When one returns home from any travel, one is usually confronted with the question- what have you brought back with you? The question is as standard and predictable (and sometimes as indifferent) as the safety announcements on the flights. The question can come from your family and friends or even from distant acquaintances that somehow get to know that you had traveled to a particular place. Some wise and veteran travelers (like my hubby) think of this in advance and plan methodically such that they have more than an adequate response to offer to the question – both verbally and materially. But I have not managed to learn this trait from my better half and I often scramble for an answer on the way back home. I think it is far too expensive to buy anything at the airports just to be able to give an answer. A few days ago, I was listing all the things that I have actually brought home, besides dirty laundry of course.
Once when my daughter was in pre-school, I just got some interesting maps of the city I had visited and we spent days after that trying to find places, check distances and learn about co-ordinates. Once it was a sling that she could use, once it was a nice smooth round stone that she used as a paperweight. Once it was maple leaves of different colours that we laminated when I got back and now use as bookmarks. I usually end up visiting a grocery store wherever I go and it is easy to buy some food items, although there have been times when I have purchased something simply because the packaging looked interesting and I had no clue what was written on the label. Pictures of the places visited and local currency is always easy to bring home. Sometimes, I have even bought utility items like stain removers and storage boxes. It is not that I have not purchased local souvenirs – like Matryoshka dolls or local silks, but I have always preferred to look around than spend my time in shops.
I have sometimes shopped under compulsion and sometimes under pressure. Whenever I have visited smaller villages or towns, I have felt compelled to purchase local products and contribute to the local economy. It could be honey, spices, textiles or even baskets. I remember once shopping under pressure-I had only one hour before leaving for the airport, I had limited luggage space but I had loads of local currency left with me which I wanted to exhaust as I was not interested in re-converting. Once I had shopped so many big and heavy things like books and glass items that I had to buy two large bags just to carry back the new purchases. Sometimes, friends and colleagues whom I meet have been generous and have made matters easier for me by giving things that I can carry home. I have received mounds of organic jaggery, books, cosmetics, crockery sets and paintings.
|Bringing home African braids|
Sometimes, I have brought home surprises. Once, some African colleagues spent two hours braiding my hair and I came back with over thirty braids and a pattern resembling tortoise-back on my scalp. The expression on the faces of my loved ones was simply priceless, something I would never have managed to see after presenting them items from the duty-free shops.
When I look at the list of things that I have brought back, I feel that I may not have always brought back the expected souvenirs, but I have always brought home plenty of stories and memories that I have recounted and relived around the dinner table. I have come home with stories about new friends I have made, new places I have seen and new cultures I have explored. When I come home, my family does not search my suitcase for shopping bags, they know there is likely to be nothing other than dirty laundry. They often ignore the bag and just look at me and wait for me to start talking.