IN EVERY EXTENDED trip I have taken, the back page of my journal carries a section with the scrawled title ‘promises.’ Underneath — on each line and in various pens, pencils, and degrees of legibility — are lines of commitments:
“Post pictures of Rose’s children to her. Address…”
“Email Fairview Baptist church to tell them their donated toys arrived”
“Ostrich feathers to dancers in Cope village”
Each is a promise that I made somewhere during my travels, one that I would like to try and keep. I began to realise early on that the more I connect with people on the road and share the experience of journeying together, the more likely it is that, at some point, I will promise something.
It may be as small as agreeing to keep in touch or send a letter, or as big as helping a local NGO set up a website and connect with interested people back home. Whatever the promises are that I might make, the point is that the longer I am on the road, the more of them I find myself making.
Which, on a long enough timeline, presents the problem of keeping track of who, exactly, I have promised what. And where I was meant to post this picture or write that letter to.
And so came the idea of a promise book. Nothing fancier than the back pages of my journal, it keeps track of every promise I make and allows me, once I am home again, to make good on them. I am able to print and post all of the photographs that I said I would. I can write that letter and put up that website.
Not everyone is as much of a bean counter about tracking promises like that though. Some folk I have met simply hang onto a scattered series of papers with small notes, email addresses, or post boxes on the backs of beer labels and torn pages. They seem to be able to remember the context simply by looking at the stains and the details. They can immediately tell you who they were talking to and what they had obliged themselves to do.
Other, stricter travelers that I have encountered simply refuse to obligate themselves to people they meet on the way. Refusing to make promises in the first place means never having to worry about raising people’s expectations and then letting them down later.
Admittedly, you can’t help everyone, and travel is more than handing out favours to people that you meet along the way. Still, sometimes you make friends as you go. Or you take a really great snap of someone in exchange for agreeing to send them a copy because it seemed like a fair exchange. Unless you are prepared to travel in a hermetically sealed social bubble, relationships of all kinds will happen, in all of their obligation-inducing, exciting messiness.
So until I manage to develop a much better memory for names and numbers, or stop making new friends, a promise book will be my little reminder to go to the post office and make good.