20 December 2007

The Kindness of Strangers (part 1 of 2)

In 1997 I spent a couple months backpacking through Europe. You know, traveling to a new country every week with my rail pass and staying in youth hostels. One evening I got on a tram in Vienna. An attractive African girl greeted me as if we were old friends. She asked if I spoke English and where I was headed. I told her that I had just arrived from Budapest and was on my way to a hostel. Fola was on her way to the first year anniversary celebration of the Black university students’ organization and invited me to come along.

At the party there was music, food, drink and lots of friendly people. In the middle of it all she called everyone’s attention and said something like “My friend here just arrived in Vienna and needs somewhere to stay for the night. Can anyone accommodate her?” My embarrassment was soon replaced by surprise when I saw the hands of three or four willing volunteers go up. It was then decided that I would go with Mara because she lived closer than the others.

It turned out that Mara lived with her aunt. When we got to the door she said something like “Hi, auntie, this is Guaria. She needs somewhere to stay for the night.” The aunt did not bat an eyelash, as if this sort of thing happened all the time. They gave me a warm, comfortable place to sleep and fed me breakfast before I went on my way the next morning. I was in awe and disbelief at their kindness to me, a stranger.

After I returned to the United States, Fola and I exchanged a couple of letters and Mara and I exchanged a few e-mails, then we lost touch.

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