Has anyone been kind to you today?
A few weeks ago, I had to take a night train from Belgrade to Budapest. Once I got to the station, after getting lost in the city and counting on the kindness of locals to guide me there, I was confirmed what two friendly guys from my hostel had warned me about: there was some construction on the train tracks at the border, so the journey wouldn’t be a direct one.
The first train was packed, mostly with refugees. The wagon was clearly separated: the ‘normal’ passengers on one side and them in the back. It was like no one wanted to come near them, in fear of catching some mysterious disease or something. After an initial moment of surprise, I decided to sit on their side. They all looked tired, they all looked like they had gone through a lot, and they all had a hint of sadness in their eyes. I was touched and curious: I wanted to know their stories. But it is delicate to talk about those things, especially with so many people around. So at first, I just smiled and said hello. Some of them looked really surprised, maybe to see a girl there alone, at night, maybe because they were not used to being smiled at in these strange lands.
I started an interesting chat with two Syrian brothers, one was 15 years old and the other 18. Their parents were not with them; I didn’t ask why. They looked so young and so brave… I couldn’t imagine what they had must gone through, and yet here they were, smiling at me. They told me a bit about their tough journey, without going into the details, of course. As we were talking, someone sitting behind offered me cookies.
Shortly after, some border control officers appeared and asked everyone for their passports. Two young men on my right started getting agitated; something was wrong. And indeed, when it was their turn, they had no piece of identity to show the man. He took them away. After that, we had to get out of the train and take a bus to cross the border before taking another train, all of this in the middle of the night. That’s where our paths separated: the group of refugees was taken somewhere else, who knows where, and I got on the bus.
I don’t know where these people are now, but I hope they are in a good place, a better one than the one they left. I hope they will meet kind people like themselves, and that they will help them survive in the harsh society waiting for them.
Unfortunately, I am afraid they’re not. I am not really in that society anymore, but I see the reactions on social media; I see all the fear, the concerns and sometimes even the hatred towards refugees. It terrifies me. I see people make big theories about how only the ones who don’t deserve it come to Europe, how we are welcoming terrorists or how they are not grateful enough once they are there.
Have these individuals spoken to one of them, even once? Have they walked in a refugee camp? Have they asked them their story? Do they know what they’ve been through, what they’ve seen, what they’d like to forget but never will? How its feels like to flee from a country in war only to arrive in a place full of ill will towards them?
I bet they haven’t, I bet they don’t. I bet they found all their arguments on some article online, I bet they didn’t even bother to verify its sources. I bet they haven’t tried to imagine what they’ve been through, what they are still going through, because no human being with even the slightest hint of compassion in his or her heart could react so coldly if they did.
Yes, the situation is difficult. We may not have all the right infrastructures and may not be fully prepared for that amount of people arriving all at the same time in our countries. But something we all have is a heart to feel compassion and love with, and a brain we can use all together to find solutions, instead of wanting to push the problem away. While we’re at it, we could try and use it to think about the reasons and causes behind those wars, and maybe realize that we have our role to play in that horrible staging.
What I haven’t said is that, that same evening, I was tired, scared and little bit sad too. Not for the same reasons of course, and certainly not with the same intensity. Travelling, especially alone, isn’t always as easy as one may think. But sharing those conversations, those smiles and those cookies made me feel much better, made me feel happy, made me want to share even more of those conversations and smiles and cookies with everybody else I would meet on my way.
I have been travelling for almost 5 months now. I sometimes arrive in places where I know nobody and have no idea where to go, and in every single case, I have been lucky enough to have crossed the path of many, many kind people who have helped me, who have offered me a smile, a hand, some useful information and sometimes even food and shelter without expecting anything in return. Most of them probably didn’t have much material wealth, but were all incredibly rich anyway. I am in South Korea now, and I’ve been blessed with so much generosity since I arrived. I feel so grateful for it every day and I hope to be able to give some back in the near future. My only regret is that this generosity shouldn’t surprise me; it shouldn’t be an exception. Kindness should be the norm, for everyone and everywhere. What does a smile cost?
We are one people, we share one earth. We’re all in this together. We may all have different stories and backgrounds, we still all go through the same emotions and moods in life. We are all animated by the same aspirations: being in a safe place, where we can feel loved and accepted, where we can do what fulfills us. We all have love and kindness in our hearts, along with hatred and fear. Which one you fill yourself with – the choice is yours. I’ve made my decision long ago. You can choose too, you can choose to roll your eyes and think of me as an idealistic and naive person, close this page and go back to whatever you were doing. Or you can stop for a second and think about this story, about what an act of kindness can do. This is not only valid for the refugee crisis. If after reading this, you go out of your house and give a smile to the person with a sad look on her face or reach out to a stranger who looks like he needs a friend, or even think that after all, those people from elsewhere asking for shelter are maybe not all the monsters you thought they were but just human beings with the same aspirations as you and me, then my goal will have been achieved.
The situation is bad, and changes have to be made. But the first change happens in our minds. Remember what one brave little girl said once:
“No one has ever become poor by giving.”