I can’t remember his name but I remember his face. Remember his words, and I remember his intentions – which he clearly expressed to me.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself – let me share the scene.?This was Friday night, the most recent one and it was about dinner time on a dusty evening. It was dusty because I was in an indoor car park – the kind where you park all day and feed an automated machine a little ticket. In this location, some people had set up a temporarily ‘shop’ of sorts in a small crevice of an indoor car park.
Occasionally drivers exiting the car park would hurtle past, kicking up the dust up which kicked my hay fever up and made my eyes feel so dry. Later, I would rub them and rub them until they turned squinty, red and swollen and I felt – oddly, like Shrek. Not Princess Fiona – the larger than life one – but Shrek.
Yet, I digress. So here we all were, hanging about in this dusty indoor space which had a kind of ‘enchanted’ feel, akin to the atmosphere that those nifty little squirrels from Disney’s Cinderalla worked rapidly to create something beautiful in such a short time. I say this because I had literally seen people enliven that space from obscure to friendly only an hour before.
Around me were temporary hairdressers’ sinks and hoses and guys and girls sitting patiently, getting shampoo massaged into their hair and split ends cut; as well as a team of ladies and one man among a flurry of foot basins, fresh bandages and nail polish.
This second team were literally washing clients’ feet, dressing wounds, patting feet dry and – upon request -painting nails navy blue, conversation-starter purple or rose red.
The experience – these teams of people in action – was an amazing thing to watch! Here were middle aged ladies and an old man and – various kind of people really – working together to wash feet, to make clients’ feel good and provide medical assistance where needed.
I was spending the night observing these amazing people serve those who needed it; predominantly those who may be suffering economic disadvantage in the Geelong area, or who were homeless.
This kind of ‘Wellbeing/Pamper Night/ was set up right next to where the Friday Outpost barbeque was put on by Waterfront Church, on Geelong’s Transit Lane.
Then I met that man, whose name now escapes me, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is what I remember him: his story, and now it matters that I can share his story. I thought it was remarkable.
He was a hitchhiker from Taiwan who had been living in Australia for the last eighteen months. As he looked around at the people giving free haircuts and ladies on their knees slowly but surely massaging peoples’ feet with wash cloths and scented products, he grinned and said: “this is amazing.”?“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he declared.
Not only could he grab a free hot dog next door at the Outpost, his feet – now hidden in thick boots – were freshly washed and attended to.
He kept grinning and telling me how much he appreciated the free food and free services – and how good Geelong was with free social services.
“There’s that Christchurch building,” he smiled again, “where you can get free breakfast every day. EVERY DAY. 365 days,” he marveled slowly.
“There’s another place where you can get free food as well,” he continued, shrugging almost apologetically, “but you have to be a senior citizen.”
“And there’s Outpost!” More grinning.
We chatted and he told me something I’ve never heard before.?“Hitchhiking,” he said, “is the best way to travel. While sometimes it’s hard to get lifts in Australia, it’s always so exciting.”?“Exciting because, you never know what will happen next. I could be killed, for instance.”
At this, I gasped and kind of touched him on the shoulder as if to say – No! Don’t let that happen! Or – Surely not! I pray that would never happen. He looked at me sort of blankly and unaffected although I couldn’t rule out that there was a hint of disgust there.?With an unchanged expression, he continued.?“Or,” he said, “I could be invited in. Invited in somewhere good!”
After that I went outside to talk to some friends cooking the Outpost barbeque. As they made me up a sausage in bread with onions and a squirt of tomato sauce, I saw this man – the grinning hitchhiker – stride down the street.
He saw me and waved goodbye.?“Bye!” I called out, my instinct hoping that this stranger would always be greeted with hospitality on his travels and his genuine openness and love of adventure always be rewarded with the provision and opportunity.
And I was left with a question – what makes someone leave the comfort of life and embark on a journey fraught with potential danger? Is a kamikaze kind of spirit, negligent of the worth of life which makes one do that or the exact opposite – a spirit of freedom which embraces the challenges of life?
Though materially, this man didn’t have much what he did have – a blue wool beanie, only one pair of blue jeans (as he told me) and a vivacious smile was also complemented with his lack of fearfulness, which – in some circumstances – is impossible to buy in a shop anyway.