by Sheila Crosby
Canary Islands, Spain
My boyfriend and I hitchhiked from Newcastle in northern England to Geneva, Switzerland, in October 1983. We got there without too much trouble, but when money ran low and we headed for home, the lifts dried up. We went from eating sandwiches to eating just bread, and still there were no lifts. I was beginning to fear that we would run out of money for bread. I learned about the importance of forward planning the hard way.
Finally an Italian lorry driver picked us up in Lyon, bought us breakfast, and took us to the Channel port of Calais. We spent our last francs on the ferry crossing. It was an enormous relief to be back in the United Kingdom, but we still had 350 miles to go, and the few lifts we got were for short distances. By the time we got to the outskirts of London, it was dark and it was raining.
Our cardboard sign started to disintegrate. Greater London is 25 miles across, and we were on the wrong side of it, looking for a lift. We had no way of telling people where we wanted to go, and no way of saying “please”. By the time we decided to spend our remaining funds on a tube train, the last one had just gone.
To our enormous relief, an old Austin Mini pulled up around 1:00 a.m. We got in. The front seats were occupied by two young Arab men. They asked where we wanted to go. They had a discussion between themselves about various bits of London we’d heard of but didn’t know. Finally they announced they’d take us to The Elephant and Castle, which is where the freeway to the North starts. Since they had to stop and ask directions to get there, I’m sure it was nowhere near their home.
They drove all the way across London just to help us. There were more people trying to hitch near Marble Arch, and our rescuers asked, “Do you think we could fit them in?” We regrettably agreed that since we already had four people in one Mini, this was sadly not practical.
On the way, we told them how grateful we were and talked about what a mess we’d got ourselves into. One asked, “So when did you last eat?” I said, “Breakfast.” Without a word he handed over his take-away dinner. I was too hungry to be proud, and it tasted wonderful. I was all the more touched because they obviously weren’t rich. Their clothes were clean but clearly not new, and the car was a wreck.
I said something about how wonderfully kind and generous they were. They replied, “Well, we’re Muslims. It’s our religion to help people, you know.” So if anyone is inclined to judge Islam from one or two people — why not these two?