by Kathleen Thiemann
When I was 19 years old, I flew to visit a pen pal in Australia I’d written for eight years. I’d never traveled anywhere by myself, so this was new and exciting. Flying from Florida to Los Angeles, California, I was seated next to a very pleasant priest.
We discovered we would take the same international flight from California to Australia, though he would get off in New Zealand. He would later visit Australia, so we discussed sightseeing possibilities. He mentioned he still needed to get a visa before continuing to Australia.
My travel agent had assured me I didn’t need one. We checked a travel guide, and indeed a visa was necessary. “What now?!” I asked. He assured me I’d have no problem obtaining one.
We had a four-hour airport layover in L.A., during which the Father’s nearby friend would visit him. I went to find help at my airline. As I waited in line the Father, who was quite concerned for my welfare, and his friend, Mrs. Ingham, arrived. When the ticket agent discovered I had no visa, he said I could not board the plane.
I must have gone into shock because everything after that was a blur. Thank goodness the Father was there; he said that I first should call my mother. I called Mom (imagine her distress!), then gave the Father the phone because I really didn’t understand what was happening.
It turned out that my best option was to spend the night in L.A., then fly to the nearest Australian embassy in San Francisco the next morning, and hope to get a visa the same day. If so, I could return to L.A. and leave on the same flight one day later. If obtaining the visa took over a day, I would spend the weekend in San Francisco.
Immediately Mrs. Ingham, who had patiently stood by, volunteered to host me that night and transport me to the airport the next day. What else could I do? I graciously accepted; she fed me dinner and gave me her daughter’s bedroom.
I was petrified about staying with strangers, but then I realized these people were trusting *me*. They knew nothing about me, yet I was in their daughter’s bedroom with her personal belongings.
The Inghams were truly caring people. They even called the embassy in San Francisco to inquire about my visa, and drove me to the airport the next morning. Normally tourist visas had a minimum 24-hour wait, but I got mine that day.
When I returned to L.A. with my visa, I called the Inghams to thank them again and tell them I had been successful. They drove to the airport, took me home and fed me dinner again!
I got to Australia a day later than planned. But I gained something invaluable: both the Father and the Inghams taught me that our world contains many kind, caring people who are willing to help a stranger.