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what does a cave, a bus, and an ass grab have in common? two canadians.

23 Mar

“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – Candless

Lucas and I went to a cave just outside of Ipoh, Malaysia. It was beautiful . When we got there, there was a large group of Muslim university students taking a tour so Lucas and I tagged along, listening to the guide who would kindly go between Malay and English. As he pointed out different shapes and rocks throughout the cave, he would tell jokes, making the students laugh as it echoed throughout the dark space. I quickly became very aware of the fact that out of 40 students, we were the only white people and I was wearing shorts and a tank top. I hadn’t planned on walking with a large group of young Muslim people but I did bring a sarong so I threw that on over my shoulders to try and seem at least slightly “descent” to the group.

As the group of us walked through the cave, up the stairs and so on, I noticed how all of the boys and girls segregated themselves from each other, walking in two smaller groups. So, as I tried to pass a group of young men to get to where the ladies were, my hand accidentally touched a young man’s butt. Yup, I was just swinin’ my hand, trying to be all respectful and shit and get in with the young ladies when this dude’s ass just got in my way. You want to know how to make a situation like this even more memorable? And by memorable I mean completely awkward? And by awkward I mean (as I later learned) a sin? My first reaction was to state the obvious in front of everyone “Oh! I just touched your bum. I’m sorry.” I knew I had done something horrible because I was avoided like the plague for most of it. They smiled and were lovely, but oh boy, did they do it from afar.

It was going really well so far, right? Soon after the guide stopped us to point out a natural draft that was coming through the cave. As we all stood there, somehow, Lucas and I were standing with the tour guide and the students were standing in front of us, well away from any chance of a sweet ass grab, of course. It was here that the tour turned into a Q&A.

With every question, our answers would solicit a group “ohhhhh” or “ahhhhhh…” One young woman asked us if we were married. Lucas started to answer that we were because we had been telling people we were; there is no concept of boyfriend/girlfriend and definitely no concept of living together before marriage in many of the places we have been. I didn’t want to say yes. We are not married and they were asking because they were curious. How can we learn about the world if the world lies about its ways? So I said “no, we’re not married.” The boys all looked at each other, “what?” and the girls put their hands over their mouths and smiled, “oh!” The crowd hushed and we went on.  “In Canada, it is acceptable for people to live together and fall in love without getting married. We are married to each other in different ways like in trust and love. We are committed to each other because we say we are. We don’t see the need for a piece of paper.” More questions. “So you live together?”  More answers. “Yes, very much so. We own a house together.” More minds blown.

a walking dichotomy

a walking dichotomy

We had questions for them as well. I wanted to know why they were on a school trip on a Saturday. Turns out, all extra curricular activities take place on the weekends because they have school Monday to Friday. It seemed like a silly question. I told them how Canadians look at field trips as an integrative part of the classroom learning which is why we go on the weekdays. They couldn’t believe that one. Canadian school system be mad cray, cray.

We left our group with a resounding “Bye!” with waves and smiles from all 40 of them. It was in a cave so it was resounding in the literal sense, not the emotional sense.

As we waited for a taxi outside the gates we saw a bus waiting in the parking lot. It was an exceptionally hot day and we didn’t know when the cab would show up so Lucas got all “go ask them if we can get a ride with them” and I was all like, “what? It looks like another school trip. No way-José.” Here we were, clearly travelling, so sweaty and showing enough skin to be considered indecent. There is no way anyone is letting us on the bus.

Then that thing happened. You know, when you have nothing to lose so why the hell not? Regretting only the things that you didn’t do? I thought, “fuck it, José” and walked over to the bus.

“Uh, hello. Is this a school bus?”

“Yes, it is. We’re on a school trip.” The woman, with her hijab smiled down on me. She spoke excellent English.

“Ah, ok, Thank you. May we get a ride with you to the end of the street where the local bus is?”

“Yes, you can come with us.”

Say what?

I called Lucas over and they made room for us in the very front seat. It turns out the woman was a teacher at an all girls private school and today was a field trip for grade 7 and 8. She apologized that we needed to wait for the girls to gather up and come back to the bus. Uh, what are you, Canadian? No need to say sorry, this was already really cool.

One by one young girls started boarding the bus. The teacher kept telling them to say hello to us. They smiled and said hello only to rush to their seats to whisper and giggle with each other. Girls and women, all over the world, really aren’t that different from one another.

As the conversation with the teacher continued, we learned that men and woman of the Muslim faith do not touch. This is, of course, after Lucas shook the teacher’s hand. We were so happy to to have learned this because it wasn’t the first time he shook a woman’s hand and it always felt really awkward but we weren’t sure why.  Also, flashback to my grabby little hand on that young man’s ass. Whoops!

We had time for this conversation because the teacher asked us if we wanted to go to the mall they were going to. Here is where traveling becomes adventuring. We said yes and abandoned the other plans we had that day. They could not have been better than going on a short road trip with a bunch of Muslim students and teachers. They just couldn’t.

I was confused about the mall though. Why a mall as part of their field trip?

“The mall? What will you do there?”

She looked surprised at first but then smiled, “Pray.”

“Ohhhhh, right. You guys pray, we’ll eat.”

Lucas shook his head and started to chuckle. Right, probably not the finest thing to say. All I meant was that eating and food is like a spiritual ceremony for me. No? Not the same? Shit.

It was so strange, this day. I sat there, on this bus, surrounded by young girls in hijabs, speaking with a teacher as if we had already known each other. Our worlds are so, so far a part and yet so closely linked together. I find inspiration in our differences and comfort in our similarities. We all got off the bus and went our separate ways, never to be seen again. That’s what travelling does; it connects people so closely through these colourful, beautiful and random experiences and then it pulls you away. It’s ok because there’s always a promise that you will connect with another soon. Or connect with yourself. It’s different for everyone.