This just happened.
I stopped at the bank and noticed a striking black woman in line behind me in line. Striking because she looked lovely in her bright colors that suggested perhaps she was from another country.
I finished my business and left the bank. I had just pulled my car into reverse when the same woman appeared in my passenger window indicating that she had something to say.
My first thought was, did I leave something in the bank? I have walked out of the bank before without car keys (but they were in the ignition) and I was positive I had put my money in my wallet. I opened the window.
“Are you going that way?” she asked in heavily accented English, an accent I couldn’t place which confirmed that she was from one of the parts of the world I intend to visit someday although I’m not sure where.
“Yes, I am.” I hoped she wouldn’t ask for directions because I am still utterly confused by this place and would be useless getting anyone anywhere.
“Good. You take me to the African store.”
“What?” I asked as she began to open the back door to my mini-van and pull herself in.
“You take me to the African store. In that direction.”
My initial reaction was confusion followed immediately by a moment of panic. This strange woman was climbing into my car, without asking, and demanding I take her to an unknown location.
What should I do? I thought.
But then I thought again. Why not? She obviously needs a ride.
I closed the door, pulled my car back into gear, and said “Do you know where the African store is?”
“Yes, yes. You are going in that direction?”
“Yes I am.”
I turned off NPR so I could talk to the woman and learn more. Her accent was challenging and I think she was still just learning English. “The post office is closed,” she said, but she indicated the bank, which was open.
I asked her if she had walked to the bank. “No, the post office. The computers are broken.”
I admit, I have no idea what she was talking about. We drove in silence for a moment until she said “here, right here.”
“Is this the African store?” I asked, peering around for an indication of what she was looking for, but only finding some kind of auto shop.
“Yes, yes,” she said. I pulled into the lot. She got out and said, “Thank you and God bless,” and walked on her merry way to locations unknown.
As I drove away I began to think about what had just happened, and why my initial reaction was panic. It was not because of her race or immigrant status or anything like that. I realized my reaction was a very American one–because we have become a country of distrust. We build walls around ourselves, whether it’s by hiding from others through technology or locking ourselves behind closed doors in moving vehicles. I know I’m over-generalizing, but we really have lost that mentality of just giving someone a lift because they need it–of offering someone a ride in the back of the wagon.
I reacted because a strange person broke the rules of engagement that we have built; rules that I believe indicate a true loss.
It is always difficult, when travelling, to adjust to the variations of behavior or the openness of some cultures where the bubble around individuals is smaller. It can be overwhelming when meeting a group of people who define community and relationships differently than we do here. But, letting go of our instinctual fear and distrust is indeed a valuable lesson we should all learn.
Today I learned a quick lesson in trust, and I feel blessed.