I could just about hear that announcement over the PA system at the Kandy train station. On one side, maintenance work was being carried out and on the other, chatter from the crowd waiting for the train.
This morning, the station was full. With 2 of its platform under maintenance, the platform was packed out with tourist and locals alike.
For once, the train is on time! Just to be sure, I showed the stationmaster my ticket and he got me onto the right carriage, found my seat and settled in.
“This-a-train-a to Caalombo?”
“No, it is just coming to Colombo and going to Dabulla”
Wait. Did I just hear that right? Did that lady just tell that Japanese tourist that this train is not going to Colombo?!
“Oh s**t, I’m on the wrong train! Damn announcement!”
Basically, almost half the carriage emptied after hearing that as there was confusing on the reserved isles and hence the revealing of getting on the wrong train! I knew it was too good to be true! And the stationmaster got me on the wrong train too! Moron! Imagine, going back to where you just came from!
“I did the same”, he said. “I’m sure half of them on the train think they are going to Colombo”.
Romain is his name, a Frenchman working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the other side of the globe. Naturally, like everything else, the train was delayed by 15 minutes in which time both of us got talking about the places we’ve been too. Soon I realised, we both landed on the same day and are leaving on the same day too. Plus we both spend the same amount of time in Nuwara Eliya and Kandy and on the same dates too. Talk about coincidence.
Romain gave up his first class seat, for a second class and kept me company on the journey back to Colombo. Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to work or volunteer for the UN. But I wasn’t sure about it, as I don’t know anyone working or volunteering for them. So meeting Romain was like hitting jackpot to all the question I have about working for an organisation like that. Safe to say, meeting him has made me think twice and consider if I do want to join the ICRC or the UN. And if I do, I doubt I want it to be for too long.
Now the up side of working with the ICRC is that you get a special pass where you get priority to almost everything. Check-in at the airport at the first class counter regardless of your travel class, you get discounts in almost every hotel around the world and most importantly, if you need help for work, you’d get it in a flash. That’s just the perks of working for such an organisation but then again, living the life you do is a whole other scenario as I’m about to find out.
- The only people you’d see 24/7 is the people who you work with and also share quarters with.
- You’ll meet officials, rebels, the wounded, the dead and not forgetting blown up body parts.
- Your life is always hanging in the balance. Being the middle person you’re threatened by almost everyone.
- You’ll missing out on a lot of things and people too.
In the course of the next few days, naturally Romain hung out with my friends and I. I didn’t realise what sitting down and having a good meal and decent conversation could mean to someone. I suppose, you do missing meeting people and going to a café or restaurant and having a good meal if you did his job and being posted in war torn areas. He even took me to the cinema (I never ever go to the cinema on holidays, I can always do it when I get home). I realised after a while why, cause he hasn’t been into one for ages! Mind you there wasn’t an English movie playing, so ‘Madras Café’ it was. I went along with it just to keep him company and I kind felt for the guy… Things we take for granted. When some things are taken from you, you’ll learn how to appreciate it even more when you’re reacquainted with it.
To me, observing him and listening to his stories made me reconsider a few things. Interesting as it maybe, moving year to year to a new country could be tiring. I always though it would be brilliant to have a job that made you travel the world, but not having a ‘home’ to return too after a journey is harsh. Having to uproot almost every year is trouble some. But on the up side, you learn to live with just the basics and you travel really light. You sort of have fewer things to lung around and only the important things always remain. I understand now why he wants to go give it up and go home, perhaps I would too if I were him.
At some point somewhere you have to plant your roots (doesn’t matter where) and call it home, and always have a place to return to, to have a sense of belonging. That’s the lesson he thought me.
Strange what you take away from people you meet and who you meet when you’re traveling.