This is one of those stories you can tell again and again and you never get tired of sharing it, because it restores your faith in the goodwill of mankind.
Today was my swearing in ceremony and I was looking forward to traveling out to my site tomorrow to get settled in at my new village. A group of us decided to go to Italiano’s, a great pizza place downtown in Apia, for our last meal together before heading out tomorrow. After eating, I had to separate from the group to go pick up some groceries at the store. Now that I am an official Peace Corps Volunteer, I felt this new sense of independence and was in a great mood. I waved down a taxi out front of Italiano’s and asked to be taken to Farmer Joe’s Grocery. I made a good effort to communicate with the taxi driver in Samoan. I was asking him how his night was and where he lived, etc. I could tell he was pleased I knew some Samoan. Before long I was at the store and shopping. I went to call my friend Emilie because I had a question about something she had asked me to pick up for her. That is when I realized I didn’t have my cell phone with me. My heart sank.
At first I thought it must have been back in my room at the hotel and I had just forgotten it there, but I was almost positive I had it when we went to eat. I finished my shopping and took another taxi back to the hotel. Back there I started looking around my room and a friends room who I had been in before leaving. I used another volunteer’s phone to start dialing my own number in hopes I would hear it ring, or at least someone else would pick it up. There were two possibilities at that point: it was either at Italiano’s or in a taxi somewhere in Apia!
I had the hotel call Italiano’s. No luck. Then I was almost certain where it was: in the taxi. I started calling it again, and again. Every time I called without an answer, I kept thinking about how bad the timing was the night before leaving for my site. It made me so mad at myself.
Finally I was with a few of my friends in their room and told them that I would try sending one text message in Samoan, asking that they return the cell phone to the hotel. Just as I was about to start typing the text message, my friends phone rang! It was my number!!!! I answered and a man said, "Is this your phone?" I said "yes." I was so excited I could barely talk. I asked him if he could bring it to the hotel, fa’amolemole (please). He said he would. I said fa’afetai (thank you) and told him that I would be waiting by the road.
I ended the call and started jumping up and down like a kid on Christmas morning. This was my Samoa miracle story. I rushed next door to the K.K. Mart (local convenience store) and bought a can of Coke for the taxi driver. I went out front and waited for him. One taxi pulled over thinking I wanted a ride. I couldn’t remember if it was him so I said, "Do you have my phone?" He looked puzzled so I knew I had the wrong one. I continued waiting and then saw a taxi slow to a crawl and put their blinder on.
He pulled in and was holding my phone out the window with a great big grin on his face. I said fa’afetai (thank you) several times and handed him the can of Coke, along with 5 tala, which is a couple tala more than my original cab fare. He had a look of satisfaction on his face and he knew he had done a good deed. He deserved to be praised. What were the chances? He could have easily kept the phone, given the phone away, sold the phone, or just thrown it in the trash. He took the time to drive it over to me. I said, "Manuia le po!" (Have a good night!)
After telling all my friends the good news and phenomenal story I decided to check to see if he or anyone else had used any minutes from the phone to make personal calls. There was only one minute gone from the phone, the one minute he used to call me and tell me he had the phone! I was so delighted and pleased.
Tonight, being the eve of a big transition, reminded me that I am in the right place with good people who care about others. This isn’t to say that another taxi driver wouldn’t have made another decision, or that I don’t need to be vigilant. Rather, this demonstrates a link that exists in the human race throughout the world. This is a link of friendship, concern and goodwill towards others.
I learned a lot tonight, and perhaps more than I did during all of my cross cultural lessons during pre-service training. Tonight was unscripted, unplanned and completely real. It made me feel good, and I hope it made the taxi driver feel good.
Although it doesn’t feel like the holiday season for me here in Samoa, I know the commercial blitz is in full swing back home. Can you all do me a favor and remember this story, or another one like it the next time people start to get too drawn into the marketing by big name brands. Take some time this holiday to remember that there is a lot of good that goes on every day, and in every country, by people of every color of skin and of every language and ethnicity. These types of stories are happening around the world, and they need to be recognized because they are what can bring you true holiday cheer! Merry Christmas!