Random Acts of Kindness
It's been a strange few years here on planet Earth. We've been isolated from one another and we've experienced a lot of division. But today is Random Acts of Kindness Day, and we thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the kindness of strangers, from all across the world. It's easy to think badly of others through the lens of social media, or because someone pushes in front of us to get on the bus first. But actually, kindness abounds in even the unlikeliest of places, if you're open to it!
If you can't recall your own story of being on the receiving end of a random act of kindness, today might be the perfect day to provide that story for someone else.
WARNING: Side effects from reading this blog include feelings of internal toastiness and flushes of a renewed faith in humanity.
Dan - Border Crossing? More like Border Welcoming!
After a long trip travelling through Central Asia and having to deal with lots of border crossings, with stern-faced, humourless, militarized guards rifling through your bags and looking at all the pictures on your cameras. I arrived at the border from Turkmenistan into Iran on a very hot day in the back-arse of nowhere border crossing, fully prepared for hours of formalities and interrogation. But how wrong I was! The guards were utterly delighted to see us, sat us down in a waiting room, apologised for the delay whilst they checked our paperwork and brought us tea and sweets, all the time apologising that it was all they had to offer. It was a simple act of kindness and hospitality that has forever endeared me to Iran.
Jonny - Acts Upon Acts of Kindness!
I have quite a few stories of strangers being incredibly generous while I was travelling.
While going to pay my bill at a roadside chaykhana – or café – in Pakistan, I found it had already been paid. And that has happened not once but twice.
While hitchhiking north up the Gold Coast from Sydney to Cairns, a woman leaving Newcastle heading south stopped and picked us up. She explained that unfortunately, she had to go to Sydney, but she'd drop us off at her flat which we were welcome to use as long as we liked. There was wine in the fridge and videos under the TV she informed us. Extraordinary.
Not everyone that hassles you on the streets of the developing world is a beggar. When walking down Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi my shirt was tugged at from behind by a woman saying 'Mister, mister...' I told her to leave me alone and walked on faster. Still, she tugged at me, 'Mister, mister...' I walked on telling her again to go away. Once more she tugged. This time I stopped and turned around ready to give her a piece of my mind but saw her holding up my passport and money. 'Mister,' she repeated almost apologetically, 'you drop them on street.' Extremely embarrassed I apologised profusely and made to give her something. But she smiled again and quickly walked away.
When travelling through Africa on my motorbike in the early 90s I had one contact given to me by an old school friend. The contact was a Dutch farmer living just outside Lusaka. Convenient then that that was the place I came off my bike and broke my collar bone. One phone call from the hospital and Jan picked me up, helped me fix my bike and had me stay for 3 weeks while I recovered. Sadly, I have never seen him since.
Hayley - The Pen (and Lip Balm) is Mightier than the Sword
I spent my nineteenth birthday in Kentung, Myanmar and despite my joy at being able to travel to places I had never in my wildest dreams expected to see, I was going through a very dark time in my life. On the day of my birthday, I remember sitting outside my room alone, my self-worth and faith in people rock-bottom. I also felt guilty that I felt that way when I had the unbelievable privilege to be in a beautiful country that had faced far more tragedy than I probably ever would. But as I was sat there writing, one of the Burmese men who worked at the guesthouse approached me and gave me a birthday present: a pen and a lip balm.
Some people will put you in a vacuum of darkness and poison your thoughts about yourself and about the world. But then a little light shines in, just like that kind gesture, and it seems so huge in that vacuum. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
In fact, a few things like that happened while I was in Myanmar. I made friends with a lovely girl who wanted to practise her English. She wore this unique silver ring that I complimented, and she insisted I take it. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. It’s been on my hand ever since. And the pen and the lip balm, barely used, are still living out a happy retirement in my memory box.
Sarah - Lessons in Haggling
I went to Tunisia when I was about 16 and one of the stall sellers let me exchange my remaining shampoo and conditioner for a desert-scape camel print that I wanted to get as a souvenir for my Grandad as I had run out of funds!
Richard - Bear-Faced Generosity
A family of five traveling in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the hemisphere had asked me about what they could do to leave a positive footprint on the country. Before their arrival, I went through various approaches with the parents and made sure the itinerary was built in a way that helped the local communities as much as possible.
Good planning is great, but random kindness can be even better, it is the sincere spontaneity of the act that leaves an even greater impression.
When this same family landed on the Island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua, their youngest child of 7 years old was carrying a teddy bear as she had on the entire trip. It was obviously her favorite possession and something she was never without.
Getting off the ferry the young girl was approached by a girl just about her age, but native to the island. She watched the teddy bear and the 7-year-old foreign girl and smiled shyly. There was a language barrier, but the communication was clear.
Without prompting the 7-year-old handed over to the island girl her prized possession and smiled. The girl who received this act of kindness was overjoyed and was grinning ear to ear, it was obvious she never expect this gift but took it with complete grace.
The adults on the trip knew that no planning for sustainable travel could match this simple but perfectly felt moment.
Marc - A Warm Welcome
When I arrived at Tehran airport, there was a sign saying “Luggage Trolleys 100,000 Riyals."
However beneath it was a sign saying “However if you’re not Iranian and have only just arrived in the country and haven’t yet had time to change your money into Riyals, please take one for free. Welcome to Iran.”
Shalmali - We Are FAMily
I went on a FAM trip to Armenia in 2019. When I visited the Museum of (Aksel) Axel Bakunts in Goris, the curator Anjik who has been working at the museum for 50 years opened the house museum and took me around. She did the most fabulous in-depth, powerful tour I’ve experienced of a museum! Following the tour, she took me into the garden, which had raspberries bushes with fruit trees and told me to help myself and pluck as many as I wanted to eat. It was so inviting and made the experience so powerful and special.
Another one was on a FAM trip to Georgia. After a 5 hour drive through the rugged wild mountain landscape, we arrived at the most picturesque remote village of Omalo. The priest's wife chose dried mountain herbs to make tea for us after the long journey - the most delicious tea in my favourite region of Georgia. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the people of Kakheti and their wonderful generous nature.
Nathan - an ANTiclimax
Whilst attempting to cross the border into Laos from Thailand, we refused to pay the astronomic prices of what they referred to as a limousine transfer. So we sat in a coffee shop bemoaning our situation and a kind lady overheard us talking about how we were stranded. She offered a lift with her brother, who it turned out was a local police officer. We got lots of strange looks from locals as we climbed into the back of a police pickup truck. The act did kind of backfire as whilst seated in the back of said truck we started getting bitten by some kind of fire ants and had to suffer until we reached the border.
Clem - The Patron Saint of Backpackers
After a slightly dodgy late-night border crossing on a trip backpacking in Central America, a friend and I saw that there were no taxis on the other side to take us to the hostel we had planned to stay at. Seeing us looking stressed, someone that had been on our bus came over to see if she could help. Not only did she drive us to our hostel herself, but she waited outside to check we could get a room and had already offered her spare room up as a backup option…
Lou - Pay it Forward
When we went to Osaka, we were trying to get a ticket ahead of the last subway but our cards were not working. A guy approached us and started putting coins in our machine. When we asked if there was a cash machine nearby to repay him, he asked us to instead help someone else out when the opportunity arises. It all comes back around, he said. His name was Joel and we chatted all the way to our subway stop. He was such a lovely, happy soul. We’ll never forget that.