I love seeing those post and pictures that have “faith in humanity restored” as a tagline. People paying it forward with coffee and food, helping animals cross streets, and just doing random acts of kindness all around.
I can’t believe I almost forgot, but I was lucky enough to be the receptor of one of the best random acts of kindness ever. And it happened in the lovely country I currently reside in, because life is weird that way: Ireland.
A little bit of context: this happened on 2014 during a trip I made to the US, Europe and Australia to try and get backers and buyers for my company. I say company in a very broad sense, it was basically me (a 23-year old college dropout) and two other college students promising we would find a way to prevent about 100.000 deaths yearly due to ingestion of poisonous seafood. Now, back in 2014 I had just gotten a fund from our local government (that’s what paid for the trip) and we had absolutely no actual results/product whatsoever, and I had never travelled alone, nor had I been in any of the countries I was visiting for work. So the trip was about 60% nerves 30% work and 10% freaking out.
The 10% freak out part came mainly from when I had to go to Belfast from London. I had enough money to buy a ticket on Ryanair, which meant leaving my huge suitcase in a locker in Kings’ Cross and then getting on a plane to Dublin with only a backpack with the stuff I had to show on the meeting and a decent blazer to not look like the disaster I am. The flight was short and nice except for the whole part where Ryanair blasts a horn-like sound the moment you touch ground like saying Ta-dah! We did not murder you! Which is nice, but it probably could be not as loud.
Anyway. I get off the plane in Dublin at say, 8am. My meeting is at 2pm in Belfast, which is a 3 hour bus ride, so I have plenty of time. I go to the nearest bus line shop and ask for a ticket. I did not carry cash because I was literally jumping from country to country in 5 day spans so the currency exchange rate could have killed me. Anyway, I swipe my card and bam, rejected. No worries, I say, I have another card. Swipe, bam. Also rejected. Okay then. There is probably an ATM nearby, isn’t it? Yes, off to the ATM. Let’s swipe the card. BAM. Rejected. Mind you, this card was working yesterday at 11pm when I checked into my airport-side hotel in London. I try the ATM again. Rejected, of course. There’s wifi at the airport because it’s a civilized country so I turn my computer on and try to go into my bank account but wait! The card is actually under my dad’s account because Chilean banks don’t give 23-year-olds international credit cards. So I can’t check it. I try calling my dad but wait! It’s 9am in Ireland so he is asleep in Chile. It’s okay, I say. The internet will save me. I go to all the bus lines’ websites and try to buy tickets online through paypal, my local bank account, my boyfriend’s bank account. In all of them you can only buy a ticket a day in advance. I need to leave in an hour. At this point I email the person I am meeting with – let’s say he’s the director of a nation-wide research institute and you’ll be pretty close – saying I am having issues with my card and will probably be a bit late, considering I am still in another country (kind of?). At this point my boyfriend (bless his soul and him being in Australia because otherwise he would have been asleep) tries to wire me money, only to find out that it will not arrive until tomorrow. The freakouts at this point are getting to a cusp, I have not eaten anything since lunch the day before, I slept around 5 hours tops and this after a week of sleeping 4-5 hours and working/having meetings or conferences every day, and that’s not all! I may not make it to a meeting pivotal to the project, which also happens to be the only justification I have for a plane ticket to Ireland and a hotel the night before which I clearly cannot afford in my drop-out state with no salary whatsoever. Did I fail to mention I could not pay myself a salary even though we had a grant? Because that’s a thing that happened for a year. Anyway. At this point I decide to go to the person who checked the tickets before getting in the bus to try and see if there was any other way to pay for my ticket (get to Belfast then buy a two way cause I used one already?? Leave my cards here as proof of payment?? Maybe cut off a hand??) and the moment I start trying to explain this whole situation, how I was stuck with no money in a country I did not know, with absolutely nobody I knew in a thousand kilometers, arriving late to a meeting that could make or break the project I dropped out of the best engineering school of the country for, I broke down. I started crying and just could not stop. He looked at me in alarm, poor soul, and told me to stand aside while the other people in the line showed him their tickets and got on the bus. I kept crying for a solid five minutes until the queue was over and he turned to the cashbox, took out 10 euros and said go get breakfast and come back afterwards. I tried to explain to him breakfast was the very least of my worries even though I had a pit on my stomach, but he wasn’t having any of it. I took the money and some tissue and went back inside the airport building to get a sandwich and some juice. I finally calmed down (the food helped, as it always helps) and went back to talk to him. When I got there he pointed to a half-filled bus and said “this is your bus”. I tried to muster the courage again to tell him I could not pay for it when he said “I mean it, get in the bus. It’s taken care of. Have a good trip, go get to your meeting.”
I got in the bus, sat down smiled at him while he waved and started crying again until I fell asleep.
Did you think my story was over? Because BOY DO I HAVE SOME MORE THINGS TO TELL YOU.
I arrive to the bus station and freak out yet again because how the hell am I getting to the research institute anyway? I have no idea where it is, and there’s no wifi here. What happened to the whole civilized country thing? Maybe it’s just my third-world-ass’ fault for not having infinite mobile internet. Anyway. Magically, the researcher I am meeting decided to go get me at the bus station. The ride to the institute is impressively embarrassing – saying you’re the CEO of a 3-person company with no product is already embarrassing, but having the person you’re meeting with saying “oh you poor thing you ran out of money, you remind me of my daughter” is really not the way you should start a partnering meeting. We get to the institute and the first thing he does is offer his computer and phone to see if I can finally get a hold of either my dad or my bank. I try both and both fail, of course. Then we have the actual meeting along with his team and everything. It goes oddly well, they love the concept and application of our technology, and decide they’d like to beta test it and probably even support and promote the use of our product if it’s developed according to their standards. They agree to sign support letters for us to show to our funding entity at all. It is basically awesome.
And then I have to get back to Dublin. My dad finally calls back before I leave the institute and says he’s at the bank solving the card issue. I can breathe again, and the awesome researcher who took me there takes me back to the bus station. We stop by an ATM on the way so that I can finally pull some money out and, bam. Card rejected. I try to not let my freakout show, but he notices. We get to the bus station and he hands me 20 pounds. I am, again, shocked. “Go get your bus ticket back and some lunch” he says. It’s around 4 and I am, in fact, starving. But my shame is bigger. I insist I cannot accept it, but he just retaliates “how are you gonna take your plane back to London then?” Nothing to be done. I take money from a kind stranger for the second time today, get some food and get in the bus. Around three hours later I am at the airport hotel I made a reservation in about a week ago. They ask for a credit card because the payment won’t be cleared otherwise. I cringe on the inside, hoping the whole issue is solved. I swipe my card and, of course. Rejected again. I am about to lose it but I am too tired to do so. Instead I just ask for the wifi password (and a plug for my phone) and start whatsapping my dad.
Me: Hey dad. So the money is not here yet and I’m at the hotel. They have a nice lobby, I can probably sleep here anyway.
Dad: They said the money will be available tomorrow so you might have to do that.
I explain to the cashier that this is probably the worst day of my life and that I’ll just sit down somewhere to go through paypal and wire transfers and, I don’t know, freaking bitcon, to see if I can pay for the night or if I’ll honestly try to just sit down in a corner and hope nobody notices and sleep there. I’m sitting in the café side of the hotel’s restaurant looking for a corner when a waiter (who overheard me talking to the cashier) brings me tea. I explain that (1) I did not order tea, even though tea is probably what I want most in my life at this point, right after alcohol and an actual meal, and (2) I can’t pay for it. He says he knows and that he knows I need it. I try not to cry and smile as I, yet again, get a gift from a stranger.
Hours later it’s around 9 or 10pm and my dad texts me telling me to try my card. I try not to get my hopes up while I swipe and I wince expecting that awful rejected beeping sound, when it WORKS! IT WORKS! I just stand there in awe while the cashier laughs a bit (I think she congratulated me or something? I feel like everyone got emotionally invested in me that day) and hands me the key to my room. I run upstairs, open the door, and throw myself into the bed crying and laughing and finally, FINALLY feeling like I have my shit together.
About half an hour later I go down to the restaurant and ask for a beer and ravioli. I find a tiny piece of plastic in my pasta so they tell me the whole meal is free. I just stare at them in disbelief and laugh, thinking about how Ireland did not let me pay for anything and thinking that the luck of the irish is a thing that happens to those who come from outside to this ridiculously magical and kind land.