A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Strangers

“Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don't know and trusting them with your life.” 
― Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star 

Way back in November 2011, when my daughter and I had been walking for about a month, we looked for a host through Couchsurfing in Seville. A young man named Mohammed was unable to host us because he was too busy studying there, but he said his family would host us once we got to Tangier.
Sure enough, in Tangier we stayed with his family for a week. In that time we all became very close friends, communicating in very poor Spanish, comparing our faiths (Islam and Quakerism), and exchanging cultural ideas. Said, the father of the family, taught me how to read and write in Arabic ( I have forgotten it all!). Olivia had some lessons in cooking. We both had lessons in humility. We were perfect strangers to these people, and not only did they take us in, they treated us like family. I know that any time I am in Tangier, I can go to this family.
 There is something about certain strangers you meet on the road, whose kindness and trust in you create a bond that rivals or even surpasses the natural bond among families.
In fact, many of the strangers I have met on the road these past 16 months have become family to me.

But the story with Mohammed is not finished.
When my daughter returned to Portugal from Fes in January 2012, she first visited Mohammed in Seville.
Then, almost a year later, as I entered Turkey, Olivia told me that Mohammed was now studying in Izmir, and that if I should go there, I had a place to stay for as long as I liked. Instead I went to Istanbul. While in Istanbul I decided to visit nearby Izmit as there was another Masterpeace pilgrim named Leanne  there. Once in Izmit, Leanne told me that a guy named Mohammed had passed through, and that he was hithhiking around Turkey. Mohammed, the very same Mohammed from Seville and Izmir, somehow knew I was coming to Izmit, and he left a little money for me. So the young man who couldn't help us in Seville has helped me out again over a year later in Turkey. While I know Mohammed's family in Tangier, I still haven't even met Mohammed.

I was given a lecture through e-mail not long ago that strangers will always be strangers, and that family is all we have in this lifetime. But the irony is that strangers have become very close friends of mine on this walk, while family, for the most part, has become more distant. This may have something to do with the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt, or it may be that my American family sees walking and surviving on the kindness of strangers as irresponsible or degrading. Most likely, however, is the fact that family has expectations on other family members that strangers do not have. The strangers who have become my friends have helped out from a simple desire to help.

Meanwhile, I have left the organic farm near Kandira, visited Leanne and two very kind hosts in Izmit, and moved on to Ankara.
I have heard from everyone that Turkey is a hitchhiker's paradise. Indeed, when hitchhiking to Kandira a week ago,  I believed this to be true, as I had several rides on a quiet country road. Naturally, I thought, hitchhiking the busy route from Izmit to Ankara would be a cinch.
It wasn't a cinch. I did get halfway to Ankara on a single ride, complete with free lunch from a perfect stranger, but I had to wait for several hours to get the ride. I also walked a good 10 or 15 k that day, and finally had to catch a  bus to get the rest of the way to Ankara.

I'm now here in Ankara with a stranger turned good friend and a wonderful family of strangers fast becoming friends. I'll soon try hitchhiking again towards Konya, the home of the ancient Sufi mystic, Rumi.
As always, I will be depending on the kindness of strangers.

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