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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

Kindness of strangers

Can I talk to you a minute about the kindness of strangers?

In a way, this makes me think very much of our assumptions of others, and how we can teach ourselves to assume the worst, or we can just hope for and think the best. I think I tend to fall into the latter category, or at least that is my goal.

Let me start with this: it is often those who have the least, who are not full of riches that are more likely to share and to help. May I also add that one of the many many reasons we love to live in Africa, is highlighted by our experiences this weekend.

We had the good fortune to go on safari this past weekend. We noticed an unusual smell coming from the hood area, but couldn’t find anything wrong. Once we were 6 hours out of town, and in the safari park, the car began running better (little did we know that what ‘helped’ the car was the speed at which we were driving and not that it was ‘fixed’). We had a lovely time, driving around the park, and saw amazing animals. We’ve been on I can’t even think how many safaris already but every time we see something new.

We had some (mis)adventures coming home.

Heading back from the park, still hours from home, the car started acting very oddly, with little power. Then, we couldn’t get the car into any gear but third. Slowly, making all sorts of noise, we got the car to a Shell station, where we pulled straight into the mechanics’ bay. Ah, he says. Clutch problems. Apparently, that weird smell was the clutch burning. Literally charring to bits. We had the clutch adjusted a while ago; little did we know it wasn’t quite as well adjusted as we assumed.

The mechanic told us that we might make it back home (at least 4hours to go), but more likely, we would not. The car was not in good shape. The town we were in was not exactly a tourist destination and while I had noted a Guest House, it was not really a place I wanted to stay with my family. So, we asked the mechanic if he thought he could come with us, and help if the car had more issues. In the US, this is not an option; in Africa? No problem.

We called our friends and they offered to send their driver out to pick us up. He heads towards us, we head towards him, and we'll meet in the middle. If nothing else, he can follow us home, make sure we don't have issues. All good.

Seating arrangements readjusted, we head out. The car seems to have made a miraculous recovery ... until, about 90 kilometers later, it completely ran out of oomph. We could not get any gears to engage, and the car rolled to a stop. We were stuck in the middle of a hill, in front of a little man’s house. He and his family sat on the bench in front of their hut, watching the theatrics unfold. Sort of like a tragic comedy; only thing missing was theatre snacks.

At this point, we had about 3 hours to go until we got home, about 200km. I messaged my friend's driver, and we arranged to meet at a roadside diner, about 2 miles back. We could get home, we would just have to figure out how to get the car some place either secure or at least not in the road. The puzzle was to get all of us and the dead car back 2 miles. We could walk but the car would have to be towed.

We tried to flag some cars, but to no avail, until a very nice man and his wife stopped and offered to take 2 of us to the northern part of our city (we’d have to figure out how to get the rest of the way home, to the southern part of the city). And he could only offer for 2 of us because there are rules due to COVID to limit only 4 per car. Clearly, this wasn’t really an option. We thanked them profusely, secretly wished their car was just a bit bigger so it could tow us to our meeting place. Wanting to do something, they gave us all of their water and a box of cookies (we had water and snacks but they insisted; we gave all of these treats to the little man and his family).

Now, since joining our adventure, our mechanic friend had been busy calling his various buddies, trying to solve the car transport puzzle. Finally, his buddy from the big city happened to be travelling north to pick up a different car, and he pulled up alongside us in his car transport truck. He would be passing by the diner anyway, so he loaded up our car, added us to the mix, and drove us to the meeting spot. Probably not the safest parenting decision to sit in the car on top of the carrier but... didn’t feel like walking 2.5 miles from the break down spot to the diner.

Before leaving, car transport guy calls his buddy back in the city to hop in his car transport and drive on up to the diner, to pick up the car. He takes the mechanic back to his town, heads off to pick up his own load and promises that he'll be back to meet car transport #2 at the diner, and they will caravan back to the city. The car will be dropped off at our house.

So, long story short, we sat at the diner, had an early dinner, played some football, caught up on work emails, and 2 hours later, our friend's driver shows up. We load our bags into their car, left the keys with the fifth perfect stranger in this scenario, asking them to give the keys to the car transport guy when he showed up.

What could go wrong? And, you know what? Nothing did. The car arrived back in our driveway 2 hours after we did.

And the mechanic showed up the next day in our driveway, dropped the transmission and replaced the clutch with his buddy.

You may be asking yourself: who on earth would do this? I mean, this is literally a series of unfortunate events, right? Except, in my mind, it isn't. I mean, sure, no one wants their car to break down, but this is an example of how again and again, the kindness and compassion of strangers literally turned our luck around, and helped make what could have been a truly horrible situation into a bit longer-than-expected trip home.

I'm telling you: when you meet a new person, can you help yourself think good thoughts and imagine only the best? Can you consider what qualities you might like about them instead of thinking how they might do you wrong? Can you start the interaction with a feeling of trust and acceptance? I think, no I believe, most people have good hearts and high character. In my experience, when you reach out with positive, you receive positive. I hope you can do and find the same.

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