Pay It Forward To America

, , , , , , | | Hopeless | May 21, 2018

Several years ago, when I was studying abroad in South Africa, two of my friends and I decided to do a road trip along the Garden Route. Our first stop was in Addo, where there is an elephant reserve. I booked all the accommodations and scheduled the whole trip.

We were already renting an 1970s Mercedes Benz and, despite warnings, we took it with us. We underestimated the time it would take to get to Addo from Cape Town and ended up arriving very late to our first hostel. Much to our dismay, the owners weren’t there. A family staying said the owners were out of town but to call a number, get the information, and leave our money. We tried the number several times and got no answer. Since we had seen signs for other hostels on our way in, we decided to take our chances and find another place.

We ended up driving to several with no luck. Despite the car being an automatic, it stalled out like crazy. While I was driving us around trying to find a new hostel, it stalled out again. While I was trying to restart it, someone knocked on our window. All three of us screamed at the top of our lungs. We were in an extremely rural area, late at night, surrounded by almost nothing. After composing myself, I slowly rolled down the window. The older man asked us if we were okay. We explained our situation. He pointed to the only hotel in the area, a high-end place surrounded by a giant wall. We said it was too expensive for us. He said it was late and we should give it a shot, then told us good luck and went on his way.

After driving to more than five other hostels, we gave up and decided to try the hotel. If it was really expensive, we’d ask our parents to wire us more money. The woman who checked us in was quite kind and later, after we’d settled in, she and her husband sat with us while we had dinner in their dining room. They gave us great advice for the rest of our trip.

The next morning, after sleeping in one of the nicest little cottages I’ve ever seen, we went to check out. The woman at the desk was older than woman from the night before. She insisted we have breakfast, even though we’d already had the cereal we brought with us. She was so insistent, we ended up eating at their massive buffet.

And that’s when it happened. As we were eating, she came by and told us that not only was our breakfast free, she was comping our meals from the night before and giving us a discount on our room. We were shocked. It turns out that the woman from the night before was her daughter. It was a family-run joint. She said she knew we came in late and were slightly desperate for a place to stay, and she couldn’t make us pay full price in that condition.

But there’s more. While we were still processing this woman’s kindness, the older man from the night before walked into the dining room. When he saw us, he came over and said, “She give you a good discount?” It was her husband. He’d been out for a nightly walk when he came upon us, sitting in a stalled car, looking terrified. He told his wife to go easy on us if we showed up.

We thanked him profusely for his kindness. He said, “My son went to live in the States. I’m only doing what I hope one of your fellow Americans would do for him if he got in trouble.”

It’s been ten years, and it remains one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. Believe me, we reviewed that place on every site we could after our trip was over.

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