Beyond The Call Of Duty
--by RP, posted Nov 7, 2009
I thanked Agnes profusely, gave her a generous tip and went about my day. Late that evening, when I returned from work, a shiny new alarm clock was on the bedside table. As I had occasionally asked the maid for the time of day, I knew right away what had happened. She had used some of the money I had given her – money she certainly needed for herself or her family back home in the Philippines – and bought the clock.
As I hope anyone would have done, I told her she was too kind and returned the money with a little extra. Her generosity reminded me of a truism I have learnt in my work and travels: often the people with the least to give are the most generous.
Whether writing about efforts to help flood victims in the US Midwest or the homeless in Washington DC, I have marvelled at how the spirit the maid exhibited comes out in the worst of situations.
A few months after the alarm clock generosity, I returned to my hotel room to find a hand-made birthday card signed by Agnes. I wondered for a few minutes how she knew, but then guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that she had come across my passport while cleaning and made note of when I was born.
A cynic would say that she was doing this just to get another tip. I prefer to believe she was simply being kind – one human being connecting with another.
When I think back over the past year that I have spent in the UAE, it is not the stories of events at the Emirates Palace, travels in the desert or nightlife gatherings in Dubai that I most like to share. Instead, I tell the tale of Agnes, and that of the Abu Dhabi police officer who helped me out of a tight spot one night. They are what keep me feeling alive.
I had taken a cab back from Dubai with only Dh140 in my pocket, knowing we would have to stop at an ATM machine to get the rest of the fare. After four cash machines indicated that either the network was down or that they could not complete my transaction, I asked the cab driver if he would take a credit card – or even hold my card until I got the money the next day. Distressed and suspicious, he flagged down a police officer.
After listening to both sides, the officer pulled out some bills from his pocket and paid the cab driver the Dh120 owed. When I tried to insist on paying him back as soon as possible the next day, he waved me off, telling me not to worry about it. Certainly an act of kindness beyond the call of duty, and a story worth telling whenever police officers are maligned for abusing their powers.
Of course, there have been other acts-of-kindness stories in my time here, from co-workers pitching in to help a family that had lost its home in floods, to friends listening to my own tales of woe.
Journalists are paid storytellers, and every day this and other publications define themselves by the stories they choose to report. After all, there is only so much space in the paper; thousands of stories are left out.
So it is also with the human mind. We remember and highlight the stories that make an impression, or that we believe will interest others. But sometimes the tales that stand out are the ones that remind us of what kind of person we can strive to be.
Years from now I might not recollect the good music and fun of the Womad festival. But I do know a smile will cross my face when telling the story of Agnes and my stay at the Kingsgate Hotel.
It is about much more than an alarm clock.
[Originally written in The National in Abu Dhabi.]
She knew you were far from home and so those extra reminders and gestures were even more welcome i am sure.
May we all find a kind soul lke alice when we are far from home and loved ones.