We set out for a long trip to Brazil via South Africa on 26th November and much as we were looking forward to the conference on Youth and adult and learning ( confintea vi) we were also dreading the many hours of travel. The conference was to be held in Belem Brazil and it meant waiting for 15 hours before the next connecting flight to Sao Paolo from South Africa. As we checked out at the South African immigration my colleague from Kenya we had no idea how we would get accommodation as we were not familiar with the hotels nearer the airport so we decided to ask for help from the help desk. We were met by a smiling young woman, Lebohang! I learnt her name is Tswana and means ‘be thankful’ and for sure am thankful for having met her. The few minutes that she interacted with her were so powerful that I will not forget this young woman in a long while. She started chatting us, and took us to the place were we arranged for accommodation, to the forex bureau and all along acting in a way that made us feel that her work is means a lot to her. In the few moments we interacted talked about issues in Kenya and South Africa we felt like we had known her for a long time. She was keen on Kenya and thought Kenyan guys are dark and handsome!! (She is single!!). She was so easy to speak with that all our previous apprehensions of Johannesburg evaporated. She didn’t leave until she was sure that we were in safe hands. We finally got a cab to the guest house and surprising enough on our way back through the same route we met the same cab driver at the airport when we needed to hire a cab.
The courtesy and welcoming gesture from Lebohang marked a positive start to the journey in a foreign land in the amazons. It made me really appreciate the positive nature of human kind and how much we make life easier for others just by being there. Sometimes it takes only a few minutes, but these few minutes make a difference in the people’ lives more than we imagine. The two weeks I spent in Brazil and without understanding the commonly used language, Portuguese had a strong impact on me in feeling the sense of belonging that courtesy can bring. While many times I could barely understand what the people I was speaking to wanted to communicate, I can say for sure that I felt the courtesy and felt at home. It was interesting to try and catch a few words to at least order food, yet sign language worked wonders! Of course we settled more for the easier options, ‘frango / batatas fritas’ and felt proud that we know Portuguese (fried fries and chicken). The language was a barrier but the attitude was never hidden by this.
This made me recall an experience I had about six years ago while on a visit to Uganda. I met a young girl about 5 years and we became such friends were making the joke that I need to adopt the girl if the mother would even allow! For the full day that we were at the function in Kampala, I had a great friend such that when Kenyans were called to present something she wondered why I had left her behind and she joined in! interesting enough, I could not speak a word of Luganda neither could my newly found friend speak a word in English, nether was any of us gifted in sign language skills, but we connected as human beings.
These and other incidences got me thinking about courtesy and just being nice to people and the impact this has on them. I have been surprised when someone tells me something I did that touched them yet when I think of it, it didn’t cost me anything.
On the other hand, many a times we are in such a hurry to care for anyone. We have take friends and family members for granted since we believe we have no time for them. Sometimes in the spur of the moment, we are rude and say words that act at hurting others and sometimes never realize what harm we have caused. It is a choice we make.
As we approach the Christmas and New Year season, many of us take time to reflect back on the year. As I think back on the year and the many things that have happened to me, I can not help but realize how much people have touched my life in different ways. The simple courtesy, doing unto others what we would have them do for us works wonders, but how often do we recall this? This doesn’t require us to speak the same language for we already share the language of being human.
Happy season to all, may the good feeling that we experience and help others to experience during Christmas and New Year extend to the rest of the Year. Lebohang, thank you for being a friend to strangers!