Friends and family,
The week before I left Vietnam, I was in a bad place. Upon leaving Hoi An, I had been assured — promised, even — by the travel agent in charge of my bus ticket that I would be heading straight to Dalat, and that didn’t have to worry about changing buses or anything else. In reality, I ended up in the drizzly, cold city of Nha Trang, at five in the morning, unceremoniously kicked off my bus that I was told was headed, in fact, for Saigon, and dumped in front of a closed travel agency with a handful of other people, none of whom were going to Dalat.
To make matters worse, I was recovering from a long-standing bout of food poisoning and had overnight developed a mysterious, extremely itchy full-body rash. I decided that I’d had enough of Vietnam and its lying agents and horrible bus rides and its rashes and its everything, and so when the travel agency I was parked outside finally opened, I bought a ticket from their representative outside to go straight to Saigon, with the plan of getting the hell out of Vietnam as quickly as possible.
But life, as I’m sure you can guess, had other plans. When I returned to the agency that evening just to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems, it turned out, of course, that the ticket I’d been sold was not, in fact, valid at that travel agency, and that the man who sold it to me belonged to another agency of a very, very similar name, and had scammed me.
Now, there were two young girls working behind the travel desk when I realized what had happened and hit bottom. Neither of them spoke English very well, and it turns out that one of them didn’t even work there — she was just keeping her friend company. Between being sick and lied to for the hundredth time about the bus, and not coping very well to my first days travelling without Sam, I started to panic. Those of you who know me at all will have no trouble imagining what happened: I burst into tears. In under a minute, I became an inconsolable, blubbering mess, and the harder I tried to calm myself down and explain the situation, the harder I was crying.
And then the unexpected happened: the girl behind the desk, instead of looking at me helplessly, took my ticket, found the phone number of the agency listed on it, called the number, and began shouting at the person on the other end of the line. Her friend stood up, took the ticket, handed me a motorbike helmet, and said simply: “We find them.” We biked around the city for the better part of an hour until we found the agency, then when we pulled up outside, the girl asked if I needed her to come inside, and when I shook my head, she gave me a brisk hug and left me feeling much, much better.
But in addition to this, Tu, the owner of the Orchid Hotel (where I had been staying for the day) saw that I was sick, and gave me an insanely cheap price on a massive, sun-bright room with three double beds in it. She also did a rush load of laundry for me, checked in on me every few hours, and the morning I left, she handed me a bag of fruit and snacks that she had bought for me “for the bus ride.” She, too, hugged me before I left.
The kindness of these women was directly responsible for my decision not to leave Vietnam on a sour note, and to instead head to the Mekong Delta for a week, where I had the most amazing time.
Now, bear with me as I hop across months and countries to bring you to Rishikesh, India, five days ago. I’d arrived in the city with a gradually-disappearing flu that instead transformed, overnight, into full-on pneumonia. I woke up not only coughing a (disgusting, liquid) fit, but almost completely unable to breathe, with acute pains in my chest whenever I tried to inhale.
All I knew was that I had to go to the hospital, but I was too weak to even get dressed, let alone figure out where the doctors in town were or how to get there. By some miracle, one of the German girls I’d met here, Lisa, managed to find a woman named Elsa who happened to be going to the hospital that morning, and who not only arranged a cab for me, but accompanied me there and even paid for the driver, and arranged everything so that I was seen by the doctors right away. Another of the Germans I’d just met, Ben, joined me for the ride to the hospital, and stayed by my side for the full six hours that it took to diagnose and treat me, constantly taking care of anything I might need and providing some desperately-needed emotional support.
I’m on antibiotics now and getting better every day, but I really felt like this needed saying: these two very different instances of kindness are only a small fraction of the amount of help I’ve received on this trip when I needed it the most. Every single time I have hit rock-bottom out here, some miraculous form of human kindness, as though sensing its own need, has appeared to help lift me up, dust me off, and send me on my way. I am overwhelmed by the level of support I’ve received from total strangers who have overcome all barriers — linguistic, cultural, whatever — to lend themselves to someone in need.
I am grateful for so many things on this trip, but most of all, I am grateful for this: travelling has reawakened me to the presence of human kindness, easy to forget about but always there, around the corner, waiting until it is called.
So for everyone at home or abroad reading this blog, thank you. For the women of Nha Trang and for Elsa and Ben, thank you. For my family and friends at home who provide so much love and support on a constant basis that I sometimes take it for granted, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Of all the lessons I was learning out here, gratitude was the one I needed the most.
All my love,