A Gesture of Humanity

A Gesture of Humanity

The most rewarding joys of travel, and life, are the unexpected expressions of Bangkok buddakindness and humanity we encounter.  I think often of a particular incident that happened in my travels. On an August day in 2002 I left Kandahar, Afghanistan, where I was doing development work, to go on an R&R trip to Bangkok, Thailand. It was my first trip to Thailand and I was looking forward to time away from the torrid and dusty Kandahar summer. In my haste to get away and relax my trip planning was not well done.  I did not have a hotel reservation for one thing. I had one in mind but decided to take a chance and wait until I reached Bangkok. The flight, through Islamabad, was gratefully uneventful. Nearing Bangkok, as the plane made its approach to what is now called the ‘Old’ international airport, I looked out the window and my thoughts were a mixture of excited anticipation along with the uneasiness I have when arriving at a new and unknown destination.  After the plane touched down I disembarked and to headed to the baggage claim area.  Gathering up my suitcase I looked for the kiosk in the taxi holding area I had read about in my guidebook. Finding it I paid for a roundtrip fare to town and took the next taxi in the queue The middle-aged driver of the cab turned out to be both personable and chatty. We had problems understanding each other but managed to talk about family and our work. He asked where I had come from and I told him Afghanistan. A look of concern crossed his face.  “Isn’t it dangerous there?” he asked   I replied that one had to be careful but I had not had any problems.  He then asked me which hotel I wanted to be taken to.  I told him and he asked why I had chosen that particular hotel. My reply was that I had read about it in my guidebook.   The driver then said that his recommendation would be a different hotel that was in a good area and charged half the price.  I thought over what he said and then did what a traveler is told not to do; I decided to follow his recommendation. His suggested lodging had been mentioned in the guidebook and I felt I couldn’t go too far wrong. The hotel turned out to be okay. It was worn but comfortable. It was also in a bustling area full of tourists. On my first couple of excursions into the streets of Bangkok I was constantly stopped by peddlers asking me if I wanted company for the evening. They even pulled out pictures of possible companions.  I was amused at first but after awhile I got annoyed. I started thinking about my taxi driver and questioned his motives for directing me to the hotel. Finally the truth dawned on me. Gray-haired men of my age, traveling alone, usually go to Thailand for reasons other than sightseeing. My driver apparently assumed that I was there for those reasons. He was trying to accommodate me. Fortunately, after a time, the peddlers figured out I wasn’t interested in their offers and they left me alone. I relaxed and spent a delightful week in Bangkok. On the morning I left Thailand, and by previous arrangement, the same driver came to pick me up at the hotel.  He was cordial and friendly and I sensed that he had found out I wasn’t the type of tourist he thought I was. The trip to the airport through the teeming Bangkok traffic was very pleasant. Our conversation again turned to family and life. He told me how difficult it was to make a living because of the post-9/11 tourist slowdown. He again questioned me about Afghanistan. “Is it difficult?” he asked.  “Do you feel secure?” He seemed genuinely worried about my welfare. Upon arrival at the airport the driver got out of the taxi to shake my hand and wish me goodbye. He then modestly handed me a small object. I looked and saw that it was a medallion with the figure of Buddha on it. He told me he was worried about my safety and said that Buddha would protect me. He also told me the proper way to wear the medallion to both protect me and honor Buddha. He then bid me goodbye, got back in his taxi and left. My trip back to Kandahar was filled with thoughts of the humble Thai taxi driver.  Not being a Buddhist I didn’t know the religious significance of the driver’s thoughtful gesture.  But I did know, and was touched by, the human goodness he expressed on that day. Other thoughts also crossed my mind on the flight back to Afghanistan.  Initially both the Thai driver and I had misunderstood the other’s intentions. How often that must happen with tragic consequences in this tumultuous world I thought.  Being privileged to travel and work in many countries over the years I have found there is one ironic certainty behind the tragedy and tumult.  It is the evidence of the brotherhood of man. When we get past the fears of another’s culture or religion or perceived intentions we find that most of us share the same desires and concerns. We want security and peace. The thoughtful actions of a taxi driver in Bangkok personified the important and often forgotten connection that all humanity shares. John O. Dwyer ContrarianTraveler.com Over50andOverseas.com

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