There are tons of articles and blogs out there that list paying attention to your surroundings as one of the top tips for staying safe while traveling. While I highly recommend that as well, a young Laos boy taught me an uncommon reason to keep your eyes and ears open and attentive.
After an overnight layover at the Taipei airport, I arrived a bit sleepy at my gate at about 5:30 a.m. As I sat waiting for boarding time, a father with two small, adorable children came and sat nearby. My travel companion overheard them speaking in a foreign language and we struck up a conversation. He was a single father whose wife had passed due to illness, but she was from Laos so he spoke her native language with the children. I have a soft spot for kids and I started to tear up as he shared his story with us.
The conversation ended, but that wasn’t the end of our interaction. A bit later I noticed the son, about four or five years old, ask his father where the drinking fountain was. (Now this is from observation, as they were speaking Lao again at this point.) The father gestured over to the drinking fountains by the bathroom. They were fancy, filtered water machines with a spout facing down to fill a cup or bottle but not a regular spout to walk up and drink water directly. The boy walked over and looked at them, obviously confused as to how he was supposed to get the water from the machine to his mouth with no cup or bottle of his own. He then walked to the gate counter and asked the airport employee where the drinking fountain was, and again was answered with a gesture to the fancy machines by the bathroom. The child returned to his seat without getting any water, clearly stumped but too shy to ask for help.
I felt for the kid. I’ve been that child, too shy to ask for something especially when everyone seems to act like you should already know how to do it. So after watching all of this go down, I walked over to the child and asked him if he was trying to get water to drink. He said yes, and I told him to walk with me as I would show him how to get a cup out of the machine. His young eyes had missed the plastic container attached to the side of the water machine with foldable paper cups. I pulled one out, unfolded it for him, and showed him how to do it. He happily, finally, got the water he was looking for.
A fellow passenger sitting by my travel companion at the gate asked him how I knew the child was looking for water, amazed that I noticed the child’s dilemma and came to the rescue. It is simple, I do my best to pay attention and be aware of my surroundings. Anyone could do what I did that day, as long as they are looking for the magic in the world around them and not distracted by fear. You often hear advice about being aware of surroundings for safety when traveling, to watch your luggage, watch for pickpockets, watch for sketchy men if you’re a solo female, but there is much to miss if that is all that you focus on. This experience reminded me to open my eyes to the magic of every moment, every person, and every place I visit. I am grateful to that thirsty child for reminding me of the joy and magic that is all around me.