Alex, The Traveler

During the last month I took several long flights, and shorts flights too.  You have to count on many long hours of flying or waiting by the gates.
I don’t know what your personal experience is, but I always meet the most fascinating people while flying.  Not that fascinating people are not in other places, but airports seem to attract them even more.  Is it because interesting people travel?  Or does traveling makes you interesting? 
For some reason, when I travel alone, people gravitate to me and before I know it I am making friends with total strangers.  Very often they tell me their life story, or just their recent experiences.   Sometimes they invite me to their homes, dinner, class, work, or even to tag along on their next trip.  Sometimes I meet regular people and sometimes I meet very wealthy people.  That happens when I dress nicely and get bumped between VIP’s seats.  Not a bad experience
J.   Wealthy people live even more interesting lives than the rest of us and have a lot of stories to tell.  They also have a lot of pictures to show.  And, boy they do like to share!  But you don’t necessarily have to be wealthy to be able to share some of the most amazing stories.  You just have to be rich… in your mind.
Shortly said, I do meet a lot of people and I learn a lot of things from them.  But every time someone stands out.  Someone special, who stays in my memory longer.  Sometimes forever.  And that’s what happened in LAX (Los Angeles) airport last month.
I noticed this man first at the entrance, because he helped me with my three bulky suitcases and let me go ahead of him in the check in line.  He was taller, blond, in his late thirties.  I said thank you, but he only smiled and disappeared in the crowd.  I checked in and forgot about him.  Then about half an hour later I met him again at the airport Starbucks.  He was having trouble ordering.  Or more likely the barista had trouble understanding him.  I figured he must be a foreigner and I should pay his favor back by helping him with his English.  But when I got closer I realized, that English was not the problem.  My anonymous friend was deaf and therefore almost mute.  He could still communicate some English words.   He had only some trivial problem with the order, which took about a minute to solve.  I helped him to solve it and we said our good byes.
 I walked around the airport terminal to check the new stores and about 45 minutes later found a seat by my gate.  To my surprise my deaf friend was sitting right next to me!  We said hi and I thought that that will be about it.  So I pulled my magazine out of my bag and started flipping through its pages.   In the corner of my eye I noticed that my new friend is fascinated by a long tube that I was carrying with me.  Inside the tube was a large laminated map of the world that I was taking as a gift to a school in the Caribbean.  Since it was the original tube the map came in, it still had the label with the contents written on it.  Before I knew it my friend was pointing at my tube and reading the words “Map of the World” out loud. “Yes, I do have a map of the world inside,” I said.  “Would you like to see it?”  He shook his head that he did not want to cause me any trouble. I assured him, that it is not any trouble, our flight was delayed anyway.  We had plenty of time for opening the tube.  What can be better than looking at the map of the world while you travel? 
The map was huge, so we spread it out over four seats.  My friend was very excited to see the map and introduced himself as Alex, The Traveler.  We looked at the map and Alex started to talk.  When I had trouble understanding him I asked him to write it down.   And he was very good at reading my lips. Without hesitation Alex started pointing at all six continents, his hand jumping from city to city, his fingers crossing all the oceans and seas.   “Wait,” I said in a surprise, “are you telling me, that you just travelled all six continents?!”  Alex nodded.   “Do you mean now, or in your whole life?” I asked again.  “Now, now!” screamed Alex.  “I am traveling for the fourth month nonstop!”  Before I knew it Alex pulled out his camera and showed me most of his pictures.  Name any famous building in the world and Alex had a picture in the front of it.  He was buying his plane tickets from place to place on the spot.  Nothing planned ahead, because he never knew which countries will let him in and which will not give him a visa.  Alex pointed out many countries in Africa that would not let him in, simply just for safety reasons (wars, kidnappings etc.), even though he got all the way to their border.
Los Angeles was his last city.  After that he was heading to Barbados and after that home.  “And where is your home, Alex?”   I was almost sure that he was an American.  Alex took out his passport and proudly presented all the stamps in it.  He said he used up 3 passports! during this trip.   Then he showed me the cover.  “Slovenia,” I read on the passport. “Do you know Slovenia?”  Alex asked me.  Do I know Slovenia?  Not only that.  I have been there too!  A beautiful part of Europe that I visited several times.  I told Alex about my birth city, Prague, and we started to laugh.   He also had a picture in the front of the Prague Castle and on the Charles Bridge, of course.  So here he was the whole time thinking that he was talking to an American woman, while I was thinking that I am talking to an American man.   In the end we found out that our mother tongues are not very different.   “How did you learn English so well?” was my next nosy question.  “If you travel, you have to speak English,” answered Alex very logically. 
I was in awe.  Not only was this man determined to travel the world all by himself, but he also learned how to read lips in a second language and to repeat out loud most of the English phrases and vocabulary!   Obviously, nothing stood in the way of fulfilling his dream – to travel the whole world! 
I know that there are many people with disabilities, who overcome the impossible.  Just watch the Paralympics and you can meet many of them right there.  However, when you meet them unexpectedly in person, it leaves a much stronger imprint on our heart.
But then I was thinking that we all have some disability.  Being deaf and mute are only the physical disabilities, which we can actually see.  But what about the ones we cannot see or diagnose, we just feel them?  Like fear, or trust, for example?   Fear of change, or fear of disappointing others, or lack of trust in ourselves… should they not count as disabilities as well?  Overall, these are what are holding us back most often.
Meeting Alex opened my eyes.   Alex did not consider himself disabled in any way.  I felt more disabled next to him with all of my fears and uncertainties!  Alex had it all figured out.  He knew that if you want something you just need to go for it.
I wish you a wonderful weekend and GO for the things you wish the most.  …And remember no excuses allowed!
J