, Derry, New Hampshire


September 5, 2013

Column: Vacation saved by the kindness of strangers


As the three women engaged in an animated discussion, I spotted Betty standing in the distance. I’d forgotten all about her. Then the Italian woman spoke again.

“A policeman picked up your backpack. This woman will take you to the station. Go with her. It’s only five minutes away.”

I looked back at Betty and yelled, “Wait here!”

As I waded through the back alleys of downtown Athens with a stranger who did not speak English, I should have been questioning my sanity. But I was determined to find that backpack holding jewelry that Betty had just purchased.

The police station was housed in a squalid office building. An elevator, designed to accommodate two small children, screeched its way, in fits and starts, up to the fourth floor. We entered the office and found one filing cabinet and a metal desk. A young Greek policeman was sitting behind it, and he spoke unaccented English.

Another animated discussion ensued. A few phone calls were made. “You’re lucky,” the officer said. “The policeman who picked up your backpack works in this station. Just wait outside. He’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

Just like that, there’s my backpack with all the valuables in it. The Greek woman walks me back to Betty. Cue the happy ending music. Except that our tour bus is gone.

Betty just looked relieved. No problem, we’ll get a taxi back to the cruise ship.

Now it was my turn to play Charades. The cabbie didn’t speak English, but it didn’t matter. I rolled both hands to simulate waves, like a four-year-old in a preschool play. We made it back to the ship, despite rush-hour traffic, with 10 minutes to spare.

Betty and I love to travel, and we’ve always kept our worries and fears at bay. A scary thing happened, but some strangers in a strange land came through just when we needed them.

Despite the grim headlines, there is still some goodness left in the world.

John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.

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