On the last day before flying back to Riyadh from Uganda my mother and I went to Protea for lunch. Located at a beautiful spot on the shores of lake Victoria (Africa’s largest fresh water lake) it’s a picturesque hotel and restaurant with a never ending cool breeze and great food to fuel you. Green lawns punctuated by palm trees swaying in the wind, a lovely pool (which my baby Z loved splashing about in) this place is heaven on earth except for the scores of chameleons scuttling over the rocks near the sand We were just sitting about enjoying the view and relaxing there when two American ladies sat down on the table across us.
I highly recommend getting yourself a baby if you are looking for an icebreaker with strangers when you are travelling. It’s a fool proof conversation starter because in 5 minutes Z was smiling at them and they were wooed. And a lovely conversation followed.
Meet Leah and Vivienne. These two vivacious ladies flew in here all the way from Miami, USA for a ‘girl-friends only’ vacation; from Entebbe, Uganda to Victoria Falls in Zambia to Cape Town, South Africa.
Leah and Vivienne have been friends from when they were 5 years old! Their friendship has weathered decades, colleges, children, different careers, and the death of both their husbands. That’s a once in a lifetime kind of friendship right there; one where you hold on to each other through the darkest of storms and the sunniest of days. The kind of friendship we all hope to share with our girlfriends.
Leah and Vivienne have both lived full lives. Leah lived in Mexico with her husband for a good two decades and now visits to take care of her late husband’s 101 year old mother. Vivienne has two children and from what I know from the brief conversation we had, plays tennis regularly and loves sipping on her wine outside her home in Miami. They are retired now and travel the world together.
After I got home, I wrote to them asking if they would like to share any advice. Vivienne wrote back with this;
“We are both widows who have learned to make the best of the lives we have, rather than wait for the lives we want. Patience, compromise, tolerance, trust, and humor help. Leah’s 101 year old Mexican mother-in-law says ‘If you want acquaintances, sometimes you have to close one eye; if you want friends, sometimes have to close both...’
I have been mulling over the profound wisdom in this quote for some time. If you want a lasting friendship that weathers all storms that life will inevitably unleash on you, you do need a good dose of patience, compromise, tolerance, trust, and humor. And here’s the thing, most close female friendships do have these qualities. I think they come quite naturally to us. As I write this I remember another chance encounter with three equally lovely ladies, this time in the Queen’s land. I met those three ladies on a sunny yet chilly British morning at the Trafalgar square. Ann, Maisie, and Helen trotted arms interlocked in a row and sat down next to my bench. Helen was suffering from dementia and Ann and Maisie were trying to help her recollect their shared memories from the past. I can still feel the easy going warmth of that friendship now as I sit here writing this on a humid Ugandan evening. They were so patient, so kind, so gentle with each other.
As I was telling Vivienne and Leah how inspiring it is for me to see two women travelling like this, I just impulsively quipped that there’s something so nice about a girlfriends’ only trip ‘It’s so relaxing’, I exclaimed. As soon as I said that Vivienne knowingly nodded her head because she new exactly what I meant, as I am sure most women reading this do. The company of your girl friends, whether it is in the comfort of your drawing room sipping on chai, or on the shores of an exotic beach, is one of the most nurturing and uplifting things you can experience in this lifetime. If you are lucky enough to chance upon friends who get you, you will find in them not just love, but also strength to face life and solace in times of grief. With them there are no masks, there is no performance, there are no expectations. You can be the real you.
My heart is filled with joy and gratitude today. Joy to see such friendships that span decades. Gratitude to know that I am blessed with such friendships myself. From my best friends in high school to my Malay, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, and Sudani housemates, to my other companion (with whom I had my own girls only trip to Spain) to my current lively little circle in Riyadh, at each phase in life God has sent to me ‘my people’, my tribe. I will fiercely hold them and cherish them and lift them to the best of my capacity. I will cry when they get hurt and hug them when they succeed and love their children like my own. And I will rest knowing that just as I look out for them, they are here for me too.
You know the best part in all this? Talking to me reminded Vivienne of her Indian college roommate from 40 years ago who currently lives in London. As Vivienne and Leah are returning to the US via London, she will get to meet her on the way back! So that’s a 4 decade old friendship rekindled just by meeting another woman. Who says women aren’t awesome?
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