People are People

I’m writing this from our little beach hut, on the not-yet well-known island of Koh Jum, Thailand. I read about this small paradise on a travel blog, and liked the sound of it. It sits between two of the larger and more well known southern Thai islands and yet unlike it’s neighbours, is quiet, secluded, simple and small. Not yet taken over by commercial buildings and crowds of tourists. Our little hut is one of a handful on this stretch of beach. Simple, wooden, made from bamboo and little else. We have a cold shower, a hard bed and a mosquito net. Our small wooden porch, 2 chairs and a table, sits directly on the sand, a stones throw from the sea. 

The past 5 days we’ve watched the tide come in and out, listened to its ebbs and flows at night. We’ve seen the crabs scurry along the sand, digging their holes away from the sun. We’ve watched the sun set gloriously every evening. We wander 50m along the sand to a quirky and relaxing shack for delicious food, and relaxing comfy seats. It’s also the only spot with wifi. We check our emails and whatsapps and try to be disciplined with our phones. It’s been so refreshing having limited access to the ‘outside world’.I needed it for sure. We’ve played cards (a lot!), swam in the gentle and warm sea, eaten great food, scooted on a 2 wheeler around the small island, read, journaled, reflected, talked. It’s been a kind of retreat and i’ve loved it. Island life, quiet, slow and meaningful. 

The past weeks have had me thinking. Before this quiet interlude of island life we were in the busy and bustling city of Bangkok. I noticed whilst sitting next to two ladies on the train, what they were up to on their phones. Yes, I know, super nosy of me but who doesn’t do that?! One of them was pinning bags and clothes on Pinterest. She was dressed in a smart black skirt and blouse, high heels, maybe she works in one of the many high rises of the city? The lady to my right, was watching funny youtube videos and giggling to herself. The first thought I had was, this could be any train or bus or plane anywhere in the world and I bet the sights would be the same. It reminded me of the London tube. People reading, headphones in, phones out, nodding off to sleep, holding children, school kids with heavy bags. Isn’t this scene played out in every city across the world? 

It made me think back to a similar thought I had when we were in India weeks before. 

It was a Monday morning, picture a house set on a hill surrounded by coconut trees, hot and sticky with humidity. The house is in a small village, in the deep south of India’s southern-most state - Kerala. I observed the family we were staying with as we ate our fish curry and rice for breakfast!! 10 year old Sonu, rushing around packing his school bag, breakfast being eaten quickly and absentmindedly by all family members, Auntie handing out the chai, Uncle ironing his shirt, clock ticking, school bus arriving, Sonia grabbing her work sari. Outside kids running for the bus, cars hooting, a hive of activity. I thought again, this feels like a pretty normal Monday morning. It reminds me exactly of my own Mondays, far away in England. Yet here I am, in quite literally the middle of nowhere, in an underdeveloped village in India and still, the Monday rush of activity looks just the same. 

I’m starting to realise, people are people, everywhere. From what I can gather, the same scenes play out day by day, country by country. It’s easy to feel so separated from people because of culture, race, religion and language. I’ve begun noticing the similarities that people have over our differences, its been making the transition from country to country that little bit easier. 

People everywhere face adversity of many shapes and sizes in a million different ways. Take Matthew, friend of our Airbnb owner in a small town along the Garden Route, South Africa. Three days previous he had lost his home completely to a raging fire that had spread miles across the forrest. Yet, we heard him come home merrily after an evening of what we imagine was good food and drink with his friends, he was kind and welcoming to us, total strangers. Positive and hopeful after extreme loss.

Other encounters of kindness are becoming too many to even begin to recount. The kind Hertz employee who, when we dropped off the car in Cape Town, personally drove us to the train station. It was raining, we had heavy bags and no map and he was genuinely concerned for our welfare. Then there’s the Rickshaw driver in Mysore, India, we didn’t speak his language whatsoever and I imagine had little in common. He helped us find our Airbnb when we didn’t have a clue on where it was, using his phone to call the owners, driving up and down the streets with us and our big bags, he also didn’t charge extra! 

There’s the family living on the streets of Mumbai, who were desperate to offer us tea when they themselves have next too nothing, hospitality at it’s best and most heartbreaking. Uncle and Aunty, in the village of Kerala, who fed us 3 (huge) meals a day, gave us the best room in the house and spent their own money showing us the sights for three days straight. 

A group of American NGO workers in Chang Mai, Thailand let us, total randomers, crash their party one Tuesday night because we wanted to feel settled, connected. Just yesterday, we ate delicious beef curry and rice at our favourite spot, followed by fresh watermelon, only to be told when we asked for the bill that it was free, they were having a party and we had been invited without even knowing!! These small encounters don’t even touch on the bigger ones, the homes we’ve stayed in, the generosity of people we don’t even know, the churches that have welcomed us warmly the past  3 months. Time spent with our friends, times spent working with and witnessing the incredible work going on around the globe to make this world better. We are only 3.5 months in, I am confident that by the time we get home we will have enough to make a book simply of encounters of kindness and humanity. 

I am moved by the way humanity is more the same than it is different. Last year my brother wrote a piece on suicide, it was incredibly provoking. Aren’t we all just humans at the end of the day? And don’t we connect in a million small ways all the time? We may not have much in common on the surface with the people we pass on the streets as we travel through these countries, but we do share our human natures, and I believe our hearts are ultimately pretty similar.

I strongly believe that we don’t have to be the same, or believe the same things as people, we can even disagree and yet love each other. It’s too easy, to hate and condemn those with different value systems and faiths and ways of life. It creates distance and barriers and walls. I see it all the time in the news, on social media. I am sad to say I saw it in church, at work and at university amongst election times especially. Amongst my friends. 

We’re all human, and I’m trying to see the humanity in people above their social differences, and it’s making this experience richer and much more beautiful. 

Bethany WalkerComment