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Accidental Tourist

The unravelling of travelling

Zahida Fakey answers the call of the travel bug to take three young kids to Vietnam - but is it a mistake?

16 December 2018 - 00:00 By zahida fakey

It was as I stood in my bedroom in Hanoi, exhausted, having flown across three time zones with three children, picking up an eye infection on the overnight flight and then, blurry eyed, knocking my perfume onto the marble tiles and shattering the bottle, that I stared at the silk curtains of our hotel room and began to have deep questions about destiny and the meaning of existence.
A month before, the travel bug had bit me, hard, just before the school holidays. Which anyone with three children will tell you is particularly bad timing - financially, emotionally and spiritually. However, Vietnam and its remote magic were calling and I could not deny the call. I stayed up late at night, trawled the net, negotiated, drank many cups of coffee and made it happen.
Which led to my existential moment standing there across time and space. Perhaps I had tempted fate, forced its hand. Perhaps I had made a path where none was meant to be. Perhaps, having defied the laws of the universe and altered the quantum structure of time and space, I was experiencing the dire consequences of my universe unravelling .
As it would turn out, it was one of the best family holidays we ever had.
Travelling the length of an ancient kingdom, former French colony and country resurrected from war was fascinating. When we walked through the old quarter in Hanoi, the children kept getting distracted by the pet stores, which included lionfish and other amazing sea creatures; barbers set up at tree stations; ladies having their manicures done on the sidewalk; and pavement kitchens with the most exotic-looking foods. Here, the journey was as exciting as any destination we got to.
They also learnt to be street smart. With all the motorbikes and dearth of traffic lights, there is an unspoken etiquette of street crossing. Walk. Without. Fear.
Anyway, that's what my husband concluded based on the mathematical law of passing trajectories. If you haven't heard of it, it is this: If 100 motorbike riders are headed your way, you walk without hesitation and they, adjusting the angle and speed of their acceleration, will avoid you. Hesitation is the variable that throws this formula off.
As we crossed the street, my youngest tightly gripped my hand. I could hear him continuously muttering something. When we got to the other side, I asked him what he had been saying and he replied, "Walk without fear! Walk without fear!"
In Ho Chi Minh, we visited the War Museum. My daughter came out in tears; my middle son was more stoic; and my youngest was too tired so avoided this legacy of human suffering.
I wondered whether I should have exposed them to the depths to which humanity could descend, yet children are not spared from war and the museum ended in the triumph of the human spirit.
It created in them a deep aversion to war and a sense of our common humanity beyond external differences. Truly, travel opens hearts and minds.
On that morning in Hanoi when I opened the curtains and viewed the scene that had escaped our late-night arrival, the weight of the journey and living just left me.
Spread out below was the Red River, meandering with boats moored along its banks and in the distance were fishermen throwing their nets. The ramshackle exotic feel of Hanoi unfolded before me, melting into the misty Long Bien bridge on the horizon. My existential question was answered. We create the path. To travel is to exist.
• Do you have a funny or quirky story about your travels? Send 600 words to travelmag@sundaytimes.co.za and include a recent photograph of yourself for publication with the column...

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