Synopsis : There are people you meet for the first time and find them very friendly and sincere if you just say hello. But most people do not take the first step so can not find them and think that people are unfriendly. In this blog I discuss this issue and encourage people to open up and extend a hand in friendship.
Once I was in Sheung Shui which is the last but one station near the Chinese border from Hong Kong where I met with a taxi driver who said his name was Kam Fat. Now I am still not sure if that was his real name or they called him so because he was a bit fat but he was a friendly sort of guy who said that he can bring me to the border to see what we can see. So I went with him while he talked a mile a minute and wanted to know all about me.
So I told him that I was on my way to the United States where I was to go to college in California etc. I had no scholarship so I was on my own which must have impressed him a lot so first he found me a cheap place to stay in that was good and clean and then he invited me to his house for a dinner.
There is an abominable place like a swamp with foul odor coming out of it where Kam Fat lived in a shanty built on stilts so we walked gingerly on narrow planks that led to his house where he introduced me to his family and children who all welcomed me and invited me to join them in a simple but delicious Chinese meal. I still remember their hospitality because taxi drivers who are so nice to an unknown person are very hard to find anywhere so I was amazed.
I don’t remember what we talked about but they gave me a beautiful ceramic eagle as a parting gift. The next day Kam Fat showed up again to see if I needed him again and promptly brought me to a dentist when I said that I needed one. This wonderful fellow fixed me up a nice tooth that fitted with a clip for only 5 dollars.
Kam Fat then brought me to an Indian doctor who happened to be a Bengali gentleman married to a Chinese lady who was very surprised to see me. Hardly any Indian ever goes to Sheung Shui let alone a Bengali so he immediately invited me to have lunch at his place and later showed me around in his car to visit Sha Tin where he had another clinic. I have very pleasant memories of such nice people I have met in my life in many countries reinforcing my belief in the goodness of the humanity no matter how many bad people we meet.
If you have traveled as much as I have then you get to meet all sorts of people some bad and some good like Kam Fat. You tend to forget the bad ones but remember the good people who made an impression on you. One gentleman offered to carry my heavy suitcase to my hotel in Hong Kong out of pure goodwill so I was quite embarrassed.
These days all we hear and see in the news is trash talking politicians who openly encourage hate and racism so some people take their cue and behave accordingly. You will see this upon arrival at any US airport where the impolite immigration people will give you a dirty look if you happen to be a foreigner with dark skin or wearing turban.
You will see this in policemen who will stop you and roughly ask for your ID while keeping a hand on their holster. You will see this in a passing motorist who shouts insults at you just because you don’t look like them. It even filters down to the children who take their cue from the parents. It makes you wonder at the dark side of the human nature and appreciate more the Kam Fats of this world.
Once I was in Messina in Italy where I wandered into a camp ground not knowing that it was where only the Italians went. The camp was full of tents and lots of children of all ages were playing there. At first they did not know what to make of me because they had never met an Indian up so close but they swarmed around me asking all sorts of questions. I did not know their language so could only say “non parlare Italiano” until a teenage girl said that she spoke some English. I then had an idea. I gathered all the kids and asked them to join our hands to make a circle. I then asked them to sit down on the ground.
They were excited and waited eagerly to know what to do next. So I explained to the girl that it was a simple game where I will drop a hand kerchief behind one kid who will not suspect it and come around to find that kid still unaware so I will pick up the hand kerchief and hit him with it to tell him that he is out of the game. If the kid found the handkerchief then I was out and he continued the game.
They learned the game quickly and had a great time playing this new game because the girl explained to them in rapid fire Italian.
After playing a while I then sat down in an easy chair under a tree to rest but the kids would not leave me alone. They brought all kinds of food from their tents and started feeding me. Someone would put some grapes in my mouth while others put some cheese. They could not do enough for me while their mothers and grandmothers looked on smiling indolently at me. One old lady asked me to take off my shirt and lovingly fixed some buttons that she saw missing. I could not believe in so much love to a complete stranger in a foreign country.
When it was time for me to say goodbye, the kids shed tears and pleaded with me to stay on and play some more with them and teach them new things but I had to move on. I still remember their tearful beautiful faces after so many years.
I love the innocence of children but also know that this innocence depends upon the environment they grow up in. They tend to lose it quickly in a violent situation like war and famine where nothing is normal anymore or in a situation where parental care and supervision is missing or inadequate like in Algeria.
But first let me take you to Vietnam where a terrible war was being fought in 1967 with no end in sight. You cannot imagine the havoc it caused in the family life and caused so much death and destruction everywhere but I have seen it and felt keenly their agony. The kids lost their innocence during the war and played with toy guns and grenades as if that was the normal thing to do. Some would come up to me in the streets of Saigon and press dirty photos into my hands for some money. One kid opened the hatch of our car and ran away with a duffle bag in the blink of an eye.
Teen age girls openly sold themselves. Young kids climbed on the back of American trucks carrying PX goods and pushed the cartons off the truck like monkeys while the driver was totally unaware of what was going on. These kids were not innocent and were cunning beyond their age. The war brought a collapse in morality and the traditional values.
Then let us go to Algeria in 1972 where there was no war and the whole country was peaceful but where I made the mistake of thinking that kids were so cute and innocent. They were anything but innocent. They were like little devils in curly hair and angelic faces. Their mothers shooed them out in the morning to do their household chores in peace and gossip with their neighbors so these kids did all kinds of mischief to occupy themselves.
When I played with them thinking that they were kids after all, the word spread fast and more and more kids started to appear. When their sheer number overwhelmed me, I had to stop but they insisted that I play with them and got angry when I would not.
In Italy the kids grow up in a loving environment and are pampered by the parents and the grandparents who shower them with attention but in Algeria this was not the case so the kids craved for attention and love. When they found it, they were not about to let it go so became vengeful and put sand on my motorbike engine, tried to break the mirrors and slash tires. I was quite amazed at their destructiveness.
So the sweetness and innocence in kids depends upon the environment they grow up in. If the kid experiences domestic violence common in many societies or lives in a community where drugs, violence and death are common then it has the effect of taking away the innocence quickly.
I have written elsewhere that the kids are like sponge. They absorb good as well as the bad things they observe specially the language and act accordingly when there is no loving parental supervision.
Ten year old children are now forced to carry automatic weapons and asked to kill people by the jihadists and other such groups so they turn into real monsters at a very young age. Girls as young as 13 or 14 are forced to sell themselves just so that they can earn a small sum to feed their orphan siblings. No one cares for them and no one helps them so they do what they can just to survive.
As long as people can remember, there has always been war, famine and pestilence brought about by people who still insist on forcing their will on the people in the name of ideology or mistaken beliefs so people suffer. The UN now says there are more than 80 million people who have been forcibly displaced due to war in various parts of the world with no end in sight.
There is a movie made called The kite runner which shows how children used to fly their kites in Afghanistan until the hard core jihadists came to power and turned that country to ashes. Dancing, singing, playing, kite flying and all the normal things in life that you and I enjoy in our own countries were banned so deprived people of their simple joys in life in the name of a mistaken belief. It is a country rife with drug addiction, domestic abuse of women, depression and suicide where people see no future.
When the war ends someday, people may have the opportunity to go back to piece together a normal life so that their children can fly kites again. I have seen this in Vietnam that is now growing and prospering where children play in the beautiful parks instead of selling dirty photos but they paid a very high price to have peace.
We as humans have been killing each other since a very long time and still do but this world of ours is truly a beautiful planet where the nature is generous and can feed everyone given half the chance. If you travel, you will see how beautiful some countries are that are so green and rich in resources where people live in prosperity and peace, where people are kind to strangers and offer any assistance they can. Kind and wonderful people raise kind and wonderful children who later become the Kam Fats.
So I have not lost faith because of the Kam Fats of this world.