Talking To Strangers

I met a very interesting lady while I was at work today.

Being a part-time employee in a retail environment, it’s sometimes hard not to feel the soul-crushing weight of your university degree bearing down on you while you toil away earning just over minimum wage. The thing with that is that there is always a silver lining. Things can always be worse, but just as easily, they can also be better.

The great thing, and I suppose the only satisfaction that I get from this part-time retail job of mine is that I get to meet some really interesting people. Take, for instance, this lady that I met today. I was cashing her out, and asked if she required a gift receipt. She politely told me no, saying that the were going with her to South Africa. That statement alone was enough to spark what ended up being a 30 minute conversation between us. I use conversation lightly, as it was mostly her talking and I listening.

She told me that she still had some family in South Africa, but that she was of European origin. When she was maybe 12 years old, having been born on the East German side of the Iron Curtain, her family decided that they needed to escape. Fleeing in the middle of the night with only a few possessions, they managed to make it all the way to South Africa; the farthest that they could get from where they were running from. Having finished both her secondary and post-secondary education in South Africa, she decided that she wanted to travel, and go back to Europe.

Wandering around Berlin, after the Wall was destroyed, she realized that she loved the north. The cold agreed with her, and she found an intrinsic beauty in it. She spent the majority of her twenties travelling, ending up in Edinburgh, before she decided that in order to really understand and know the north, she needed to come to Canada. She first landed in Montreal (with two tiny suitcases), then Ottawa, and finally, Toronto. It was a year later that she met a person who would later become her life-long partner, and travel buddy.

Before they got married, she made him promise that they would travel across Canada’s northern Territories, and they did just that. They spent close to half a decade travelling up there, taking it all in, before coming back, and settling down.

Being a recent university graduate who’s finding it increasingly hard to find any real opportunities, the idea of travelling has become more and more appealing to me. It wasn’t really until I heard her story that it sunk in; there really is a whole world out there just waiting to be discovered by my relatively fresh pair of eyes. I’ve been across most of Western Europe, South Asia and Eastern Canada, but never by myself. I’ve never really been on an adventure like that, and while the early portion of hers was forced upon her, it helped to foster a love of travel and a love of the north.

I think that what can be taken from her story is that it never hurts to talk to people you may not know. You can only gain something from their experience, or even, inexperience. I cannot describe how it felt to stand there and listen to her talk; it was simply amazing. It didn’t hurt that she made the soul-crushing experience of working in retail feel like nothing, and that I, at the ripe old age of 22, can do anything I set my mind to.

I just wish that I had thought to get her name. Hindsight is 20/20, after all.