Most ‘Westerners’ who have been to the likes of Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar will tell you that the people there are more friendly, welcoming, generous and kind than the citizens of their home countries; and as I neared the end of my 18 weeks backpacking in India and South East Asia, I wrongly made a similar assertion.
In India, I was invited into the homes of strangers to meet their families and they would ply me with tea and food. In Vietnam, a mechanic stopped working on his other projects to help us with a flat tyre on one of our scooters. In Myanmar, a couple bought me a bus ticket (they thought I had no money, but that’s a different story for another time!) and even organised the second part of my journey with the bus driver to make sure I reached my destination safely.
There are countless examples of human kindness from my travels abroad with which I could fill endless paragraphs, but what is of more interest to me are the examples which I have encountered in my own country.
In everyday life, we don’t need to ask strangers for help. We are surrounded by a support network of colleagues, neighbours, friends, family, and we are largely independent in our own anthropological bubbles. But what happens when we leave this bubble and become a ‘stranger’ in our own country?
During Becky Jo’s Great British Tour, I am effectively a stranger. I am a traveller, visiting places I’ve never been before and hearing different dialects in their purest forms. Yes, we share the same language, and yes, we share the same nationality, but I am – for want of a better word –a foreigner.
I have never been made to feel so welcome, in a place I didn’t know, as when I visited Ockley in Surrey. I arrived there by chance because it was the intended destination of some hitchhikers I had met who wanted to climb Leith Hill.
The summit of Leith Hill Tower is the highest point in the South East and has glorious views in every direction (unless you go when I did, and all you can see is mist).
When Groggy the campervan sprung a leak on the Isle of Portland, near Weymouth, I knew how to fix the problem. All I needed to do was dry off the area and expertly apply about 4 inches of that professional resource known as gaffer tape – Tim “The Toolman” Taylor would be proud. The issue I had was reaching the hole in the sun roof in the first place, seeing as Groggy is a Ford Transit high-top standing at a proud 2.6 metres.
I pulled up alongside the van of the landscape gardeners at Portland Castle. Having asked the two men on their tea break if I could borrow their ladders to reach my sun roof and fix the leak, they quickly proceeded to abandon their brews and set about fixing Groggy for me. My faith in humanity is wholeheartedly restored.
Then there were the women I sat next to at the Weymouth Pavilion who invited me to wait with them at the end of the show so that I wasn’t on my own, the volunteer at the Castletown D-Day Centre (taking annual leave from his job to put in extra hours volunteering) who spent the time to tell me about their mission and who gave me excellent advice on where else to visit, the gentleman who sold me my theatre ticket who offered to show me around Weymouth, the fellow free camper who gave me his spare car window sticker in case I had any problems free camping, the young lady who chased down the street after me because she had forgotten to give me a £5 refund…
When you experience your own country as a foreigner, you begin to realise that those same kindnesses you only hear about in exotic countries are equally true for the Brits; and it makes me seriously proud.