The Kindness Of Strangers
|August 18, 2012||Filed under China, Indonesia, Personal Musings, Thailand|
The main thing I’ve learnt from travelling is that people are really nice and the world is quite a safe place. Not exactly headline material, but an observation made through personal experience. Bouncing around Asia for the last six months, I’ve been continually impressed and surprised by the kindness of strangers who then became friends, either for a fleeting moment or a while longer, and always leaving me better than they found me.
In June I spent a month in Indonesia without Tyrhone, so it was probably the time that I was most aware of my safety. Ironically, it was also the time that I encountered many people who floored me with their kindness and generosity.
I previously wrote about Agung in Bali who found me a place to stay on my first day in Ubud and invited me to the temple with her family. If I hadn’t jumped on her motorbike that first day arrived, I would never have had the experience of dressing in traditional Balinese dress and participating in a religious ceremony. Sure, I rented a bicycle from her and paid her a little to do my laundry, but her warmth and hospitality came free and I’ll always be grateful for it.
Eating a late night dinner at Agung’s home in Ubud
I rented a snorkel on Gili Meno from a guy named Ali, who slept in his hammock by the beach all day between selling a few sarongs. When it came time for me to go across to Lombok, we agreed on a price, $10, for him to accompany me on the boat and then drive me on his scooter from the harbour to my guest house.
It was a glorious ride past coconut groves that took us along the coast, overlooking the black sand and aquamarine beaches. Ali stopped for me to take a few photos before jumping back on the bike. Being the fuss-pot that I am, I looked at three guest houses before deciding on one. Ali didn’t rush me, or dump me at the first place we found, but waited patiently with a smile.
“No problem, we have time, Ali not have to go anywhere,” he assured me, always referring to himself in the third person and speaking in a slow, rasta-like style.
Though I could have walked, he took me to the ATM in the town and dropped me back at my guest house before taking off with another big smile and a wave (see main photo above).
In both of these interactions I was paying for some sort of service, but the piste de resistance of kindness came later, at a time when I really needed it.
I haven’t written about it (due to post-traumatic stress), but after we reached the summit of Ganung Rinjani, our ordeal really began. Firstly, our guide took a wrong turn and got us lost on the side of the volcano whilst a thick mist rolled in making it difficult to see where we were going. We ended up ‘abseiling’ down ridges with a rope he just happened to have on him (I think he gets lost quite a bit) to get back to base camp.
My new friend Alli rose to the occasion, climbing up ridges, wrapping the rope around her waist and yelling to us to “trust the rope!” like the true outdoors woman she was. And I trusted the rope, because she told me to, and because I didn’t have any other choice. Now, that line will always bring a huge smile to face.
Alli the mountain climber
The next day we trekked downhill for hours and finally made it back to the starting point. After waiting for a few hours for the car to arrive, we jumped in, relieved that hot showers were just a two-hour drive away.
The car broke down.
On the second time, we exited the car in the dark and took refuge at a small shop in a tiny village, devouring chocolate and Powerade in an attempt to stay awake. We’d managed to keep our sense of humour up to that point, but mine was waning. I had a flight to catch at 7am and all I wanted was a shower and a bed.
Before long, a small crowd had gathered in the village. A few men hovered around the over-heated car with our guides, and the women waited near us at the shop.
A new car was ordered from the city, and would take about an hour, which in Indonesia meant anywhere from two to five. My heart sank. We were filthy and exhausted, sitting on a concrete step in front of a shop in the dark.
Then one of the women who had been hovering around asked if we would like to take a rest at her house. We proceeded next door, where she set us up on her outdoor bamboo cabana and went to make us some coffee.
After we dined on coffee and fresh pineapple, another woman brought us noodles that she had just cooked. And after we polished them off, pillows and blankets were brought out for us to snuggle up in.
My friend Clare spoke Indonesian and was able to translate our host’s concerns about “girls being out so late,” as well as her apologies that her house was full of her sleeping children. We giggled whilst Clare translated in a southern-style accent, leading to us to affectionately name the lady “Mama Ray-ray.” Perhaps it was because of our delirious state, or her rotund stature and motherly demeanor, but it seemed fitting to name this kind woman from a small town in Lombok after a fictional southern woman from Mississippi.
She tucked each of us into our blankets, patting us on the behind as she went. And she sat and kept watch over us whilst we drifted in and out of sleep until the new car arrived.
Mama Ray-ray (centre) taking care of us
I’ll never, ever forget that gesture of kindness, which turned a trying situation into a moment of love and generosity. Without her I know my patience wouldn’t have survived the night!
The kindness continues…
In Thailand, I met a girl in the nail shop that became a friend I hung out with about a month. I ate at her home, met her mother and went to the movies with her son. On my last night in Chiang Mai, Min gave me a beautiful floral dress to give to my little niece, who she had seen in photos. Min’s generosity extended beyond me to my niece who she will probably never meet, because that’s just the sort of person she is.
The lovely Min
In China we were taken out to breakfast and then dinner by a young Chinese student. It was bordering on uncomfortable generosity, but we couldn’t talk him out of paying the bill. “You are a guest in my country, and that’s the way it is,” he told us matter-of-factly whilst we hovered around trying in vain to thrust some notes in his hand.
Tyrhone was chased down the street in Beijing by someone he’d asked for directions. The guy walked him all the way to the guesthouse he was looking for, then said “Okay, bye!” and toddled off.
Before we set off on this journey, I’d always imagined it would be me doing good in the world, paying forward the good fortune I’d received to be able to travel. I had no idea that in fact it would be me on the receiving end of so many acts of generosity.
From two girls walking down the street in Kangding who thrust apples in our hands and walked off giggling, to the Chinese kids who wanted to practice their English, to the guy who gave us a lift in Tagong then refused any money for it, we have been given far more than we ever expected to receive.
The people I’ve written about here and previously are the heroes of my journey. They are the ones that have made me fall further in love with the world and inspired me to continue exploring it.
And I can’t wait for more.