What about some embarrassing moments? I know there must have been many, but it is with great effort that I was able to recall any details. Perhaps I block them from my memory. Here is one incident I recall.
I had been wandering around Jaipur in the Indian State of Rajasthan. I was alone but ever hemmed in by strangers. People incessantly tried to sell me whatever they had to sell and/or begged for money. I kept my steady pace, smiled a bit, shook my head and encountered the next lot of people closing in on me. All the while, I admired the Moorish architecture strewn with colorful rugs and spotted with goats and cows. As dusk started to fall, I arrived in the vicinity of a restaurant recommendation listed in my Lonely Planet Guidebook.
The streets were winding and becoming narrow. I must have had a puzzled look because he asked me if he could help me find something. This man looked to be in his mid-twenties; his clothes were clean and he looked like a local resident. Here before me and offering help was an articulate person who kept a polite distance. I was taken aback a bit by this courtesy. I dropped my guard and told him how I was looking for a particular restaurant. He asked why that restaurant. I told him I had read of it in my Lonely Planet Guidebook. He said he knew it and would show me the way there. As we walked along, he told me how he owned a restaurant but tourists only wanted to eat at those places listed in Lonely Planet. As we walked, I asked him if his restaurant was open. It was. I said I would like to eat there instead. He smiled and off we went.
His was a spacious restaurant. The chicken tika and cheese na’an (my staple order for that area) were delicious. After I finished my meal, he joined me at my table in the back courtyard. He told me that he had a camel farm just outside of town and told how he had grown up riding camels. I told him how I was scheduled to ride my first camel the next day on a tour. He became animated when telling me about the upcoming weekend of camel racing in a nearby town starting the next day. We had a lovely chat. As we parted, I told him I would write a line to Lonely Planet recommending his restaurant, which I did. We parted as friends.
The next day, I was picking up with a tour for a four-day camel trek in the desert. I stored my luggage at the hotel and set off with my day bag to the designated meeting place. About ten people had signed on for the trek. The group seemed big enough to instill a sense of safety but small enough to feel intimate. After introductions, we set off with minimal gear for the local train station. The guide parked us in the lounge area and went off to get our tickets. We chatted excitedly of our upcoming adventure. Then our guide returned to tell us it was time to head toward the train track so we gathered up our gear and left the lounge.
We entered the chaos of the train station and as I was trying to keep up and keep track of where I was going, the man from the night before bounded over and embraced me in a greeting. I became stiff. My tour mates stared at me in surprise. I was embarrassed. I stepped back from him, just then fully recognizing him in his shawl. I politely said hello but my enthusiasm clearly did not match his. He quickly and quietly stepped back as though slapped. He looked at my group and seemed to appear slighted. The other young men in his group (I think his relatives) looked like deer caught in headlights. He wished me well on my journey and I wished him likewise. We parted with our separate and defined groups. I kept jogging to keep up with my group while answering a myriad of inquiries on the way to the train track.
As I stood on the train platform, I felt awful. I had found him friendly and he had been very gracious toward me. I didn’t recognize him at first in his travel garb. I was caught off guard by his effusive greeting. My new tour group’s stunned looks had made me uncomfortable. He wouldn’t know anything about how I get self-conscious in group situations. Did he interpret my conduct and demeanor as arrogance, or worse as bigotry? I just wasn’t socially adept enough to address the situation properly. I wanted to explain, but it was too late. Even after leaving on the train, I couldn’t quite escape my discomfort over the morning encounter.
“Memories that bless and burn,” as my mother would have sighed.