Balance. Every time I think of the word, a picture of a judgment scale comes to mind.
Like many people, I like it in almost every regard and most especially when it comes to reciprocity. I grew up learning to mutually give in return and that notion stayed with me in adulthood. In lieu of feeling entitled to others, I prefer doing things myself.
Which is why the story of my first day traveling solo was so eventful.
Take 1: Finding Oscar in the Lost and Found
I had a long 6-hour layover in Miami before I was due in Ecuador. My backpack was digging into my back so I spent the first half hour reorganizing the contents. I pulled out my Nexus to get online when I noticed the battery was almost dead. That’s when I discovered I had forgotten to pack my charger. There are two electronic stores in the Miami airport and both stores didn’t have the one I needed in stock. I was contemplating getting a taxi to venture outside the airport when I had the brilliant idea to go to the lost and found section to see if I can get one there.
When I finally found it, I played it off like I had just lost mine. The man behind the counter took out a catalogued binder, leafed through it to the current date and told me one had not been turned in yet that day. I asked if he had any that had not been claimed that he can give to me anyway. He stated that each item is itemized and sold to Goodwill after 30 days.
“Well then, can I buy one from you?”
“Sorry, ma’am. Protocol prohibits me from doing so. But I can help you find the nearest store.”
He started a Google search when I heard a voice behind me exclaim, “Your best bet is the Best Buy. It is about 15 mins away by taxi.” I turned around to find an attractive, 30ish, well-build, groomed man with a suitcase. After I thanked both of them for their help, I went downstairs only to discover I had gone to the wrong floor. I turned around when I ran into the same man who had just suggested Best Buy.
“You’re lost, aren’t you? I know this is going to sound strange but I can give you a ride and back. I have some time to kill.”
Um, yeah. Time to kill ME I thought. I don’t want to die before I step onto my first destination. I hesitated for a minute while I gave him the once-over.
He introduced himself as Oscar and told me he was in town from Boston to take care of his mother who was ill. “Are you sure you don’t mind? Okay, let’s do it.”
During the car ride, we hit it off right away. He shared stories about his gay partner, his disapproving father, and his adopted African-American son and I told him about my trip and why I was going. We had a lot in common and he ended up inviting me to have lunch with his Mother after I picked up my charger. It was a fun excursion and he drove me back with plenty of time to catch my flight.
Take 2: Rescued by Juan & Maria
I requested an exit row when I learn the middle seat is empty so I can stretch out during my 3-hour ride to Ecuador. A short, stocky and what I assume Ecuadorian man sits by the window and I take the aisle seat.
When the pilot announces we’re 20 minutes away, I pull out the printed directions I received from the Program Director at the Spanish Immersion School I enrolled in. I chose to participate in a home stay which means I’ll be staying with a local family while I study. One of the sheets has a list of the families and their addresses. I look for mine and notice it is not on the list.
I go back to the email that had the attachment and ensure I have the correct name.
Yep. No “Familia Ponce” on the list.
There’s a link to a map in the email and I ask the flight attendant if WIFI is available on the plane or the airport so I can grab the address.
I look over to man sitting to my right and strike up a conversation. His name is Juan and although his English is not very good I’m able to learn he is in fact from Ecuador and he’s returning from a business trip in Miami. He had missed his flight the previous day and his wife will be picking him up from the airport. I explain my predicament and ask if there’s a nearby Internet cafe where I can figure out the address. He says he’ll ask around when we land.
I gather my hiking backpack from baggage claim and walk out to the lobby, thinking that he may have left during the 30-minutes it took for me to finally get bag. I see someone waving to me in the corner of my eye and discover him standing there with his beautiful wife. He asks for the URL in my email and types it in his wife’s phone. It’s a slow connection but we finally find it. I breathe a sigh of relief and thank them for their help. By this time, at least 45 minutes have passed and I can’t stop expressing my gratitude. They tell me to barter with the taxi before getting into the car as they usually double the fare for tourists. I assure them I will and turn around to head towards the exit when Juan stops me.
“Actually, it late. We give you ride.”
“No, no, you’ve done enough. Thank you for the offer but I will be fine. Don’t let me take up anymore of your time.”
“We go that way too. It no problem.”
I nod and follow them as tears well up in my eyes. This couple had no idea who I was an hour ago, they took time out of their night to help me despite our language barrier, and on top of that they were going the extra mile to ensure I got to my destination safe and sound.
As we drive to Quito, Juan and his wife, Maria, point out attractions and make suggestions on where I should go along the way. We end up getting lost and having to ask for directions multiple times. When we finally get there, it’s 9:30pm, two hours later than when I was due. I take money out of my waist belt and go to thank Juan yet again as Maria talks to my house Mother. He shakes his head feverishly and puts out his hand, refusing to accept it. “When I was stuck in Miami yesterday, a stranger help me. I pay it back. Please, no. Just be safe.” He asks for my phone and inputs his number and his wife’s number, telling me to call if I need anything. I ask him to include his address so I can send him a postcard. He obliges, we all hug, and they get back into their car for what I learn will be another 40-minute drive until they get home.
I don’t know what would have happened without these two random acts of kindness. I could have gone without a charger or taken a taxi to get one. I would have probably found another way to get to my destination but I can’t say either would have been as pleasant.
I learned an important lesson the first day. Sometimes the balance scale doesn’t perfectly align and it’s okay. Sometimes, you have to place faith in others and allow them to help you. And sometimes, all you can do in return is continue the cycle and pay it forward in the future.
Thank you Oscar, Juan, and Maria for that message and for making my first day one to remember. <3