Looking back on the three months we spent on the continent of Asia, we realised that there were several people who went the extra mile to make our trip special. While it is impossible to mention all of them here, a few modern day ‘Samaritans’ will remain in our memories for years to come. We wanted to share some of these experiences with our readers as a reminder that the one of the greatest surprises when travelling is the kindness of strangers.
We met Jeonga Lee, a Korean Architect volunteering at the local university, while she was buying a live chicken for dinner at the market in Rajshahi (little did we know that 24 hours later we would be tucking into the very same bird with her!). So rare are foreign visitors in that part of Bangladesh that although she had not used English in years, she generously invited us to dinner at her house the next evening. She patiently bore with our almost non-existent Korean, making a commendable effort to regale us with tales of the challenges of life in Bangladesh e.g. motivating unmotivated university students; tips on making an apartment less attractive to rats and her firm conviction that spending half a month’s salary on having a Western style toilet installed (to replace the two bricks either side of a hole in the concrete floor) was worth every Taka! Eating a homemade Korean meal including kimchi, bap (rice) and kim (seaweed) with her and a colleague was pure heaven!
The Nameless Driver at the Thai-Lao Border
Our first ‘Samaritan’ in Asia was the man at the Thai-Lao border, who was minding his own business when we knocked on the window of his van in the mistaken belief that he operated some sort of taxi service to the capital, Vientiane. After agreeing to take us all the way from the boarder, we were shocked to find that he absolutely refused payment for the lift. It was only at this point that we realised that this ordinary man had simply taken pity on two foreigners arriving in Laos late at night in the rain.
Deborah of Kayia House in Varkala, India
After a day on buses from central Sri Lanka to the capital and a night spent at Colombo airport, we flew to Trivandrum in India and took a train for 2.5 hours, followed by two rickshaws… and we still hadn’t found what we were looking for in Varkarla! Frustrated and on the verge of losing it with each other, we passed a building on the main road advertising rooms. When we enquired whether there were any vacant, Deborah the American co-owner told us that she was full. One look at our faces (and perhaps a whiff of our unwashed bodies), was enough to convince her to give up her own room for us. Thus began a wonderful 48 hour stay in the ‘African Room’ at Kayia House. Homemade Indian breakfasts, a free personal tour of the town conducted by Deborah herself, use of the library and lounge, Internet access a non-stop supply of tea and coffee and free filtered water made it very difficult to leave this home away from home.
The People of Bangladesh
Throughout our two weeks in Bangladesh we were helped by a changing cast of passers-by, shop keepers, rickshaw drivers, bus and train passengers. From Ahmed the jovial Immigration Officer at the airport who taught us our first words in Bengali, to the NGO worker who played interpreter during negotiations with a rickshaw driver in Pirojpur, we experienced nothing but the most genuine of welcomes everywhere we went. Time and time, again bearded Muslim men who fit the dangerous stereotype of ‘Fundamentalists’ so senselessly promoted in Western culture, came up to us to shake our hands and welcome us proudly to their country. It was with a sense of shame that we realised that men and women dressed in shalwar kameez, hijabs, abayas and niqabs would not receive the same open hearted welcome in many parts of Europe.