The three most candid smiles I have received around the world

This week, the WordPress photo challenge theme is Smile.

If you travel, and are friendly to people, it is not difficult to receive a lot of heart-warming smiles. More effortful is to get a visual memory of them: I am not so good at asking people for a photo.

If I do have a photo of them, it’s often because the encounter was so emotionally rewarding that it was worth pushing my limits to get the shot.

Fergana, Uzbekistan, September 2012

I have rarely seen friendlier people than the Uzbeks. And many have these golden teeth which makes their smiles not only uplifting, but also delightfully exotic. This woman, who was selling cucurbits of all sorts in the Fergana market, was clearly enjoying her day.

Guča festival, Serbia, August 2010

Guča’s festival of Balkan trumpet madness is the opportunity to go crazy, and I love walking around and watching the happy and feverish people in the streets of the village.

There is quite some post-war testosteron in this festival, but a lot of Balkan-style human conviviality too. That year, it was the third or fourth time that I bumped into this guy, and that we’d shared a laugh, so I thought I should take a visual memory of him.

Guča festival is such a cheerful affair that I have a lot of photographic smiles; and although I thought this man with orange witch hat (and beer belly, perhaps worth noting) was the one for this post, I couldn’t resist but add this picture of a man who was building a pyramid of local beer cans, because his I’m-having-such-a-great-time smile is so communicative.

I’ve already used this pic in this post about Guca. I loved this dude who was in my campsite in 2014.

Somewhere not far from Dunhuang, Gansu (China), June 2007

I hesitated before choosing this picture. It’s one of the best and worst travel memories of my life.

We were in Western China, in Central Asia, and wanted to enter in contact with the autochthonous population. A local Chinese travel agency arranged a driver and a “guide”; this turned into a disturbing, if insightful, experience.

Our “guide” knew nothing about the local Kazakh, Muslim people. He hardly knew where to find them, and to say the least, he didn’t have much interest or respect for them.

I have been the witness of racism, discrimination, and cultural arrogance too often in my life, and this has been one of those many occurrences. Since our “guide” was feeling uncomfortable amongst this ethnic population, behaving contemptuously and clearly unable to make contact, we decided to take a step ahead.

When we came close to a house, we left the car, asked the “guide” to stay in, and approached a family, with a cordial smile.

And what happened was such a humanly rewarding experience. This family had no reason to meet us, they were busy with their lives. But they welcomed us, invited us in their small shelter, offered us a drink and a snack, and shared a moment with us.

A friend came by and played a song with a guitar-style string instrument. We sang a French song in return. A kid was playing outside with the baby goats.

IMGP3708

They were a displaced family: originally nomads, who had been settled, then converted to semi-nomads by the Chinese authorities who now found it best for them to herd in winter and farm in summer. This was their summer home.

We had to use our narrow-minded Chinese “guide” as an interpret, who was feeling awkward in this Kazakh home, which made the situation a bit uneasy, but we made the best of it.

I didn’t write a blog at the time, so was not paying attention to details as I am now, and I regret that I don’t remember their names nor where exactly we found them.

We had a lovely time, and it was hard to leave, knowing we’d probably never see these people ever again. The picture I took of the father and son was spontaneous and authentic; and if you ever see this family during your travels, please, hoping that they may remember us too, give them a very warm hug from me.

 

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