“The Kindness of Strangers”

Ex-war correspondent Kate Adie chooses “The Kindness of Strangers” as the title of her book. It is also a quote from a play, but don’t ask me which one; it’s a while since I did English literature. I found myself thinking about it at seven o’clock the other morning, lying in a strange bed in a strange house, where I had been invited by people whom I had only met the day before.
I arrived in the little town of Pichanal in darkness at ten o’clock on Wednesday evening. Pichanal looks like a dive by night, and is not greatly improved by day-light. Situated on the cross-roads of two major routes south from Bolivia, its reasons for existence mostly include drugs and contraband. The man in the bus ticket office gave me directions to the one hotel. The people in the hotel welcomed me. Actually they seemed a bit confused to see me. I realised at breakfast the next morning that the other residents were all male Argentinians, migrant factory workers, and I guess they don’t see too many lone pregnant foreign females. But the sheets were clean, and the shower was hot, and to be honest, that’s about the extent of my accommodation requirements.

The next day, I walked to the school, where I was received as an honoured guest. Groups of children dressed up and performed little plays and dances in my welcome. One of the teachers showed me round the indigenous (GuaranĂ­) community which the school serves. Another teacher invited me back to her house at lunch-time, and yet another came and took me back to school for the afternoon. Afterwards I caught a ride to Oran, another larger settlement. Here I was met by a speech therapist, who showed me round the city, and invited me back to her house for the night. In the morning, the same lady took me to a children’s home, and on to another school, where we were warmly received by more welcoming strangers, even though we had showed up unannounced on the off-chance that someone would be available to show me round. Lunch-time, and again I was invited home, and fed a mountain of spaghetti and sauce, before being given a lift on the back of a motorbike to catch the bus back to Salta.

In a world where “man’s inhumanity to man” is given a hyper-inflated status for being the more news-worthy, maybe it’s time to celebrate the real value of so many un-noticed instances of “the kindness of strangers”.

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