I am back doing long train rides to Southampton three days a week. As mentioned in a previous post – the girl on the train– it gives me time to think (although, way too much time in my own head could be a dangerous thing!) and today I began to think of the many people I met along my travels.
People come and go in our lives. Often going than staying, sadly. Some holds small significance in my memories but others managed to etch their way into my heart.
One of whom was a farmer in Slovenia.
Two years ago, my husband and I visited Skofja Loka, a small, picturesque village about half an hour’s drive from Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana.
It was early winter, a pleasant time to visit this part of the world when scatters of gold autumn leaves were still clinging on, while the chill of winter dust the land with white frost, the perfect colour combination against a clear blue sky.
After a day exploring the cobbled streets and photographing everything from castle walls, to flower decorations on window sills, to the perfect arch of a pedestrian bridge across the Sora river, we decided to take a detour and walk to the local train station, approximately five kilometres away from the village centre, instead of getting the more convenient public bus back to the capital.
No other tourists seemed to have ever ventured out this far. The area was dead quiet as we pass farm lands on our right, warehouses on our left, and very few traffic to disturb the peace in between.
We stopped to get supplies, and it was here, in a supermarket located at about the halfway mark that we met the farmer. His curious gaze followed me around at first before finally stopping me for a chat.
“Hello, China girl.”
He had typical farmer’s hands: leathery, strong and dusted with dirt. His manners however, was soft and tentative as he lowered his hat to introduce himself.
I rolled my eyes. Having grown up Asian in Australia, it is a comment that would normally have me fuming, and send me off on a rant about assumptions, about having to fight for my identity and possibly give a long winded lecture on why any modern society really need to get a grip on multiculturalism.
Then, I remembered where I was.
“No, not China girl”, I rebuffed, but just as I was about to raise the finger full with righteousness, his deep blue eyes burned into mine full with sincerity and confusion by my remark; his smile, broad and friendly with a hint of regret, melted any tension I had in store for the would be offender.
After all, we are somewhere in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farmlands in Slovenia, and I am probably the only East Asian face he has ever seen in this part of the world. Who am I to judge when I too, was once ignorant of where people should come from?
In broken English, he apologised for his mistake although his hesitation showed that he was still confused by my appearance compared to what he would naturally assume of the world.
To offer an explanation would just complicate the situation, so I simply smiled and walked away in search of chocolate bars and potato chips.
At check out, farmer Joe (as he was known between us by now) was queued in front of us where we exchanged an awkward smile.
Just as he was about to pay, he quickly took a block of chocolates and paid for them.
Oblivious to his intentions, as soon as his items were clear we began to unload the snacks from our basket for the check out.
Suddenly, I felt something being shoved into my hands. It was farmer Joe, his weathered face stretched wide by a hearty smile that showed a sincere happiness as I accepted his gift of chocolate.
“Please,” he insisted. “Welcome in Slovenia.”
And with that, he was gone.
“Did you just get chatted up by a Slovenian farmer?” My husband teased.
“Why? You jealous?” I chuckled and look out towards the street in the direction of his shadows.
Despite having just spent a day in one of the prettiest villages, it was this encounter with the old farmer that I will always associate with Skofja Loka. I may have been a curiosity, but in this world filled with Xenophobia, there are places where this curiosity would have turn hostile. Yet, this gentle farmer had extended a hand of welcome, and I have a bar of chocolate that said:
Welcome to my country. I am glad you’ve come.