The Kindness of Strangers

Earlier this week I had a Peace Corps training which took place in a location that I hadn’t been to yet.

In the US, the world of Google maps and cars, that wouldn’t have been a big deal. I’d have printed my directions and map and drove there. But, as a volunteer in Paraguay my only option was to take public buses.

I started gathering directions about two weeks in advanced. I started by asking the ladies I worked with—I asked two different nurses for directions at separate times. And then I asked a family I visited for directions. Why so many times?

First off, there is usually more than one way to get somewhere—and actually I got 2 different sets of directions.

Second, traveling in Paraguay involves looking for landmarks, not road signs or addresses, so it can be hard to know which mango tree or which church I need to get off at when I’ve never seen them. I figure my chance of recognizing the landmarks increases every time they are described to me.

Finally, I couldn’t pronounce the name of the town to which I was traveling. I wrote the name of the town and site where the training was on my hand before setting out, just in case.

In the end, a stranger rescued me. Before transferring from my second to third bus of the trip I asked the bus driver about my destination. He answered me politely, but I had the sinking feeling that I was going to have to ask the next bus driver a couple times to get the information I needed. But, as I jumped from the bus a woman said I should sit with her and she’d help me.

She is a nurse at the health center in the town next to my community. And, in true Paraguayan style, she asked me if I had kids, how old I was, and if I was single before asking my name. She made space for me in the line as we got on bus, told me about the towns we passed through, and made sure I got off exactly at the right spot. I am quite sure I would have gotten lost without her.

Helping me didn’t require much effort on her part, but it transformed my trip from a nerve-wracking experience to a pleasant one. As I walked down the cobblestone road to our training compound I was thankful and thought about how such a little act of kindness made such a difference in my life that day. I might complain about any number of things in Paraguay, but Paraguayan sure get the little things right.