How I experienced the kindness of strangers


SOCIAL media keeps us well up on all the terrible stories about crime, stories that haunt your dreams, till you wake up in the middle of the night sweating, and can’t shake the horror the whole of the following day.

The crime stats show that for 2015/16, house robberies (where the residents are confronted by robbers) and robberies with aggravated circumstances were up 2.7%. And murders were up by almost 5% - South Africa had 51.2 murders a day during 2015/16. Bad news.

But you never hear the good stories, do you?

One happened to me a few days ago.

I was on a round-the-country trip, Joburg to Cape Town to eThekwini over three days, co-presenting a workshop on climate change.

Day Two started with an Uber trek from the airport to Salt River – a matter of 15 kilometres, perhaps, and it took an hour and a half to do. So I wasn’t taking any chances on missing my Durban flight that afternoon, and as a result I arrived at the airport two hours early, drifting around until I settled at Mugg & Bean for a snack and coffee.

Eventually I headed for gate A8, where I found my flight was crammed with middle-aged French tourists, so it took ages to board. I was seated right at the back, next to the loo – golly, those French people have healthy kidneys! When we landed, I popped into Woolworths King Shaka for some sparkling water before calling an Uber.

That was where I discovered I had no purse. No purse! How could it be?

And thus the Night of Miracle and Wonder began. Ravi on the till dropped everything to help me. He tried to phone Cape Town Airport; he tried to get hold of the CT Mugg & Bean in case I’d left the purse there. Eventually, he suggested I ask the King Shaka branch to call Cape Town on their speed dial.

A young and willowy waiter called Teddy greeted me at the King Shaka M&B, and soon had his manager calling Cape Town, while he urged me to sit down, have a glass of water, is someone coming to pick you up? No, I explained, I have to Uber, and oh dear, if I cancel my credit card I can’t do that! He whipped a R100 note out of his pocket and handed it to me.

“Oh no, you can’t do that!” I exclaimed.

"It’s part of my tips," he said. “I want to give it to you so you will feel comfort that you have some money.” (Yes, of course, dear reader, tears came to my eyes!)

Teddy then organised a lift for me to my hotel, with Xolani, who totes wait staff back and forth for the Spur and Mugg & Bean. Somebody gave up the front seat of the bakkie for me; the staff in the back made room for my luggage. We careered through Waterloo township in Verulam (very tight bends they have there), dropping off staff one by one, then on to the hotel.

In the middle of the night, at 12:24 am, my cellphone rang. A woman’s voice asked for my name and a couple of other details, which I gave in a puzzled and groggy state.

“I have your purse,” she said.

A Sierra Leonian who lives in Tshwane, Dr Janette Saidu, had picked up my purse near gate A7 in Cape Town. Once home, she’d phoned the AA, given my membership details off my AA card, and obtained my cellphone number.

The next day I staggered into the workshop feeling hungover from stress and disturbed sleep. I told the participants what had happened, naturally, so when I shared a midday text from my husband (“OK got your purse moneys there cards all intact”), the whole group applauded.

My homeward bound flight was delayed, and everyone was feeling tetchy and irritable, but not me. “I’ve had such an amazing 24 hours,” I said as I told my seatmates my story.

Later, when the Kulula cabin attendants brought the trolley round and asked if I wanted to buy anything, I shook my head.

The Durban businessman in the window seat leaned forward. “Can I buy you something?” he asked.

I could hardly refuse. I toasted him in sparkling water to say Thank you.

A couple of memorable things from the experience:

First, technology. One forgets about these things because you never need them, but if you still have your phone, and data, you can release money from even a blocked account, to draw through cashless transactions at the ATM.

(Reminder: never keep phone and cards in the same place while travelling.)

It made me think: perhaps I should consider opening a special credit card (which I don’t carry) just for Uber? Transport is so vital.

And finally: people are naturally altruistic. (Yes, really. Don’t believe me? Read primatologist Frans de Waal, The Age of Empathy.) Maybe as much as 10% of our population will rip you off and hurt you; but that still leaves 90% who won’t. Be cautious and sensible, of course (I made sure my husband knew who Teddy was, and who he’d organised my lift with); but welcome kindness when it’s offered.

It’s a heartening experience for both parties; don’t you enjoy being able to give? And believe me, the joy of being cared for has stayed with me all week!

CALL OUT: Have you experienced kindness from strangers? Share your story with us and get published.

* Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.

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