I arrived quite early for check-in at Maputo airport recently. In fact, I was about 45 minutes early. I waited for check-in to open on a small plastic bench, and immediately opened my smartphone to check my emails. But to my horror – no Wi-Fi! I was returning home after a long trip and didn’t have the mental energy required to start working on my laptop. I’d also just finished the only book I had bought along (note to self – always bring a back-up book!). So I just sat back, and started watching the people around me. Not just seeing them walking past or queuing up, but really noticing them. I started to think about their stories. What had brought them here, to this point, to cross my path at this moment, and then disappear forever from my story.
There was a group of young people, maybe late teens, gathered around a pile of suitcases. Some sitting in the floor, others huddled in pairs around a small screen, or chatting to each other in low whispers. There was an older person with them, obviously the leader of the group, who sat on a chair close to the luggage. Every now and again the older group member would look up and appear to take a silent inventory of the youngsters.
Two women, maybe a mother and daughter, walked in to the check-in area with five small children, one just a tiny baby. They expertly guided these amazingly behaved kids through the dispersed crowds with happy smiling faces.
A stressed looking backpacker tries to get the attention of the ground staff, but it’s not time to check in yet. They’re having a difficult day and are obviously worried about something to do with their flight. Eventually she flops down right beside me on the bench and succumbs to the wait, like everyone else.
As I noticed these people, and tried to imagine their stories, I felt an immense feeling of empathy, of oneness, with the world around me. And a connection to these people who I had never met, and who I would likely never see again for the rest of my life. How many people drift in and out of our lives each day? And do we ever notice them? Does anyone notice us as we move through our own stories, in which we are the lead role, the star character? These people are not just bit-players in the great story of us – they are us. And we are them.
Next time you are in a crowded place, and are feeling frustrated or irritable. Don’t stare at your smartphone and hope everyone goes away. Look up and out into the world. You’ll feel calmer, less stressed, and more connected to the big wide world around you.
We Are All Wonder Women is an international movement for female conservation professionals to be inspired, connected, and empowered to create an authentic, fulfilling and happy career.