Yesterday Annette and I drove 500 miles from our home in south-west France to catch a ferry from Calais back to Dover and onwards to home. It was a long day and, by the time we reached the ferry port, I was both bored and very tired from all the driving. We were fortunate to be one of the first cars on to the ferry and managed to secure a comfortable seat for the 90 minute journey across the channel.
After a few moments a rather dishevelled couple came along and asked if they could join us. There were two empty seats so we invited them to sit down. Annette and I looked at each other and had obviously come to the same conclusion, not “our sort of people.” However, we started to chat, mostly polite chit-chat at first and I could see Annette becoming a little uncomfortable at some of the chauvinist and borderline racist remarks that were being made about other people on the ferry.
We were in a somewhat difficult position because there just aren’t that many comfortable places to sit on that particular ferry boat and we were reluctant to give up our prime spot.
We continued to chat, we learnt that the guy was a builder and had converted Annette’s old college into apartments after it had ceased to train new teachers some years back. This opened up the conversation into more interesting and relevant topics. The couple had built several houses, owned and run a couple of hotels and now lived in rural Lincolnshire while they built a new home in southern Spain. They had driven from Alicante to Calais in less than 24 hours then sat on the dockside for 12 hours because the rabies shots that a vet had given their dog needed that extra time to pass before they were allowed on the boat back to England.
We chatted some more and they started telling us about their regular visits to India. I was proudly told that despite all the poverty in India they didn’t believe in giving money to beggars or charities. I started to believe that they took their holidays there because it was a very cheap place to go and they got great value for money.
The story, however, ended in a very different way.
It seems that on the second day of their very first visit they were walking around a market being pestered by young children, begging for a few Rupees to buy some food. Of course, no money was forthcoming. However, one young girl, with a baby in her arms kept begging. Our couple decided, rather than give money, that they would feed the girl so that she could make the milk her baby so clearly needed. After an argument with a restaurateur they managed to order food, lots of it, and the girl had her first real meal for weeks, if not longer.
Thinking no more of it, the couple left and went on their way. The next day, however, there were hundreds more children begging to be fed. So our couple went and bought an entire stall full of biscuits on the market and gave them all to the children.
This couple now go every year to the same village in India where they help a local orphanage through the gift of their time and expertise, and of course, several packing cases of food, toys, clothes and anything else they can collect.
I listened to their story in silence. They told it in a factual, matter of fact way. They didn’t ask for praise or help or any form of recognition. They just told their story.
First impressions are often wrong; I judged this book by its cover and got it totally wrong.
As a Rotarian, I try to live my life by following the four-way test:
Of the things we think, say or do
- Is it the TRUTH?
- Is it FAIR to all concerned?
- Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
- Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
In my humble opinion, the couple we met (and they never did tell us their names), although not members of the family of Rotarians (it’s not their thing and never will be), are already better Rotarians than I can ever aspire to be.