The Kindness of Strangers

On Saturday I wrote a blog about my time in India in 1999. I talked about my experiences in Jalandhar where I was taken in by a family thanks to meeting someone on a bus and spending a few days staying with them, completely impromptu. It turned out to be probably the most rewarding experience of my time in India on that trip. Let me tell you, this has happened to me on more than one occasion. As a backpacker, a solo backpacker on the road for months on end, these experiences are brilliant. The sort of thing you can’t plan for, you’re not expecting, but something that’s very much worth changing your travel plans for.

Niamey

Niamey

I’ve had a number of these experiences. Niger in 2006, when I was pretty overwhelmed by Africa, I met a friendly guy, Halassi, who wanted to practice his English. Actually, he was working on a resume at an internet café and I was able to help him with that. Soon, I had a free bed for the night and someone to take me around Niamey by bike. He taught students from his home, a mudbrick building with outdoor plumbing and variable electricity. His generosity has never been forgotten.

Halassi's home.

Halassi’s home.

Halassi teaching

Halassi teaching

Later that same trip, and American family in Burkina Faso I met on a bus going from Bobo-Diolosso to the capital Ouagadougou were truly life savers. I had malaria, and they helped me to a good clinic in Ouagadougou where I stayed for a week until I was much better. They came in to see me several times during my hospital stay, and then had a bed for me the couple of days after before I flew out.

Oh, but further back in 2004, Iran. This is the place so many people report they were ‘kidnapped’ in. No, not kidnapped and held to ransom by terrorists, but by loving families that adopt travellers. I couldn’t get away from Dariush and his family. I met Dariush at the border between Pakistan and Iran as we crossed. We shared a taxi and a bus all the way into Kerman, the last couple of hours he was trying to persuade me to stay with his extended family there.

kind 2 kind 1

It had been a rough crossing and I was really craving my own bed and room for a couple of nights, but I relented and ended up staying for ten nights! It really was impossible to get away, I was planning the next bus trip, and then I’d be told ‘please stay a couple more days because we are going to such-and-such a place’. This happened more than once! I made so many friends, ate so well, saw so many things, it was amazing.

2011 and my last big trip, I made a friend crossing over from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. Heading to Tashkent in a shared taxi, Sergey helped me considerably at the border with the customs forms which for Uzbekistan are complicated and important. Then the guesthouse I was to stay at was fully booked, so I found a hotel I was going to stay hat, but Sergey wouldn’t hear of it. He offered me a place to stay – even though it was only one night, it still was enormous hospitality.

kind 8

Then of course, my last proper ‘trip’ last year, when my wife and I were in Sri Lanka, I had my wallet lifted boarding a train at Colombo station. A family got off and helped us out purely out of the kindness of their hearts. Perhaps this was the most humbling of all. They took us to the police and then invited us to stay with them, a little north of the capital. We were taken to the beach, drove an auto-rickshaw, had our own room, and then they apologised because they couldn’t get to a bank to get my money back! And no, we didn’t ask for a single thing they gave us. We hope to visit them in the next year or two. These stories really do show the true nature of people. What can I say? I do believe that people are deep down, good.

kind 9

And that’s a great spirit you can encounter when backpacking. I’ve had other experiences too, but these are the ones that have come to mind when writing this post. Whenever I have needed someone to reach out to me when travelling, I feel that’s exactly what I’ve been lucky enough to find. On top of the hospitality, these experiences were all also great cultural exchanges as well. Have you had any experiences like the ones I’ve recounted today? Please let me know in the comments!

14 comments

  • Love reading stories such as these! There is just so much good in the world, people with such big hearts to “strangers”. What is it that they say?? “There is no such things as strangers. Only friends we have not met!” 🙂

  • I do agree that sometimes I get help from total strangers when I least expect it…and they are always willing to help…always grateful to these people…:)

  • Such wonderful heart warming moments make traveling so very special. Thank you for sharing this post. Reminds me of all the lovely people who made my wanderings so enriching and humbling.

  • Help from strangers is one of the truly heartwarming things about travelling… I met some people in Multan, Pakistan in 2006 and they are now like family to me. I will never forget their warm hospitality, and how much they looked after me when I fell sick.

  • True! These are things about travel that touch me the most as a traveler. I have been treated very warmly by strangers while I am away from home. It’s so heartening! It’s a way of learning about life that there is so much more to then money and fame.

  • I’ve been given a helping hand by numerous strangers during my travels too! I’ve come to the conclusion that people are generally “good” – just give them the chance.

  • It’s just amazing how hospitable and kind locals can be to foreign visitors. They truly care about us and I witnessed and experienced it as well! 🙂

  • These stories are so heart-warming and inspiring – sorry to hear you were unwell with malaria but how comforting it must have been to have had people around you who wanted to help you. You’ve really been to some fascinating places – the more I read your blog, the more I start to wonder if there’s anywhere you haven’t been!! 😀

  • Absolutely true. Thank you for this brilliant post. Travelling works as therapy for me. An assurance that good exists and compassion moves the world around. As a solo traveller, I have been very lucky to meet such helpful and kind people too. It has been beautiful reading this. 🙂

  • Random acts of kindness from total strangers is just the most wonderful thing! The people paying it forward are rewarded and so are you by appreciating their generosity. It’s a great win win situation! Good on you for making the connection with the locals, as you say – sometimes it would be so much easier to stay in your own hotel but how much more rewarding is it when you can see how other cultures live first hand! Love it!

  • What a lovely story! You have a good heart and that make them do the same to you 🙂 Great story and truly inspiring! I met some nice people during the trips who have became friends – long distance “online” friends now 😉 At least someday I know if I visited their countries again then I can visit them. Bless them for the kindness they share to other without expecting any in return 🙂

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