonderful. Little elderly ladies chatted with me on the bus, helping me with my French. Wow, it made my mind so tired keeping up with their chatter. A gentleman who spoke very little English and I (with my rusty French), had a warm vocabulary discussion over a map trying to get me to a music store. Local teenagers there helped me (in French) select CDs they considered French 'pop music' -- new artists I’d never heard of before, singing Rap and Rock. Waiters helped me with my pronunciation from café menus. On a bus to Monte Carlo, a couple from Finland overheard me and the driver and they thought I was fluent in French, which I definitely was not. I could barely understand their broken and accented French and they could barely understand my U.S. French. We were in the same foreigner situation. They didn’t speak English, so we had a fun conversation, where I 'picked up' that they were lost. I helped them to a tourist information kiosk. Me, giving directions below Grace Kelly’s castle to people from Finland. How cool!

I wanted photos of myself to remember the trip by, but how? Again, I found that traveling alone is not necessarily a lonely experience, even if no one speaks any language you know. Greek women took a photo of me in the Roman ruins. Two college students from Quebec took my photo on the Mediterranean boat trip. A Japanese lady took my photo on the beach. None of us could converse, but we could still communicate.

At the end of my week I was feeling very much like a resident, strolling through the small local grocery store and choosing my snacks. All my pre-trip fears were gone. The language barrier was overcome. I had succeeded in an endeavor that all my friends thought I was crazy to attempt. Hurray for me!

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