by Kenneth Justice
~Yesterday morning I was sitting in an outdoor coffee house at the base of the Arenal Volcano, one of the five most active volcano’s in the world when a 70ish couple from San Diego sat down at my table. The boyfriend was born in Mexico City and is part Aztek and the girlfriend is originally from New York (they are both artists) . Their time here in Costa Rica is the final two weeks of what has been a 14 month journey around the world which started in Columbia, spanned numerous countries throughout Europe and is ending here in Costa Rica.
When I asked them what was the most memorable part of their trip that they will remember for the rest of their lives they both said that it was the people they’ve met along the way, “When we were in Berlin we met a German man at an art museum whom we started talking to and before we realized what was happening he had invited us over to his house for lunch and then dinner” the 72 year old Aztek artist told me.
They stayed in Barcelona for four weeks and while there they met many different people at various café’s and often found themselves staying at the homes of strangers for overnight stays, “Its amazing how many strangers we have met at café’s, museums, and various different places who invite us to their houses and also who have given us bedrooms to sleep in at no charge” the girlfriend told me.
Earlier today I began making the long trek to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and when I got into the Capital city of San Jose I couldn’t find the correct highway which would take me to the coast. And so we stopped at a Gas Station to ask for directions and one of the employees told us that the way to get to the highway is very difficult to find and so he offered to drive in front of us to get us headed in the right direction. For the next 35 minutes we followed the employee as he weaved in and out of rush hour traffic….we must have made more than 50 different turns on to all sorts of streets; and then when we finally arrived to the Highway I pulled beside him to give him a few dollars for helping us out…but he wouldn’t take it. I couldn’t believe it…..here was a simple gas station attendant employee who drove more than 35 minutes out of his way to get us onto the right road and he wouldn’t even accept money to cover his gas……something like that would never happen in the United States, would it?
I’m originally from Chicago, and I couldn’t imagine driving through rush hour traffic to help a stranger get back on to the right expressway. Sure, there’s been many times when I’ve helped people out with directions…..but would I go out of my way like this Costa Rican employee did for me today?
And what about the couple from San Diego and all of the strangers they met on their travels around the world this year and how people they had merely met at a coffee shop would invite them over for dinner and to spend the night? Doesn’t that sound like something out of the Medieval Ages?
Would people in the United States invite someone they met at a coffee shop over for dinner to their house? Would people in the United States invite someone they met at a museum to spend the night?
I’ve been thinking about this all day during my drive to the Caribbean; have we from more developed nations become too cynical, too rude, or too disconnected from our fellow human beings?
Has the fast paced lives back home in countries like the United States caused us to believe strangers…..can’t become our friends?
Yet…..as I think about these questions something else strikes me as profound; when I announced that I’m traveling to as many U.S. States and Countries as I can to visit with readers and bloggers at various coffee shops; my email INBOX and my comments blew up with offers for me to stay at people’s houses……..I have been totally amazed at how many people are interested in meeting with me and have asked me to stay with them at their house or apartment.
So, even though in many ways I feel that the United States has gone in a negative direction with regard to community and connectivity…….I see a small glimmer of hope…..perhaps people aren’t as cynical as I’ve thought they were.
Perhaps this journey I’m making around the world is my opportunity to learn the true nature of where Western Culture is and where we are going as a people. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was going to accept all of the various offers people have made about staying at their homes…..but now I believe that this might end up being the most beneficial aspect of my year long journey as it will give me the opportunity to truly drink in the culture of all of the various places I am going.
The couple from San Diego visited some of the most beautiful and amazing places in the world; they viewed some of the greatest works of art known to humanity…….yet it was the people they met along the way that became the greatest source of inspiration they found which moved them emotionally……
Perhaps there is hope for humanity,
The best part of my coffee this morning is that when I went to pay the Barista told me that someone else paid for it…..a stranger….and I never found out who it was.
Categories: Drinking in the Culture