I looked up and realized that there was still a long, steep and hard road ahead of me. For a moment I felt discouraged and overwhelmed as I stood there roasting beneath the scorching sun. The heat and humidity made even breathing a challenge.
Our truck was stuck in the middle of nowhere and of course the “no service” icon was in full display on each of our cell phones. The only option was walking and hoping to stumble upon help as there’s no chance of CAA in these mountains.
One day this will be a highway and these mountains will be overpopulated, but right now it might as well be a desert. It seems like we’ve been down this road for hours, and yet my watch says it hasn’t really been that long. We hear the blast of dynamite in the distance as crews work to make their way through the mountain. Help is near or so we hoped.
We walked in silence, hungry, thirsty and on the verge of a heat stroke, comforted only by the idea that there is safety in numbers. We’ve heard too many stories of rabid ocelots and other wild creatures in these parts and so we moved forward hoping to reach help or shelter before night fall.
As we powered through we also took turns complaining and whining about our predicament. Until we saw a red spot moving in the distance. The heat haze shimmered above the dirt road and at first we couldn’t tell what it was. Without saying a word we came to a collective stop and stared in complete silence waiting for the figure to come closer into focus. I took out my camera and zoomed in to get a better look.
As I did I couldn’t contain my laughter. It echoed and also made my companions question my sanity. So they took turns looking through the lens making sure that the heat and desolation of this place hadn’t been playing tricks on my mind.
Sure enough as we walked closer we knew that it was no mirage or apparition. Help was in sight! We walked on towards the ambulant vendor hoping she had either food or drink in her red plastic tub. Soon we caught up with her, a friendly and witty woman in her late fifties who walks three hours up and then three hours down the mountain everyday in this unbearable heat just to be able to put food on the table for all her eight children.
Hearing her candidly tell us her story, and laugh at our fear of the tales of wild beast roaming the mountain told by locals to frighten naive foreigners like us, we realized how trivial our transportation problem was in comparison to her story and that of thousands of single parents struggling to keep their families afloat.
Our little group would later talk about how we felt when hearing her story, her optimism and positive outlook on life and her dreams and hope for her children’s future. We felt ashamed of ourselves, for complaining about the little bends in the road and for not being thankful for all that we have. We were schooled in the most unlikely place by someone who never went to school but knew more about life and spoke in such an eloquently motivational way that given the right circumstances she could give Tony Robbins himself a run for his money.
She hadn’t sold much of what she had baked that day, and as she was making her way down the mountain two hours ago she had prayed that she would at least make one or two more sales to break even and start again tomorrow.
Her prayer had been answered because we were famished and bought everything she had left. We sat there on that dirt road devouring the sweet bread and pastries and forgot ourselves for a moment. By the time we looked up we saw our traveling friend walking back towards the construction crew without saying a word. A short while later she was riding back in the bed of the pickup truck driven by the construction crew’s foreman. When we got in the truck we learned that not only had she gone back to get us help, but according to the foreman she had also declined the offer to ride back in the air conditioned cabin because she thought that we looked like we needed it more than she did.
Had I not been so dehydrated I probably would have cried at all the kindness she bestowed upon us. It all made me think of my mother. As long as I can remember she’s always said that you should be kind to others, give selflessly and expect nothing in return because you never know when you yourself might need a helping hand. Unknowingly or without all the bells and whistles of today’s social media this lady, my mother and countless other amazing people have been paying it forward all these years. And there in the middle of a nameless mountain, life had paid it forward to my group and I as we met a wonderful and kind stranger who reminded us that you don’t have to be Noah to build an A.R.K (Act of Random Kindness).