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How To Vet A Stranger

Hi, Friend.

About a year ago, my friend Alisa launched a Substack newsletter called Good People, Good Places - documenting stories that make you feel better about the world - and the people in it. 

When this particular story came up during a casual chat, Alisa wanted to feature it in her newsletter, and I gladly agreed. 

So today you have a story ABOUT me, but written by someone else. :)

Warning: If you grew up watching “stranger danger” videos, this story might challenge your worldview.

While waiting for her flight to Bangalore, India, Kate Solovieva chatted with an older man. 

As bored travelers tend to do, the two talked about where they’d come from and where they were headed. He no longer lived in India but was returning to take care of his late mother’s affairs. Solovieva was embarking on what she referred to as her Eat, Pray, Love trip. She planned to stay in Bangalore for one night before proceeding to her final destination: the Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore. 

“You look like you might be my daughter’s age,” he said.

Yes, Solovieva confirmed, she was in her mid-20s.

“We’ll be arriving around two in the morning,” the man said. “Do you have someone waiting at that airport?”

Solovieva did.

Soon after, the flight boarded.

If things had gone to plan, that might have been the end of the story.

However, when the plane landed in Bangalore, Solovieva checked her texts. There was one from her host. Something had come up. He wouldn’t be picking her up after all.

She was on her own, in an unfamiliar country, in the middle of the night, with no place to stay.

Sure, the situation wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t time to panic. Solovieva had lived in and traveled to about a dozen countries. Things inevitably went wrong, and without fail, she’d always come up with a Plan B.  

As she waited for her bag, the older man approached her.

“So, is your ride here?”

“Well, funny story,” Solovieva said, explaining the situation. 

“What will you do?” the man asked, sounding worried.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll figure something out.” 

“Well,” he said, looking and sounding uncomfortable, “I know it’s probably forward and strange to suggest this.”

He waited.

Then he continued, “I am heading to my apartment in the city. I have an extra bedroom. If you want to come along, you are more than welcome.”

The man seemed harmless, protective, more like a father than a murderer. 

Solovieva decided to roll the dice.

“For me, traveling is like that. There will always be a bit of gambling,” Solovieva says, looking back on that trip. “You have to rely on the goodness of people because people are generally good—truly. If you’re hungry, thirsty, or have to find a bathroom, if you fall and are bleeding, people tend to react in a predictable way, even if you don’t share the language.”

Solovieva and the older man hopped into a Tuk-Tuk.

The tiny golf cart-like vehicle was just large enough for the driver and the two of them. Soon, they were flying and beeping through the streets.

Then, the man was showing Solovieva his extra bedroom, handing her clean robes, and asking if she’d like to join him on the balcony for a smoke.

The two sat, smoked, and talked for a couple of hours before heading to their respective bedrooms to sleep. 

The following afternoon, the man tuk-tuked Solovieva to the train station.

Once there, he bought her a ticket to Mysore, handed her five dollars worth of local cash, escorted her to the woman’s only car, and asked several women to watch over her during the trip.

“They mother henned around me, settled me into the train station, and fed me food from little packaged meals and lunches they’d packed for themselves and their children,” Solovieva says.

Before the man left, Solovieva thanked him.

“I just hope if my daughter is ever in this situation, someone will do the same for her,” he said. 

“I feel lucky to have experienced that,” she says, “It built up my belief and trust in people. I want to convey that belief to my children. I don’t want to teach them stranger danger. I want to teach them the opposite of it. If you are in a weird place and are lost and confused, you should be able to get yourself home or get some food through the kindness of strangers.”



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