Traveling Families , Harry Potter and the Mekong

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It has been raining for the past 3 days non stop. Monsoon rain, the kind that you really pray for because just before it is so hot so hot so hot, that the air feels solid in its humidity. When it is that hot, 33 degrees Celsius at night, all you crave for is the rain. The storm. They are usually powerful, there is lightning, coconuts fall down to the ground, and jackfruits, and it  makes so much noise on the top of your room when you sleep that you actually smile knowing that finally it will cool down. Usually these explosions of water are so strong and so brief that the 10 degrees drop in temperature is just a brief blessing from the skies before the heat curse strikes back and you see yourself again on your knees, begging for another explosion.

Maybe it’s the dynamics of the monsoon that I have to get used to, maybe it’s just another evil effect of global warming… who knows. All I know is that for the past 3 days it has rained non stop like in a catastrophe movie till one day it simply stopped. And more surprisingly, it has gotten cooler. Of course it it still above 20 celsius, but when you are used to the heat, it feels to me like it is winter. And so I feel even more confined to Mut mee… avoiding to go out into the rain, also because, as Deng my masseuse pointed out, I have a fever.

“You are sick. Hot cold, Hot cold, rain not good!”

My fear is immediate. How sick, I ask her. In broken Thai she tells me it’s not serious. Just need to rest. And drink. “Dengue? “ I ask her. She says no.

My highly psychosomatic mind luckily doesn’t know the symptoms of dengue that well, otherwise it would stage them perfectly in my body, like an anti-placebo. An American next to me asserts me that I don’t have dengue, “if you did, you would know it without any doubt”. And if by tomorrow you are still in doubt, then definitely you don’t have it.

So, convinced by this expert, I’m feeling good again, and get closer to a newly arrived travelling family.

I LOVE traveling families.

They are always a breath of fresh air. Not the typical travellers who just want to play games, and see TV. No, they really see the world.

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I have spoken about them before, how I once became really close friends to an Albanian-French-Swiss-Luxembourgish family here. They were on the road to spend time with each other, a quality time together that they didn’t have back home. Raphael was 2,5, Victor 7, and the parents Cyril and Ida took their time to further the children’s education while traveling. I had just met them back in Switzerland when I brought my book. Raphael, now 2 years older, climbed inside of my bag and said “ Take me with you! I have the keys to the hotel.”

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Victor, now 9, shows me in his computer the pictures they had of me. Raphael looks at the pictures, he remembers the houses he had had in Bali and Thailand, and he can remember little events. I can remember little Raphael at 2,5 years old walking around to water the Buddhas like he was in a temple, and now, years later, he recognizes Buddhas, houses, and nights when there was not light because of the rain.

As I am sitting here reading in the internet, I meet another Raphael. He is 9. I start a conversation; I know he is French but I speak to him in English. He struggles and stutters. I ask whether he was bored with the rain, after all there is no TV here.

“Of course not, my parents really like it here. And there is a garden, and a swing, and so many things to see.”

I have a computer in front of me, so does Benny (Julian’s son), we offer him to play but he says he is ok. So I shift to French to tell him where I think he should go.

“You know there is a park here, nothing too special, but people can buy plaster figures and paint them. I went there and enjoyed loads even being a terrible painter.”

I open my computer to show what the place looks like, nothing grand, nothing really that special, and there it is my artwork which looks so lame and crappy that I had no courage to bring it with me. I show him the one the Chinese girl with me had painted, a perfect one.

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He looks at me and said “  would not say this is ugly. I would say it is creative, original, beautiful actually. Thank you for showing me, I will tell my parents.”

I am completely in love with this little boy. He is so polite, so sensitive and sensible, and then I meet his mom, Anne Laure, his brother Antoine and finally their father, Julien. Their good vibes remind me so much of  Ida and Cyril, Victor and Raphael. I tell them so.

“You know, once I was here, and there was this man rapping furiously because there was no TV here for his children. How could children be entertained without TV, he asked, now they would never stop moving around.”

See, it’s true that these people are not “normal”, ordinary, but they chose the way they like to live without fear and they exist and lead perfectly responsible lives, so if you do have children and feel like they can not travel to Asia, just remember these amazing kids. In fact, these amazing parents who do not need I-pads and TVs to entertain their children, are much more involved and create much stronger bonds with them. And these bonds will certainly last forever.

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Meanwhile the rain pours down we have a blast. Not even 3 months ago, I told Edu he should read Harry Potter to his son. Edu thought HP was rather foolish, but I insisted and made my point of how much I think that woman, J.K. Rowling, is a genius. Not simply because she made such a success, but because she made a whole generation like to read, and because her books have a very subtle and intelligent take on the “real world”. I told Edu of how the book was eventually published, after being put down by a dozen different publishers (who probably have committed suicide by now); it was because the publisher gave the book to his daughter, and the girl devoured it.

So, very soon, Yuri, Edu’s son, was reading HP and so was I, to accompany him. I remember I liked it very much, even though i was already too old to follow the first ones. But I followed anxiously the release of tomes 5, 6, and 7. And then, as I was back reading, or rather listening to HP on audio books, by the time I got to book 4 I was actually worried. Could a 9 year old read that stuff, which is pretty heavy and made me cry several times. So i insisted with Edu that he should read together with Yuri… But it was too late. Yuri was hooked on it, in a few months he had read thousands of pages and was just like me on the last book. By the way, today he just finished reading the last book and now feels orphaned.

So, as Raphael here tells me he likes my artwork I ask him about HP. And so we are under pouring rain for 2 days talking about literature, about HP and about life. I am amazed. They see the world just like my other friends had. They actually don’t watch much TV, they tell them.

So I ask Raphael, “you are 9 and you read them all, was it difficult? For I confess that I cried in book 4.” Antoine, who is 12, and Raphael tell me that they also had cried in many parts; I ask in which ones, and so it is that we cried for the same reasons, for the beauty of friendship, loyalty, loss….

And then we played music, I tried to sing with what I can, and they tell me Portuguese sounds beautiful, and we exchange words in the dozens of languages we know. I adore them all and wonder what is their secret. What do these parents do, what they don’t. They are interested to know about my book, and as I am done Raphael looks at me and says, “let me see if I got it:

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“Your book shows that there are many languages, cultures, religions, and that we don’t need to speak the same thing to respect each other and be friends.” Antoine says something that I miss, and his father says, yes that it is right. I realise I have missed so I asked what did he say. And Antoine says “It is emotion that connects us.”

“Have you seen the Elephant Man?”, they ask; I tell them I have not, though I know what it is about. And they tell me that they cried a lot in that film. In the end, the monstrously deformed man says, “I am a human being”. And they tell me how they cried then.

Suddenly I realise what it is so fundamental about the travelling families. They are inclusive, they are caring, and above all they do not spare their children from the horrors of the world. They don’t scare them with it, they let them know about it with a little bit of magic, and loads of humanity.

As I am bidding them goodbye  I meet  a mother that is very shocked that a 9-year-old has read HP,  she would never let her son read it at such a tender age. It is not the first time I hear this. But before I say anything, she says  “I am afraid he will be scared, and have nightmares.” But she has met the other children, she has seen how friendly, how open-minded and how in place they feel. So, I do’t know what to say,  I confess I secretly think that she could as well lobotomize her son or cut a piece of his brains off so that he doesn’t dream at all and suppress all that so-dangerous subconscious. But I don’t say anything, for it is so clear to me. Travelling families, real incredible families, know that nightmares are part of life, and rather than protecting children from the horrors of the world, they let them see it, being always next to them when they do have nightmares. These are people who understand we are a mosaic, that we celebrate imperfection being together, being present. Rather than turning on fluffy cartoons on tv the whole day and watching from afar when TV-I-padded children have their blissful dreams about computer games.

Love from the Mekong