The phone rang. I picked up to hear a familiar voice ask, “Wanna go to New Orleans for some Gumbo?”

Responding I said, “Meet cha at the airport.” As the first person there, I picked up the rental car. Then, proceeded to curbside to pick up my best friend and wanderlust travel partner, Beth.

With no Google map, no Siri, and no cell phone, we make our way to downtown New Orleans. Specifically, Bourbon Street. This was not a trip during Mardi Gras, which would come later in life when we were more seasoned. In addition to the Gumbo, there may have been a college first love involved, but that’s a story for another day. We arrived just as the sun was setting. The locals and visitors were coming out for the night. Both of us being from the Midwest, our eyes froze on the night life sights.

An adult beverage was in order for us. We may never have been to “The Big Easy” but we had been around enough to know bartenders are a traveling girl’s best friend. We bellied up to the first corner bar we saw. As one would imagine, bars on a street named Bourbon are plentiful. Thus, not hard to find.

As with past trips, we were not disappointed in our decision to go directly to a bar for information. We stayed at this particular bar until it became a comfortably familiar safe landing spot. The bartender provided us enough information to map out a plan for the night. He also let us know where to go sightseeing, where to find the spots where locals would hang, and where not to go.

With a comfortable number of adult beverages in us, we ventured forth to become one with Bourbon Street night life. This may not have been the season for Mardi Gras, but as New Orleans’ newbies we otherwise could not have been convinced. Apparently, the party never ends. For such a quaint narrow street, Bourbon Street packs a punch of people, restaurants, bars, strip clubs, and homes lined on each side for thirteen blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue. The large windows with iron balconies of the French Quarter buildings are actually Spanish architecture.

The dimly lit streetlights were background for the lights shining through open windows. The noise including a far-off drum sound and the mirage of colors and people invoked both a haunting and alluring intrigue. We stayed up all night wandering about town, hanging baggage on complete strangers. Hanging baggage was one of Beth and my favorite traveling past-times.

The awaking dawn revealed the Mississippi River with the anticipation of activities by workers on barges, ships, and fishing boats. We happened upon Café Beignet on Royal Street where we were introduced and became addicted to the scrumptious beignets and café au lait. We enjoyed our breakfast sitting in the open patio.

After filling up on the much-needed sustenance, we walked to the shoreline to kick back and watch. We sat leisurely. Knowing now, after an all-nighter, one must pace oneself while in New Orleans. As we sat, I found myself involved in a one-sided conversation with an aged man, presumably from the ‘Backlands’ and Creole culture with African French heritage. He was carving a wooden box. Intrigued, I asked, “What is that?” The man proceeded to tell me, in a language I could only catch a word or two, about the meaning of the box. Thankful for the visual of the box or I would have never understood its meaning. The man kept repeating the word “Yaya” while showing me the outside and the inside of the box. I either understood or made up, the outside of the box is where you put your outside world. The inside of the box is where you put what is inside your heart.

Fascinated by the box’s significance and humbled by being told what I believed was an ancient mystery, I made my first Yaya box as soon as I got home. I neither carve nor paint, I decorated the outside of my Yaya box with sky blue because at my age, the world was full of possibilities. The inside of the box is personal. I’ve never opened it for anyone. Ironically, until I started writing this article, I have never thought to find out if such a thing existed outside of the man’s world. According to Bridgedale 360, “The Yaya Box involves making an artistic representation of your inner and outer worlds.”

I guess all the college linguistic classes I took at Indiana University actually came in handy. No matter the language, fluent or not, if listened with your eyes and heart, people can understand one another.

Beth and I settled for our newfound Beignets on this adventure. We would make another trip to New Orleans with a different goal. It was on that adventure we had an authentic Gumbo experience.

** In Memory of Beth Sayer