‘The trains aren’t running and I can’t miss my connection or I’ll lose my job.’
I’d nearly walked straight into her as I entered the station in Camden, London on a still Sunday morning.
‘OK,’ I said, putting a hand on her arm to steady us both. So do you know if there are any buses this morning?’
Like me, she was new to London and, from my vantage point, relatively new to life. She looked up the street, took two steps and stopped. Looked the other way. ‘I have no idea.’
By her accent she wasn’t British. By her state I assumed that this was the first time she was out of her home environment. She was a few years older than my daughter, blond, pretty, professionally dressed, and completely overwhelmed by this setback.
‘Hang on, I can call a cab.’ I grabbed my ancient Blackberry, thankful that I had had the foresight to get a British SIM card and ask the salesman for the number of a taxi company. ‘Shall I see how quickly they can come?’
She looked so relieved I had to chuckle. I asked for two cabs going to two different addresses. They would be there within 5 minutes. The girl ran off down the street, bag flapping, heels clacking, calling over her shoulder that she needed to get cash. As the first taxi pulled up in front of me she ran towards the door, yanking it open. Rather than jump in, she stepped towards me and planted a kiss on my cheek.
‘You are an angel,’ she said and disappeared into the back of the cab.
I told this story later to British colleagues at my seminar. I was quite chuffed to have started the day as an angel. Wow, they said. People don’t talk to strangers on the streets in London anymore much less help them out!
If that is true, I’m glad that I live in Africa where it is normal to greet strangers and start up conversations, to say ‘sorry-o’ if someone trips, to extend a helping hand and share a laugh. Perhaps there are more angels in Africa than in London?
Diane Lemieux has spent a whole lifetime as an expat and sees moving to live in a new country as a life choice made by an increasing number of people. Those who successfully recreate a full and satisfying life in a new place develop the skills and approaches needed to deal with any change that life presents us.Her new book, The Mobile Life, co-written with Anne Parker, helps those who are undertaking this journey for the first time, and highlights the achievements of those who are experienced resettlers.