Friday, June 3, 2011

... The Kindness of Strangers

So a little while back I bought this book at a cool travel book store I found near Covent Garden in London. I bought it o read while I was travelling, waiting for planes and trains. It's called The Kindness of Strangers, written by Lonely Planet, and it's about all different kinds of travel experiences that the authors had while travelling, but with a twist... it's about complete random acts of kindness by absolute strangers they had experienced while travelling.

The book has a preface by the Dalai Lama which reads:
If we really think about it, our very survival, even today, depends upon the acts and kindness of so many people. Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents; later in life, when facing the sufferings of disease and old age, we are again dependant on the kindness of others. If at the beginning and end of our lives we depend upon others' kindness, why then in the middle should we not act kindly towards others?

Honestly, as soon as I started reading this book, it made me realize of how many random acts of kindness from complete strangers I have gotten through all of my travels .. but I really never want to forget about them, so I wanted to write about them on here.

Cairo, Egypt:
I think I wrote about this previously, but it was honestly one of the moments of my time in Egypt I will definitely never forget. I was by myself and had taken a taxi back to our hotel from a park in Cairo I was at with some friends. However, the taxi driver didn't really know English, yet he seemed to understand on the map, where my hotel was. Firstly, the man made me quite uncomfortable while I was sitting in his taxi, as he repeatedly told me how beautiful I was. Secondly, I felt as though the car was going to break down any second and it was filthy dirty and had sand everywhere inside. So, after about 10 minutes in the car, he comes to this street and says "ok, here you are" so I look out the window and thought to myself "I don't recognize anything here, maybe the hotel is just down the street a little... I'm sure I can find it." So I paid the man, get out and start walking. Sure enough, I have no idea where I am and I don't see any building with the name Victoria Hotel on it... and of course I'm dressed in shorts and a t-shirt because it's about 42°C outside so I'm getting stares from the locals. I'm so lost at this point, but then I see a bunch of national guards standing on the street dressed in white uniforms. So I came up to them and asked them if they are aloud to speak to me while on duty and they replied "yes." I ask them if they know where the Victoria Hotel is and they all chat amongst each other and say "no"... but one guards gets up, walks away, goes into some building down the street, and comes back with this little book. He hands it to me and tells me to find the name of my hotel in this book (it was some sort of old travel guide book). I point at the hotel name in the book, and underneath it it is written in Arabic. The guard then takes a piece of paper, writes down the name and address in Arabic. He has me walk with him as he waves down a new taxi for me and tells the driver in Arabic where I want to go and negotiates a price of 5 Egyptian Pounds (about $1) to go there. The driver agreed, I got in, and he took me straight to my hotel.

Salzburg, Austria:
This was back just before New Years, and I had taken Ryanair from London to Linz, Austria, and from there was taking a train to Salzburg. While I was waiting for the train, I made friends with a British man who lives just outside of Salzburg. We caught the same train and chatted the whole train ride. He had asked me where I was staying in Salzburg and I said a hostel, but that I hadn't booked it yet. So he offered me his Blackberry to search for a hostel online to go to. As I looked at the site, I saw that actually all hostels in Salzburg were completely booked, and I really didn't expect this. I told the man I'm sure that there will be an opening at a hostel somewhere (hopefully). He appeared quite worried about me and gave me his cell number and name in case I couldn't find anywhere to stay... he said he had friends directly in Salzburg center that I could probably stay with if I needed to. I eventually did find an opening at a hostel in the center, but later I sent the man a text thanking him for his generosity.

Zurich, Switzerland:
I also did some CouchSurfing while I travelled. So I was in Lucerne at the time and had sent a girl an email asking if I could stay with her for one night while I was in Zurich. She replied back to me saying yes, but that at the time my train was due to arrive in Zurich, she would be at her work, a hotel, until 11pm... but if I was still interested despite this, that I could come pick up her house key from her at the hotel and then let myself into her house. I told her that if that is alright with her then that would be great! So the girl gave me the address to her work and I took a tram there from the main train station. I came up to the front desk and introduced myself to her, and she gave me a map on how to get to her house, told me how to open the door, and gave me the keys! How trusting right?! So I toured around Zurich for a few hours first, and then around 10pm went to her place. When I opened the door I had seen she set out a little mattress with blankets and a pillow for me already in her living room. I was pretty tired from travelling all day so I went right to bed. I heard her come home at about 1130pm, and she just closed the door to living room as to try not to not wake me. The next morning I was leaving Zurich and had to be at the airport by 1pm. We had planned to go for breakfast that morning, and she knew I had to be on my train out to the airport by noon, but at 10am she was still sleeping and I didn't want to wake her because I knew she got in kind of late last night... so instead I left a note on the bed saying "hey, I'm going to the center to grab some breakfast, I know you're probably pretty tired from work yesterday so don't worry about it. If you wake up before noon, give me a text and we can meet up - Brittany".... however, I never heard from her. So, literally, I had never even had an actual conversation with this girl, yet I slept in her house overnight and had been given her keys to her house.
It really showed me that there are really trusting and nice people out there.

These really are just a few of the acts of kindness people have shown me during my travels. More so than the destinations themselves, what I remember of my travels are the people I met.

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