What was it that you do again?

Typically petite, dark brown complexion which was no aesthetic match for her dishelved light auburn-highlighted hair, dark sleeveless shirt with loud yellow font print (of an unintelligible word or brand or whatever the shirt wanted to express), worn-out tight jeans with equally worn out slippers. She looked confused, annoyed to the point of infuriation, seemed helpless yet headstrong and best of all, she was cursing – loudly.

I was watching her from afar with amusement – having nothing else to do but observe people as I was mentally stuck in the airport. I am ignorant and routinely inclined to discriminate. Even if you gave me 10 chances at guessing I wouldn’t have even come close to thinking that she was a Christian missionary. I didn’t know how missionaries were supposed to look but I sure as hell thought I knew what they shouldn’t look like. From hearing her cursing in Tagalog, I sent a smile with a coy head nod towards her direction to acknowledge I understood exactly what she said while she gave me a 10-second profile study before joining me and my overpriced half-eaten airport sandwich for a light chat. Marie was in her late 30’s (which surprised me, I thought she was in her mid-20’s), she came from China working as missionary for 8 years until she was sent to Cambodia 5 years ago and she’s been happy since. She spoke in a frenzy, struggling between balancing 3 accents – English, Filipino, Bisaya (her local dialect). She used strong words when making a point, appeared uninhibited and feisty. She would also incessantly complain about how life was back home. I told her I was completely envious. I have always wanted to devote my life to fulltime volunteering for as long as I can remember but eventually sold out to the highest private bidder for my mediocre managerial skills and went on a verbal rampage about selflessness, pursuing one’s passion, life and typical nonsense. I told her that from my point of view, she was lucky she found what it was that would make her happy. This seemed to lighten her mood a little. This was also the start of what would later be a fortuitous friendship for me.

We parted ways and I was left in Vietnam while she had to go back to Cambodia. After a few days, I emailed her, told her I was in Cambodia and I later found myself immersed in the mere bliss of nursing little orphans. I spent mornings with the little kids and would run off in the afternoons teaching English to grade school level kids. Marie made sure I met the right people who would help me help others.

On my last day, conversing over dinner, Marie with her unkempt look and crass ways surprised me with a confession. “I thought you were a stuck-up, arrogant, brainless, and happy-go-lucky traveller from Manila. You are happy-go-lucky indeed but I was wrong about everything else.” And so was I.

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