Strangers No More

"Bet you can't strike up a conversation with a stranger today" said the younger sister as she dropped her older sister at the small regional airport.

Why the challenge? To try and move her older sister out of her comfort zone. And there were so many ways to talk to absolute strangers in an airport then and now. Whether complaining about TSA, the airlines or just that old reliable saw--The Weather, so many things to chit and chat about with strangers. Watch children, they do it effortlessly.

Unsurprisingly to the younger sister, the older sister couldn't do it. Apparently the ability to talk to complete strangers is not an ability that everyone has. Very unlike my family who pick up strangers as effortlessly as a white dog picks up detritus while walking down the street.

For example there was that short connecting flight in 1980 from São Paolo, Brazil to Asunciòn, Paraguay. Parked at the gate in Brazil as some passengers exited and others entered, the English-speakers a few rows behind us in a sea of Spanish and Portuguese speakers stood out. As linguistic orphans in a foreign land, we turned to chat them up. My husband could chat with a rock, so it wasn't exactly a stretch.

Apparently the American family were en route home to the United States for what expats call home leave. This was a time for expats to return to their homeland to reconnect with it. Working at an English-speaking school in Lagos, Nigeria, it had been 2 or 3 years since the family had been home to America. Their two pre-adolescent sons happily shared stories of dead bodies that floated down the river or were splayed in the streets. Just another day in Lagos, they'd grin getting ever more grizzly in their tales of murder and mayhem.

We soon learned that the couple had previously worked at the American School in Kenya, to which I asked my husband Gary "Wasn't that when your brother, David and Ellen worked there?" It was. Not only the same time that Gary's sibling and his wife worked as teachers at the same school, but the same time that the two families went on a photographic safari in Kenya. And since Gary's mother was visiting, Grandma Bea joined the group on the trip.

By the time we landed in Asunciòn we'd not only learned of all sorts of personal connections. but also that they had a six-hour layover at the teeny airport. So we invited the family to our home for dinner. What we would have for dinner, I hadn't a clue given we'd been gone for a few weeks and the cupboard was bare. But I'd figure something, I always did.

Walking in the door, the telephone rang. Expat friends of ours were having a barbecue that evening and wanted to invite us. "Might we bring another family?" we asked, to which our friends readily agreed.

At the barbecue, it was our turn to shock the visitors from Lagos. Into the kitchen walked the boys as they stopped dead seeing a bowl of fresh apples, a rarity in Nigeria. Bug-eyed they drooled in anticipation as they consumed one after another. With alcohol not legally available in Nigeria, the father of the family was speechless at the well-stocked bar. It knocked him both figuratively and literally, on his keister.

Hours later we dropped our new friends at the airport, no longer strangers. For what is strange about someone you've spent time with? Nothing.


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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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