A Valuable Lesson of Friendship on the Shores of the Rives Ganges

I am among those who have had great experiences in some poor countries outside Europe. For the last years, every year I am visiting a different one and every time I return happier and more fulfilled. Since the first time I went in Morocco in 2012 and I blogged about their bargaining culture in lifestylescience.eu I never miss an opportunity for a trip overseas. For example I started the 2016 in an island in Indonesia called Gili Trawangan and previous January I was in India. This January I will be in Vietnam.


Mistaken Beliefs About Dangers


I hear some people being afraid to travel to these places because they believe there is too much crime or several other kinds of dangers such as having their organs sold. Especially when I am there and I interact with the locals, whenever I think about it I find it so strange. Most locals’ greatest fantasies couldn’t avoid being surpassed by such theories. I sometimes say to people here in Europe that the others are people, too. They have families, they love and protect their children, they have friends, they have rules, they can experience love and so on. This is maybe the most useful thing I have learnt from travelling and I know that I am not the only one. That reality is so different than where the news focus on. And generally until we experience something it’s better to not come to certain judgements. Fortunately, more people have the chance to visit these places or meet people from there online thus the negative prejudices seem to be decreasing.


Western Influences in Poorer Countries


It can’t be denied that in most places the western companies have taken great stakes in the countries and are definitely influencing the culture. They have the opportunity to use cheap but hard working labour to decrease their costs or invest cheaply and have a great potential for a good profit. In a 3rd world country where you can imagine the salaries, international companies sell in similar prices to the ones in the west. Imagine the margin.

Thus in many for example, south eastern countries, especially in the big cities too much of their characteristics have been lost and they have adapted a more globalized “face.” Next to the Kuta beach in Bali’s Denpansar is a huge shopping centre with no traditional architecture, full of international chains such as zara, burger king and so on. Due to the fact that this shows there is more technology and more consumption, maybe this is progress. But not to me. Every culture represents a different version of reality and we should have been guarding it as something sacred. Because the great variety of different perceptions is one amazing characteristic of life that all of them take part in the magnificence of the whole. So, I am not expecting to eat burger king when I fly to Indonesia, I prefer to taste their perception of tasting.

Many of these countries had so outstanding civilizations that neither the external influence nor the time have been enough to erase them. When you go outside the big cities there is something there which smells of their own. You can see it in the architecture, you can see it in the behavior of the people, you can see it in their sacred temples. In many towns unknown to tourists still something is there. The behavior of the people sometimes looks strange but a keen observer without prejudices can notice that this is not a reason for feeling uncomfortable or scared. On the contrary s/he can embrace the interaction with a human being that is coming from a totally different world.


Too Much Poverty but an Efficient System to Satisfy Your Needs


The only thing that is sad in these trips is the situation of the people. There exist too many that are in deep poverty. You can see innumerable homeless people, beggars and even a lot of people in a better condition roam around looking to find an opportunity to make money from tourists. They want to help in every possible situation in order to make some cash. The average westerner tourist is to most eastern Asians, for example, what a millionaire is to the average westerner.

So they would approach you in the street and start making rapport. The interaction with so many foreigners has taught them a lot of staff and definitely a knowledge of English, at least, is expected. So they may offer to take you a ride if they have a bike or a ricksaw, they may offer to carry your luggage, they may offer to guide you in the city, they may propose to show you a good restaurant where they take a cut of your payment from the owner and everything else that you can imagine or you can’t imagine.

When travelling to that kind of countries, in most places you should expect to be approached all the time, especially in central areas. But even if you are walking in a faraway street, a ricksaw driver may not miss the opportunity to ask if you need any ride, who knows, it’s not expensive anyway and most westerners don’t walk too much. This is quite useful because you can instantly know where you can find whatever you want to find. As well someone will be there ready to instantly drive you wherever you want.

As well there are a lot of people who assume that poor people are happier because they haven’t been corrupted with much consumption or money. I haven’t experienced that too much too be honest. When you don’t have enough food to feed your children I believe is difficult to be happy. Most people there really NEED money. However, definitely they are more open. And this is the major reason that I enjoy being there. Even when I visit alone, I have company most of the time, I meet and chat with random people in the street. The weather is most of the times warm so everyone is sitting outside and doesn’t have any problem to start talking and then to introduce to their company a white stranger that talks about ancient Greece.

So, it’s useful being approached during the day because, as I said, they can instruct me in whatever I need and we both profit from this. Also, I like the way they try to be convincing, they use any kind of facial expressions, excellent body language and amazing arguments and negotiation skills. However, sometimes it becomes annoying if it’s evening and I am tired from the long day.

On the one hand I fully understand them. They really need the money and it is undoubtedly for survival reasons. However, many unfortunately seem to be in a constant chase of money that is leaving no other thought to cross their minds. This, I’m afraid, makes it unable for them to form a sincere connection with another human being. From their side it is understandable but I can’t avoid feeling disappointed from time to time and it has brought many thoughts in my mind.


Openness Towards People and Interaction with Them


I try to approach all the people with openness, ready to connect with them sincerely and with the hope that even for a while to be friends. Most have understood that it is unwise to show from the beginning their goals which is money so they appear as friends that want to help you. Many times I have tried to be optimistic that we will continue being friends and most times I have been disappointed. Sooner or later the discussion with my new “friends” goes to something that has to do with money. To give them money for their help, to show me something to buy from their shop and so on. And the more they don’t take what they were expecting the more anxious they become.

These situations can become tricky as at this moment you feel psychologically obliged to pay something. The problem is not the money though. Apart from the fact that once again these friends weren’t real, it is just not possible to give money to everyone that is asking you there because any amount you may have will definitely end. If you haven’t experienced it you have to see to understand, there is no amount that would be enough to give to everyone that is asking you.

After my first interactions with that kind of situations and as I was learning more I became more careful. I wouldn’t cross the line of being a friend to being provided help. If I didn’t receive any help then they would just ask me if I want to give them something only because they need it and that’s easier. But most importantly when I don’t really need something I explain to them from the beginning that if they do it for the money they aren’t going to take any. So they either go away or say the truth which is that they came for money.

It becomes really awkward sometimes to deny buying services or products. When you, for example, are dragged in a shop where the owner brings the whole upside down just to satisfy you, unavoidably you have a sense of unfairness if this effort doesn’t get rewarded.

What I has always been concerned though was to meet some people that we could interact normally. It wasn’t happening usually. That we could have fun together like real people. To understand each other’s cultures and be able to discuss without any expectations.


The guys from Varanasi


I was lucky to find that in the old city of Varanasi in India. I met there some people that I will remember for the rest of my life though we are connected in social media and talk from time to time. I spent there 4 amazing days and these guys are one reason I have so many nice feelings about India. I remember when I first met Sumit down in the river Ganges the first day and we exchanged phones I made him clear that if he is like the others and asks me for money later we would stop talking. So I went to my hotel and later came out because I wanted to find somewhere to eat. When I called Sumit several times he didn’t reply. The next day we met. He explained that he disappeared on purpose, he wanted to prove in practice that he wasn’t planning to chase me in order to get something from me. I was impressed by the mentality of a guy that I had met in the Ghats.

The next two days were amazing. I was having superb company. He showed me around everything in Varanasi, I met with many of his friends, his neighbours, he organised a boat trip for me, he found me an excellent technician that fixed my phone the same moment we took it to him. Their kindness was outstanding, the fact that these people have less comforts doesn’t make them any different than us. They would work hard for most of the day but every night they had a place where the buddies would meet, talk about the day, make some fun and then head home to rest because they had an early awakening.

Four days were enough though to have our ups and downs that would bring more salt and pepper in our relationship, lol. It was me actually that made the mistaken move that caused a series of events. However, this made our relationship better later I feel.


The Event that was the salt and the pepper in our relationship


So look what happened. All the time I was there I was feeling sincerely grateful about their behavior. The guys would literally walk with me for a few kilometres next to the river ganges at night towards my hotel only to make sure that I feel safe. There is a long riverside walk in Varanasi next to Ganges but for the most part there is hardly any light. Plus most nights there is fog due to the humidity of the river. Next to the river are also several posters about missing European people. You can start imagining how horrific this looks in reality.

Not only the river looks horrific after 10pm that nobody’s there. As well many locals would say so. The first night I stayed out till 11:30pm even though I was warned not to from a man I met that was working in a hotel next to the river. But I didn’t take it seriously as I didn’t notice anything suspicious around. Anyway, when I returned to my hotel I found the angry manager there telling me that what I did was inappropriate and they were almost certain that something happened to me. He couldn’t imagine that I dared to stay out that long.

Just to make clear, the 4 nights I spend in Varanasi and walked next to the river up to some point I didn’t notice any single problem or any dangerous behavior. If someone has seen something wrong then it’s not me.

So, back to Sumit and his friends. I was so much obliged by their behavior and help towards me. Every night they would altogether take me next to the door of my hotel which was quite a walk from where they lived. In between during the days I could notice they had some personal problems, they were receiving calls and then their mood would drop but they would try to not show it to me. How really tough must someone be to manage to survive in that kind of conditions? Every day is a new chase for something vital.

Of course they needed money like all the others however they had recognised the difference I was talking about. They knew that we couldn’t operate as friends if during our relationship their mind was in money. So I think the 3rd night I was there and when we were walking towards my hotel, I was so grateful that I couldn’t hold myself. I took out of my wallet some money to give it to them. It wasn’t too much for me but I think it was very good for them. To my surprise, apart from them being surprised, too, by my move, they rejected them. They explained the obvious which is what I said before, they didn’t want to put the money into the equation and if I want to give them something I could do it the day that I would leave.

However, I had put the money into the equation and that was important for another guy in the company. This guy was the one that first met me and introduced me to Sumit but he had disappeared when I made him clear that first day that I won’t give him any money. I started imagining what was going on when the next morning I had messages and voicemails from that guy whose name I don’t remember now. He was talking so kindly and calling me friend. Anyway, when I met him and Sumit in Assi Ghat I sensed a nervousness in the environment, especially from the other guy. He started dragging me from shop to shop, from a cafe to cafe advising me to buy something. I would see Sumit not being happy with this but I wasn’t pretty sure if that was the case. The important thing was that if I kept going like this I would miss my day going from here and there in order to be convinced to buy in order for him to make a cut. Anyway, after sometime when I started becoming angry the guys sensed it immediately and the other guy left without me even noticing. I started then asking Sumit for explanations. The problem was that the other one had met me first, so in whatever had to do with me he had the priority and in whatever money they would make from me he had to get the biggest percentage. I was ok after that with Sumit and I met him and his friends again later that day. This other friend wasn’t there of course.

So imagine that in 3 and a half days not only I met the guys well but our relationship passed from several phases! These are so important experiences for me to be remembered. Now that some time has passed, it doesn’t matter how exactly I passed my time with these guys. Instead most value has to me the whole interaction with people that live in a so much different world than mine yet they can teach me so many lessons and I can notice so many similarities with them. They didn’t have to give me anything to make me leave with such feelings from there, their kindness and simplicity was enough for me to feel fulfilled. I am going to be back to Varanasi soon, my friends, to roam in the Ghats next to the holy river Ganges again and listen to the sounds of the Arti. But excuse me, I won’t dive into the river like you, for this indeed I am afraid.

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