I have a friend from Belgium coming to visit me next week. He has visited the U.S. once, a trip to New York City with his parents when he was a kid. Last I heard from him, he was working on an artificial lung – or maybe a heart – for his thesis project at an engineering school in Europe. Now he’s coming to Kalispell and all he has asked me is if I would like him to bring me anything.
I met Bart in Argentina when I was finishing up college at the Universidad del Salvador. He was working for an engineering company in Buenos Aires and brushing up on his Spanish. He speaks five languages. We sparked up a friendship in those few months, but I’ve made a lot of foreign friends when traveling. Usually, with the exception of scattered e-mails and random phone calls, communication eventually fizzles out. You say, “If I’m ever out your way, we’ll connect,” or “I really do want to come visit.” But Bart is European – he loves traveling, makes time for it and plans out the details of his life schedule two years in advance. He bought a plane ticket and then sent me an e-mail saying he’s on his way.
Bart’s a good traveler. He gave me his flight information and offered to take a taxi if I didn’t want to pick him up at the airport, which is ridiculous, but an admirable gesture. That was the extent of our collective planning. The rest is up in the air, which is where it should be. That’s how I travel and that’s how trips become adventures instead of merely vacations. Bart knows that.
I have so many travel friends who I can only identify with the circumstances in which we met. I’ve never been to their world and they’ve never been to mine. We met in another world and that leads to uncomplicated, carefree friendships. I know Bart in the context of riding subways together in Buenos Aires, grabbing a beer at a San Telmo jazz club and exploring Jesuit mission ruins in the tropics south of Brazil. But I know little about the Bart who struggles with bills in Belgium, makes weekend plans or just kicks back on the couch and watches television. I can’t even say if he was working on a lung or a heart.
So it is with this separation in our everyday lives – as well as the ignorance of each other’s culture – that I can truly say I have no idea what to expect from his stay here and I’m sure he doesn’t either. And that’s how it should be. Neither one of us knew what to expect when we went to Argentina either. For me, it brings a sense of adventure to my daily life in the middle of January. For Bart, it is an adventure.
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