There’s nothing that enhances a travel experience more than being the recipient or the initiator of a random act of kindness. It’s what we hold onto most dearly when we reflect on our visits to foreign lands, long after the memories of sculptures and monuments fade. In my years of world travel, I’ve had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of many unexpected displays of good will—by a local resident, perhaps, who offers to walk with me to my destination. I love returning the favor, whether I’m traveling abroad or I’m at home in Los Angeles. Whenever I see visitors standing on a street corner, staring at a map and trying to make sense of our sprawling metropolis, I approach and ask if I might be of help. The response is always one of gratitude, which improves the quality of my day and hopefully, theirs, too.
Sometimes random acts of benevolence happen in tandem. I call these double acts of kindness, a serendipitous occurrence where everyone benefits.
A particularly delightful and memorable double act of kindness came my way when I was walking with my husband through the lush rice fields of Ubud. We’d been in Bali only a few days and had read beforehand of the extreme heat and humidity that hangs over the island in the afternoon. Ron and I set out on our three hour trek armed with sunhats and water bottles, and as the day grew hotter, our pace slowed. About halfway through our walk, we passed a farmer working in the fields, his face covered in sweat, his damp hair sticking to his neck. It surprised us that he had no means of hydration on hand. “Here,” Ron said, offering him his water bottle. “Take it. Please.” The farmer looked at us with hesitation, then nodded gratefully as he mopped his brow and reached out for the bottle.
We now had only one bottle of water between us. I preferred to see it as half full rather than half empty, but regardless of my perspective, it wasn’t enough for both of us, and we had at least another mile to go before reaching our hotel. As we plodded through the sumptuous green landscape, the relentless mid-day sun piercing our heads like a laser and the scorching breeze rustling the coconut trees, a local man approached us, his cap pulled low over his eyes.
A cigarette clung to his lips and his smile revealed broken teeth. He gestured to a tall coconut tree, and before we could respond, he was shimmying up to the top, his legs wrapped around the thick trunk of the tree while his bare and calloused feet navigated. We watched, amazed, as he hacked away at two mature coconuts with his knife and carried them down to the ground. He sliced off the tops and handed them to us, gesturing for us to drink. The nutty milk was cool and sweet, and exactly what we needed to rejuvenate ourselves before completing our final mile. He watched us savor the unexpected treat, smiling and nodding, the cigarette still dangling from his lip.
“Suksma,” I said with a bow, choosing the Balinese word of thanks rather than the Indonesian expression of gratitude. I’d learned on my first day on the island that both languages are spoken, but life-long Balinese people often prefer their own dialect.
I wanted to tell the man how much we appreciated his display of kindness and compassion, and to ask him if he knew that we’d given away our water about half a mile back. There was no way, of course, that he could’ve known that. Or could he? Was he guided by a sixth sense of intuition? Probably not, but as I look back on that special afternoon, I like to believe there was a synergy between the four of us—a double act of kindness—that led to smiles, gratitude, and quenched thirst all around.