Dear Anonymous American Couple on Your Honeymoon,
When you met me, in an airport in Lima, Peru, I was clearly trying to contain my panic. I’d just landed after 10 hours in the airspace of nine countries, and I couldn’t find my wallet. The airline claimed they didn’t have it and it wasn’t in the seatback pocket or under the cushion or in any of the obvious places. It was gone. I asked to borrow your phone, and you told me you didn’t have one, but asked me why. I shakily explained, forcing the tears out of my voice and creating a false cheerinees, a jaunty, “oh, you know how these things go” positivity. In my head, I had already resorted to sleeping in the airport. Instead, you asked me how much money I needed and handed me $75 to get me to a hostel and to find me some dinner.
Dear Marcelo the Taxi Driver,
When you picked me up at the airport, I explained to you in rather shaky high school Spanish (lots of unconjugated verbs and a tendency to repeat “entonces,” and “pues,”) that I had lost my wallet on the way here. You asked if I had called my mom, which I hadn’t. You offered your phone, insisting I call whomever I needed. “But it’s international,…” I said, and you just waved away my concerns. I reached my mother in Florida and explained the situation. She promised to figure out how to wire money across continents and assured me it would be fine. Sir, the cab fare was only $11, and had I had any more money than the kind couple had given me, I hope you know I would have tipped you better.
Dear Eleri, My New Friend and Moral Support,
Over coca tea and bread and jam in the tiny kitchen of our hostel, we started chatting. After explaining the bind I’d gotten myself into, you offered to accompany me to the bank–“for moral support,” you said–where I was going to try to secure some sort of emergency cash or limited access to my funds, anything to enable me to continue on my trip. During the walk, we talked about your work as a pharmacist, your adventures through South America, and the kind of world we both wanted to travel in. At the bank, you waited patiently with me for over an hour while I negotiated paperwork and red tape. “It would be hard to do this kind of thing alone,” you said, and you were right.
Dear Miguel, the Most Patient Banker Alive,
When I walked into your office explaining my “emergencia,” and asking for “ayuda,” you did not roll your eyes at the silly American. You did not tell me that it was Saturday morning and the bank would be closing soon. You did not tell me that on the weekend what I was asking was next to impossible. You picked up the phone and made some calls. And then more calls. And then some faxes. You filled out form after form, helped me answer security question after security question. Most importantly, you kept smiling at me and assuring me that it would all work out. You told me sometimes it can take hours, and when I told you my next flight left in less than three, you made it happen. I walked out of your office with my money safely tucked into three separate locations and the first easy breath I’d taken in 12 hours.
Dear Senoras Huff and Woodward,
You two are the most memorable Spanish teachers I had, 12 and 10 years ago, respectively. While practicing irregular verbs or memorizing airport vocabulary, it never occurred to me how essential your training might ever be. There is not a chance in hell I would have successfully walked out of that bank without the conversational Spanish I learned in your classrooms. My facility with the language is halting these days, rusty and gooey from lack of use, but man, the fundamentals are strong. There’s a particular kind of confidence that comes from knowing you can understand and make yourself understood in another tongue. It’s not a skill on which we Americans place a lot of value, but I find it infinitely easier to show a little linguistic humility than to slam my American passport on a counter and start issuing demands.
Dear Family of Mine,
You are all pretty awesome. You sent encouraging emails. You provided financial and emotional assistance. You followed up. You checked in. More than any of that, though, you imbued in me through direction and example the kind of calm in the face of calamity that allowed me to figure my way out of this particular tight spot. Mom, Dad, I have seen you both navigate emergencies with grace under fire and solve problems with charm and ingenuity. From you I learned that lesson #1 is Don’t Panic. Lesson #2 is Seriously, Don’t Panic, It Will All Be Fine. That’s a certain kind of desperate optimism that I don’t have to call on very often, but when I do, I’m glad I’ve got such an example.
Thanks a bunch, you guys, it was a GREAT trip,