Foreign aid begins at home

ANSWERING my door to a young Polish woman she told me she desperately needed internet access.  Having no idea where the nearest Wi-Fi location was she asked if she could use mine.  I was happy to oblige.

I was reminded of the many times I have asked locals for assistance when in their countries. Their generosity of spirit has taught me some great life lessons.

Arriving late at Italy’s Bergamo airport and having picked up the hire car it dawned on me that budget airlines tell lies. The ‘nearby hotel’ I had booked was a perplexing few spaghetti junctions distant.  At night, faced by a bewildering series of meaningless signs and caught up in a maelstrom of fast moving traffic my son and I were soon out of our depth.

“I will ask this couple,” I said.  I had spotted Romeo and Juliet whispering sweet nothings to each other by their Vespa scooter.  My son could not get over it when, without a qualm the youngster kissed his girlfriend Ciao and invited us to follow him.   It was a difficult route but we reached our hotel.  The teenager refused the well deserved €10 I offered.

As a youngster, I had on several occasions used my old car to tour Europe. Looking for an address in Munich I asked a young soldier for directions. Realising he was not making much sense he jumped in our car and guided us there.  Munich is about the same size as Greater Manchester, the journey took nearly half an hour. He was happy to oblige without payment.

When in Latvia both Russians and Latvians couldn’t do enough to help when I needed advice.  It sometimes seems to me that by helping others we too become happier.

I could never fault the native Africans. No matter how much my request inconvenienced those I asked assistance of, their reward seemed to be their satisfaction at having helped a stranger in trouble.

In Japan, a cinema manager realised that we young sailors could not afford the entrance fee. He invited us to take our seats free of charge. We couldn’t understand the movie but we understood the lesson.

I found the Germans the friendliest of all. In a remote part of Bavaria, we were horrified when steam issued from under the car’s bonnet. Coming to our assistance a youngster got us to a garage where, free of charge the thermostat was dumped, the gasket replaced and all was well. 

Again, I offered payment, which was refused. He did give me a little advice: “Pay me by offering assistance to any foreigner who needs you in your country.”  It was a lesson I have never forgotten. I have paid for that car repair and other acts of kindness many times by assisting others in need of a kindly gesture. 

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