I remember vividly my first visit to the US in January 2003. I was a part of faculty exchange programme at Indiana University in Bloomington. On the day of our arrival, my colleague and I went to visit her friend who lived not far from our dormitory. The visit was lovely, but I was tired, and my colleague and her friend had a lot to catch up on. So, at some point, I decided to walk back to our accommodation.
Jetlagged and sleepy, I misjudged my ability to find my way back. I walked and walked but could not find the right building. It was after midnight. The streets were deserted and covered in thick snow. My few attempts to approach joggers did not render any result. They looked away and completely ignored me. Anxious, I walked faster and faster. Sweat trickled down my back. I wondered when my colleague was likely to find out that I was missing. Could I sustain walking all night long? Stopping or sitting down was not an option in sub-zero temperature. Was I safe walking in the middle of the night on these unknown streets?
Finally, I saw a woman coming out of a taxi. I rushed to the taxi driver and asked whether he’d take me to the dorm. I explained I was lost and I had no money on me.
‘I promise I’ll get money from my room straightaway.’
‘No need,’ he waved his hand off and asked me to get into the car. That’s what usually taxi drivers said in Azerbaijan. They didn’t really mean it. In fact, you were expected to pay a little bit more for the ‘generosity of their hearts.’
So, his reaction did not entirely surprise me. I was preparing myself to run upstairs and get the money. After all, I was overflowing with gratitude. In an hour that I had been walking that night, I managed to stray quite far away from our accommodation. When I got off the car, I asked him to wait.
‘Just pass on the kindness. Do something good towards somebody else,’ he said. ‘I will not accept any money. Thank you,’ he added softly.
I was so touched by his reaction. It stayed with me for over 12 years. There were many highs and highlights from my trip to the US, but this is my most treasured memory. I think as humans we are wired to believe in goodness in other people.
All we need to do is to keep passing the kindness on.