The Roads of Friendship, via the Press Trip from Hell
Lauren is driving, I’m riding shotgun, Reda is in the back. Reda opens a bottle of water, passes it on to me, I pass it on to Lauren, it moves back in the opposite direction. Ten minutes go by. Reda falls asleep. We’re talking. One hour later a head emerges between the front seats. Words and laughter. Four months have passed since we met in India, on the press trip from hell.
The promise had been “Drive a vintage Ambassador car in the inaugural India’s Cup, meet travel industry professionals, and make a documentary film about the history, traditions, and difficulties associated with the ancient garment of sari.” The three of us were put in that car, and spent the next eight days alternating between sleeping in the confined space of the car and hotel rooms. The only time we spent apart was in the bathroom.
We drove from Chennai to Trivandrum, seeing India from the rearview mirror. We were concentrating on not getting killed by oncoming buses, not killing someone or some animal that just jumped in front of the car, and making the next stop before nightfall (which never happened). We later realized that the organizer had never tested the route before. Our hopes of sightseeing and cultural engagement went out the window on the second day.
We agreed on routes and stops almost without speaking. We shared our life stories from England, Portugal and the USA. We chased off nerves and fear with laughter and friendship.
Everything went wrong, except for the three of us. Even before the drive had started we had bonded over telling the organizers off on their poor planning and straight-up lies. In those eight days, we fed, hugged and listened to each other. We agreed on routes and stops almost without speaking. We shared our life stories from England, Portugal and the USA. We chased off nerves and fear with laughter. After an accident that got us in a police station for an afternoon, I realized those two girls I had only known for a week had my back, whatever happened. Two days after that, we handed over our car, quit and stayed in Kerala. We let the sun heal us and continued spending 24 hours of the day together, still sharing words and laughter and food and drinks. Still supporting each other.
Ten days later, as we said goodbye, the promise of a reunion in England and Portugal was made. And there we were.
I wonder if we would have gotten along so well if we hadn’t gone through our experience in India together. Then again, is it worth even thinking about? Isn’t that one of the many wonders of traveling? It leads us to people who would probably never cross our paths otherwise. It places us in situations that force us to open up to other human beings, to trust, to empathize.
There is so much that escapes our first impressions. On the surface, Reda seemed just a curious American. Loud laughter, lots of questions, make-up on. Under that there is kindness, aesthetic sensitivity, beautiful words, and the profound way she thinks about the world. We can spend hours discussing books. The way she remembers the details, how she describes how she felt while reading certain passages, how she decodes the meanings never ceases to amaze me.
I wonder if we would have gotten along so well if we hadn’t gone through our experience in India together. Then again, is it worth even thinking about? Isn’t that one of the many wonders of traveling?
We were born on the same day, in different years. “Soul sisters” and “old souls” we call each other. Sometimes we have a million words to share, sometimes none and all of that is natural – like when we are writing, the love that led us to sharing the same car in India.
Fast forward two years after our first goodbye and we’ve flown across the world to meet each other. We’ve been serenaded by a drunk Cornish man in beautifully lit pubs, fed on wine and cheese at sunset on the beaches of Portugal, changed buses that have gone in the wrong direction in the middle of a stormy night in Ecuador, and written poetry by the river in Colombia. We’ve held each other physically and virtually through heartbreak, confusion and the ever present discussion of what we want to do with our writing. We’ve supported each other in life-changing decisions. We’ve called each other out, when the weight gets too heavy and we begin to stray away from those decisions.
I know she will be there, wherever she is. And I know we will never be more than some months apart. That is such a comforting feeling. For someone who has little pieces of her heart scattered around the world, that is the certainty that makes me believe that no matter how much it hurts to miss those pieces, it is always worth it. That this is my way: the path of discovery of new people in the world, and of the world in those people.