Tuesday, 10 February 2009

End of youth - adulthood

During my apprenticeship in Aachen with at an import-export company I became friend with Bernie. We met at school and decided to go to India, after certification. Our choice fell on India because you can go there by road and thus we had long meetings to work out the details of our trip.

Then came my military service at the Air Force (18 months) and after discharge and back in Aachen, first thing I did was to call on Bernie. His mother answered the phone: "Well, yes, I remember, this trip to India", she told me. "One has to grow up, hasn't one." What could I replay to that? "Give my greetings to Bernie" I said and hung up.

So I was once more on my own. This time to hitchhike to India. And in Istanbul I met an Englishman, Oxford-Johnny, and we decided to go east together.

Somewhere in Western Iran, a truck driver dropped us in a little town or village. So we squatted by the roadside, waiting for the next transport. The dirt road passed through a valley, its right side scattered with little houses, made of mud and stones. Behind many of these houses lay huge boulders that must have come tumbling down from the mountain. Simply by looking at those houses I smelled the danger. The rocks could move again, others might come down and they would not give any warning.

Photo of an Iranian village. But beware, it is NOT the place I a am talking of though this is the landscape I came through. I pasted it here only for its beauty.

Why did these people live there? They could not go elsewhere, I suppose. On the left side of the road, the ground was flat and there was a very long wall, about 1 1/2 meter (5 feet) high. Behind the wall I saw a big stately house.

Suddenly, a door in the wall opened and out came a guy carrying two platters with food and drink. "My master gives you his best wishes. Eat and be restored", he said, put the platters before us on the ground and left.

Wow! We did as he asked and left the cleaned platters at the door. Should we have gone in to say thank you? I don't know. That was neither the first nor the last time people - complete strangers - were friendly to me. But never like that.

About two months later I finally arrived in India. Oxford-Johnny had left me in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. "I think from here on, we better carry on separately", he told me. I liked his company and don't know why he said that. Years later it occurred to me that he might have realized I knew where he was hiding his travel money. But that's just a guess.

One day I came to Amritsar, the Golden City, in Northern India. Looking around there I made the acquaintance of a Sikh who invited me into his house to stay with his people, for some time. This I did, ate their food, slept with them on the roof of their house with the other members of the family.

Photo of people in Amritsar. Found it on the Internet. Nothing to do with the people I met there.

When I left, ready to say good bye to those I have met in the house, the Sikh, the old Gentleman, said to me: "you never asked our name, never". I just don't remember what I answered to this. But it still rankles. I was tried and found wanting. Was I a self-centered young brat or was it only my timidity? I don't know.


  1. perhaps you simply didn't connect with a culture?

  2. That is nice story Georg. There are many things we do or not do in life without knowing their impact on the people who are affected by it. Till someone asks the question...to which there is really never a real answer.

  3. The fact that you gratefully partook of what was offered by your host is in itself a mark of humility and respect. Their culture was not familiar to you and therefore you had no idea of what their expectations were. However, you connected with them in the most basic human way by accepting their food and shelter with no questions asked and with a sense of gratitude. You may do it differently now with all your years of life experiences behind you, but at the time what you did was perhaps how and what you thought was best. As they say hind sight is always twenty twenty!
    Interesting write up.

  4. To Sorrow,
    Quite possible I didn't connect with their culture. In fact I had barely one of my own, at that time.

    To Vinod,
    Thanks for this appreciation. This is not really a story as all happened to me. I didn't had to rack my brain to invent it. When doing this trip I felt terribly unsure of myself and had easily the impression to do the wrong thing.

    To IdItIs,
    You give to those two events a more positive turn whereas I had the impression that I missed to show even basic thankfulness. Going to India I thought and hoped this would help me to become more self-confident. When coming back after more than a year, I knew how to hitchhike in foreign lands but not very much more.


  5. Georg, I did not mean story in the sense of a 'story' as got conveyed. Of course I knew that everything that you said actually happened to you..

    I think you should write a series of detailed posts on your sojourn so that people can get a real, first person sense of the stark differences between how things were then and are today.

  6. Fascinating post, Georg! It is quite an experience you had, yes?
    More details of other trips and adventures, please.
    And Thank You! Merci Beaucoup....

  7. Tu racontes une belle histoire, mais je suis sûre que tu n'as pas tout "dit" et j'ai envie de dire "encore"!
    Pour ce que tu m'as dit : "oui, c'est dur à comprendre!! très dur!"Je n'ai jamais dit qu'il ne fallait pas de réformes, je dis simplement qu'on ne peut réformer quelque chose qu'avec les gens qui travaillent sur le terrain, ce sont eux qui sont à même de comprendre et de "guider" vers le positif de la réforme.
    Je te souhaite une bonne journée

  8. so how did the initial introductions take place - without addressing each other ?


  9. Bonjour everybody,

    To Vinod:

    Thanks for the suggestion. I might do it. But it should be said that I crossed all those countries in the "slumdog perspective". During those 12 months I never stayed in a hotel, for instance.

    To Lisa:
    Thanks for the compliment. However, if you look at the number of comments, very few people are really interested. Anyway.

    To Anrosh:

    I am not absolutely sure, but in Iran I dimly remember the man with the food talked to me in halting English. If not, I always said "salam alaikum" and the other one answered "alaikum salam". Or the other way round, it depends who talks first.

    Most certainly, it was not the USA standard greeting "Hi" answered by "Hi". Either this was not yet invented or stayed exclusively national. I don't know, in the early seventies this one was unknown to me and to Oxford-Johnny, too.

    And in India, I either said "Hallo" or "Good morning" or "glad to meet you" and I meant it. Certainly did not say "How do you do", don't like this, seems to be a bit stupid to me as the counterpart invariably says "how do you do".

    Fact is, I hate "mechanical, meaningless" formulas and try to avoid them as much as possible.

    Cheers to all of you

  10. Hi Georg,

    "Slumdog" perspective is just what is needed. There are plenty of Westerners who breeze through India and its five star hotels and write "authentic" stuff about the country.

    You must write. Your perspective coupled with the fact that it was so long ago can make very interesting reading, besides having "period" value . Who knows, you might land up with a book offer, even a movie.

  11. Georg,
    I am sorry for not explaining the racial undertones of the cartoon; I simply took it for granted that something which is so country specific would be understood by a worldwide audience... this is perhaps what they call American snobbery! I apologize!
    I am sending you a link here that explains the cartoon in a historical context:

  12. hallo georg!!!!
    Heureux d'avoir fait ta connaissance.
    J'espère que mon pays t'a plu et que tu reviendras nous voir.
    Tu as donc une grande facilité de communiquer, nous le voyons dans ce post. Aurais tu été un des premiers beatniks?
    Merci encore pour ta visite et à très bientôt

  13. Ah, Georg, you see--more commenters than you believed would comment. More stories, please?
    Peace, man.

  14. hoho!!! je crois bien que le patron est encore en train de couper du bois
    l'hiver 2009-2010 va être particulièrement froid.