TWB Words From the World: “The Kindness Of Strangers”


The Kindness of Strangers

The primary mission of Travel With Balls is to encourage people to give out soccer balls to kids when they’re visiting a developing country, but we’re also trying to promote a certain style of travel; one that encourages people to explore a place on their own rather than as part of a tour group, one that embraces the thrill of the unknown and the unfamiliar.  Travel With Balls means to, well…travel with balls!   

One of the greatest things about TWB-style adventuring is that it will force you at some point to rely upon the kindness of strangers.  Without a tour guide to transport you from point A to point B and to take care of all the details of your trip, you will invariably get lost or stranded once in a while.  Tourists consider getting lost or stranded things to be avoided at all costs, but those who Travel With Balls know that they are often blessings that tend to reinforce faith in your fellow human beings.

The Kindness of Strangers (Lonely Planet Publishers, 2003) is a wonderful collection of essays from travelers who share their favorite stories about being rescued on the road or treated to random acts of kindness by total strangers while on their journeys.  Editor Don George has assembled entries from an impressive line-up of esteemed travel writers — Pico Iyer, Jan Morris, Tim Cahill and Jeff Greenwald all contribute chapters — but he also includes entries by lesser-known and even previously unpublished writers. 

My favorite essay in the book is entitled, “Looking for Abdelati,” by Tanya Shaffer.  While volunteering on a project in Morocco, Shaffer has befriended Abdelati, a fellow volunteer who is from Casablanca.  Abdelati is finished with his duties and is returning to Casablanca, but he invites Shaffer to visit him in his city after she finishes her stint.  A few weeks later she arrives in Casablanca with directions to Abdelati’s house in hand.  (He doesn’t have a phone.)  Shaffer hires a taxi to drive her to her destination and when they arrive in the neighborhood the driver consults some children for the exact location of the house.  One of the kids informs him that Abdelati’s family has moved and he offers to take them to the new house.  The taxi driver deposits Shaffer at the new address.  When she knocks on the door and asks for Abdelati, saying she is his friend, an older woman who speaks no English ushers her in.  Abdelati is not home yet, she is told by gestures, but she is welcome to wait for him.  Shaffer takes a seat on the sofa.  Abdelati’s other family members enter the room and introduce themselves.   All of them only speak Arabic.   Shaffer is served tea and then lunch.  After the meal, Abdelati’s female relatives insist that Shaffer accompany them to the hamam (public bath), where they scrub her down like she is one of their closest kin.  When they arrive back from the hamam Abdelati finally shows up.  Only it is the wrong Abdelati; someone Shaffer has never seen before.  Luckily, this unknown Abdelati understands English and Shaffer is able to explain about her invitation to the other Abdelati’s house.  Abdelati divulges the mistake to his family and, instead of being angry about spending their entire afternoon entertaining someone their son doesn’t know, they laugh uproariously, hug Shaffer and invite her to stay for dinner!

The Kindness of Strangers is an uplifting and immensely pleasurable read; it also spurred me to remember the many acts of kindness William and I have experienced out on the road and in an upcoming post I’ll share a couple of my favorites.   

Peace & Blessings,