… It is the traveler only who is foreign. ~ RL Stevenson
When I was a kid, my parents used to run market stalls on a Saturday or Sunday. We’d load up the car and the trailer the night before, covering our wares with canvas sheeting to keep off the inevitable rain, then rising at 4am to travel to the site and get our stall set up. There was a kind of rustic magic in the whole process. Despite being such unglamorous work, there is something a bit special about working in a market, particularly a working-class market. Cold hands, tea from a thermos, chips from a dirty van with a generator. Rain, chatter, coins. I loved it. I was also free to make my own money if I sourced my own product. I raided my childhood book collection and sold them all off for fifty pence or a pound apiece. Bonus.
My parents however weren’t doing it for the love of it: they were doing it out of sheer necessity. We used to pull in seventy pounds (€90) on an average day: this was around 1993-1998. That was nothing to be sneezed at for a low-income family and easily bought food and household groceries for the four of us for a week.
There was a single element that ever marred it for me. There were some people who regularly showed up at the markets who, I was warned, were violent thieves: people to be watched, but avoided, and certainly never to be crossed. I nervously sidestepped their kids, preferring to wander by myself, and avoided lingering at their stalls. These people were travellers or, as my entire family and community referred to them, knackers.
And just once, a traveller man threatened to beat my dad up if we set up our stall on a patch he had earmarked for himself.
The story above is the single negative experience I have for you from my experience with the travelling community.
This bright Saturday morning, a traveller and his son were extremely kind towards my husband and me. They did us an unnecessary favour that has had a very pleasant pay-off. That’s not all that surprising, because as I am now an adult, and free to decide about people for myself, I have had many positive experiences with the travelling community, and have found them to be, well, human beings. Beautiful, broken, normal. No longer an unknown entity to be feared and avoided; “othered”. There is nothing profound in any of this.
I just wanted to make the little point that it is a welcome relief to be unburdened of my prejudices. It’s a relief to be able to tell people apart and not view them as a type. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be the recipient of their grace and kindness. Being unburdened of prejudice means getting primed for love. This is part of what Christians call “sanctification” – being made more and more like God in his extravagant welcome. It’s good, like.