In the last two weeks circumstances have dictated that I’ve been in nine countries. As one can appreciate, it’s been rather a whirlwind of activity with general impressions and disjointed memories but one clear conviction has risen from all of this travel. That is the goodness of people in each country I’ve visited. As a former journalist I’m keenly aware that it’s bad news or shocking news that sells newspapers or keeps an audience hooked to a news report but the result is often a feeling that we’re living in a cruel and twisted society. These couple of weeks have reminded me that the terrible stories the media feeds us on a daily basis are the exceptions. In fact, that’s what makes them ‘news’. In my experience there is a general sense that we are all fellow travelers on this journey and most people are willing to lend a hand where it’s needed. Three incidents in these past weeks come to mind. Firstly, the remarkable time I had in Cluj Napoca as a judge in the Comedy Cluj Film Festival. The welcome and generosity of the hosts and organisers stretched way beyond the call of duty that one might expect in such as situation and went so far as one of the volunteers dropping her grandmother’s home-cooked traditional food to my hotel when I’d expressed an interest in trying Romanian cuisine.
In Greece, where many people are struggling to survive financially and are taking to the streets to voice their anger, the sense of kindness was truly remarkable. I’d flown into Thessaloniki where I was to take a 2.5 hour bus trip to a meeting in Volos. With a strike leaving no taxis at the airport I had been fortunate to have a fellow passenger – a local police officer – give me a lift to the bus station. There I discovered that I’d left my wallet – with all my money and bank cards – on the Ryanair flight which had left without the wallet having been handed in. Theo, the police officer, not only paid for my bus ticket but, when I returned several days later to repay him the money, refused to accept a penny back and, what’s more, showered me with gifts, introduced me to his girlfriend and friends,took a day to show me the sights, me up in the best hotel in town at his own expense and then dropped me to the airport for my flight.
This incredible generosity followed an amazing stay in Volos. On arrival, on a borrowed bus ticket with just short of €4 in my pocket, two Greeks from the project I was attending – Ioannis and Stergios – met me from the bus. Explaining my lost wallet I said: “I have neither money nor credit cards,” to which they replied. “Welcome to Greece. We’re all in the same boat.”
They insisted on buying me dinner and drinks that evening, although I’d rejoined Irish colleagues who made sure I had money. Over the coming days we were looked after incredibly well by our Greek hosts and, when the project meetings were done, Stergios and Ioannis drove me on a tour of nearby Mt Pillion which included a visit to the family of Ioannis. His mother fed me the most stunning home-cooked food and we got merry on the home-made wine and tsipouro. It all ended with a big sing song and a meandering trip back to the hotel, stopping many times along the way to taste local delights and see spectacular views.
While the goodness of Horatiu and Sorin Dan in Cluj, Theo in Thessaloniki and Ioannis, Stergios, Maria and Nikos in Volos are highlights, in between I met an incredibly number of people who helped or advised along the way. Perhaps the current crisis is bringing us Europeans back to sense of camaraderie the importance of looking out for one and other. I don’t know what lies ahead with the banks and the politicians but as 2012 draws to a close I have a sense of quiet confidence that we’re going to be ok.