Melissa – General Manager at Khiri Travel Myanmar
Desperate and in tears, my plan was to eat chicken McNuggets…
I was a student with an oversized backpack in Lyon, France, and French had gone on strike for about a week (as they do!). My friend caught her train back to Zurich and I waited at the Gare de Lyon-Part-Dieu for mine to Milan, only to have it cancelled yet again. By this point, I had run out of Euros, my top-up phone card was depleted, and my credit cards were blocked from the new tickets and cancellations we had. I sat in McDonalds trying to tap on some free WiFi, which wasn’t great back in the day, failing to get any money sent to me. Desperate and in tears, my plan was to eat chicken McNuggets, sleep at the train station and hopefully get a new ticket the next day.
Two elderly gentlemen came to share my table in the crowded restaurant. One hobbled over with a walking cane and the other pushed himself along in a wheelchair after him. Between burgers and chips, in a mix of broken English, Italian and French, we conversed enough for them to know the story behind my tears. They were appalled I was going to sleep at the train station – I didn’t know a young woman had been raped nearby recently – dreadful idea. They then started an animated discussion in rapid French, and I picked up the key phrases, “étrangère”, “dangereuse!… C’est fou!”.
Mr. Huerta Nelson shook his determined head at his friend in the wheelchair and offered me his couch for the night. His friend rolled his eyes. Of course, I was afraid of crashing on the couch of a stranger I had no common language with, but sometimes instincts are all we’ve got in desperate times (and I figured I’d outrun them both…).
Back in the flat, we sat for hours chatting with a dictionary between us. My host turned out to be a former archeologist and a wonderful painter. He showed me rocks, fossils, his paintings and photographs of his estranged family. He told me how chasing dead objects and bits of sediment caused him to lose his beloved family – his biggest regret in life – and made me call my family to let them know I was safe.
The next morning, I woke up to Mr. Nelson returning home with fresh bread and jams from the local market. He prepared a packed lunch for me and walked with me to the train station. Even with a cane in hand, he helped with my luggage because that is what a gentleman does, he said. We waved a tearful goodbye as my train rumbled towards Milan.
A chance encounter of human kindness and connection that has taught me to pay my way forward in compassion.