Project#2, Snapshot#8: Getting Un-lost

I have to say, Thursday was the most exciting day of my blogging life so far. So thank you, everyone who reads my words and enjoys them.

Alright, this is the story I’ve been most looking forward to telling you. This is the story about how I was hopelessly and utterly lost, and more importantly, how I got un-lost.

I finally found an internet cafe to book a hostel from, and found the last bed in Paris. Outside Paris, really. The hostel was off the last subway stop on the pink line, plus a bit of a walk. And they served breakfast and dinner free! Super exciting.

I had plenty of time, so I walked around Paris and saw some things to see.

As I walked down the designer shopping area, with Faithful Orange, of course, I felt more and more self-conscious. I hadn’t showered in a couple days, hadn’t brushed my hair in longer, and hadn’t worn makeup in longer than that. I was severely out of place in chic and stylish Paris. After a few awkward moments, I decided to relish it, the way I do when someone on the freeway tails me, so I slow down just a hair to annoy them. It’s so much fun.

After a couple hours of walking around, I decided to find that metro stop and make my way to the hostel for dinner. The first time (and the second time), all the big streets in Paris look the same. And of course, I went the wrong way down the right street for an hour. I managed to ask for directions in French! From some very nice and slightly condescending French people who thought I was comic and slightly annoying/dumb. But I appreciated it a million-fold.

When I finally found the stop, I got on. And waited for 40 minutes for the last stop. And I got off. And realized I had no idea where the hostel was from there. Brilliant me had forgotten to write the walking directions down. Of course.

I went to the information desk. But no one spoke English, of course. I handed her a slip of paper with the address on it, and she tried to find it on a map, and then tried to explain how to get there. She even came above ground with me so she could point. So I followed her directions to a T (my not-first mistake that day. Precisely following the directions of someone who can’t speak English isn’t a good idea). I walked for an hour. And I found myself gloriously lost in the not-so-savory suburbs outside Paris.

I sat on the curb and cried.

After a while of that, the only thing to do would be to beg the help of whoever walked my way. Lo and behold, an angel descended from wherever they come from in the form of a girl about my age. I could see she wasn’t French-French. I later learned she was French-Algerian. I flung out my arms and cried “Parlez-vous ingles?!?!”

“Yes…” she replied.

So I told her my predicament. “You know you’re not in Paris, right?” She had the most delicate French accent and spoke the best English I’d encountered.

“Yes, I know, but the hostel is somewhere in this neighborhood and I just can’t find it!”

She was sure there wasn’t a hostel there, and I was sure there was. So she sat on a bench with me and called someone, babbled in French for a while, hung up and said, “Well my and my mother’s apartment is right around the corner. You could come up and we’ll help you find it.”

Stranger danger. But also my only hope. “Yeah, sure. That’d be fantastic.” We got up to walk, and I almost cried again for how much my feet hurt.

Her mother was a short, round, delightful woman who spoke a very little English and chain-smoked while Google-mapping the hostel address. She hugged me when I came in and kissed me on both cheeks. I wish I had taken pictures of them and of their apartment, but I remember it all perfectly. The apartment was small and cluttered and smelled of cigarettes. There was a living room in the center, a small kitchen and bathroom, and two or three bedrooms. They bickered in French over the computer, and I sat on the couch with Orange and looked around politely. This was beyond anything I’d imagined for my trip. They offered me water, and talked to me intermittently in English.

Then they pulled up a picture of a house. “This is the address.” There was a Vietnamese flag in one of the windows. The name of the hostel was clearly not French. “That has to be it!” They knew what bus I would take to get there and everything.

“Well, we’re about to go to my grandmother’s for Ramadan dinner. Would you like to come with us, and then we can take you to your hostel?” Sabrina offered.

I was beside myself. “Sure! Of course!”

The grandmother, they told me, didn’t speak any English, and she didn’t speak any French either. She only spoke Algerian. The door to her apartment opened, and I was faced with a woman a whole head shorter than me (and I’m pretty short) and covered in wrinkles.

“Bonjour!” I cried.

“Halloo!” she cried.

We hugged and she kissed me on both cheeks. And the food was amazing. I don’t remember the details, because I was deliriously hungry, but they were afraid I wouldn’t like it. But I tasted everything and ate everything. I remember eating an apricot for dessert. Ramadan dinner, since they had fasted all day, had all the food groups in it. That had never occurred to me before. There were these honey covered pastry things that I couldn’t stop eating.

They took me on the bus, Sabrina’s friend picked us up in his car, and they drove me to the hostel/house. They even walked me to the door to make sure I wasn’t getting kidnapped. I was so grateful to these strangers from a different culture, and I was overwhelmed with the benevolence of everything. I hugged them, thanked them a million times in English and French,  and walked into my Vietnamese hostel/house.

This is by far the most amazing story from my travels. Not that I didn’t see and experience innumerous incredible things, but this definitely tops them all. There’s such a completeness to it, as a story. And by the way, there are kind, generous, hospitable, wonderful people everywhere in the world, no matter what language they speak or where they are from. These are the people that prove to me there is something greater going on in the world. They are my angels. If I ever see a lost traveler, you can bet I’ll be offering them help and inviting them to dinner.

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