Traveling around the world quickly confirmed my belief that people are primarily good; and surprisingly human cultures generally agree upon the fundamentals of what “good” is. That formula was easy to work out – I am loyally optimistic about humanity – but never noticed that the equation of society is skewed. The results are tipped in the favor of positive events because of people, not despite them.
My personal life scales are also tipped in favor of last-minute planning, disorganization, and a level of forgetfulness that often lead me to my most memorable travel experiences.
Hitching A Ride In An Unusual Trio
Baku is a fairly expensive city and some of the sites around it, like the Gobustan mud volcanoes, can’t be reached without a car. Fortunately for me, a German man staying at my hotel in Baku happened to be headed to the airport, stopping at the Atashgah Fire Temple along the way.
The driver agreed to let me hitch a ride and take me to a few sites around the Absheron Peninsula for a small fee. We arrived at the Fire Temple, snapped a few photos, and drove off to Heydar Aliyev International Airport. From there I said goodbye to one of the many friends for a day I’ve made in my travels, wishing him well on his way.
The Detour To The Story
Azerbaijani is the closest Turkic relative linguistically to Turkish; so instead of an awkward silence that’s common on such trips, I chatted with my driver. (My memory devoured his name weeks ago.) In his early 60s, we talked about family, Azerbaijan’s Soviet days, and his life; while I occasionally made him laugh with my best attempts at an Azeri accent using words I picked up on a Turkish comedy show. We headed to Nardaran Fortress.
A somewhat unremarkable structure built 700 years ago, Nardaran Fortress has a small indoor and outdoor museum adjacent to it. Before we left in the morning, I neglected to stop by an ATM for cash, relying that the small amount of money in my pocket I didn’t bother to count to last me the day. It didn’t, so I had to borrow for entrance from my driver who gave me a bit extra in case I needed it. Around 20 manat (~$25) before arriving to the museum; I put it in my wallet.
My Mistake Or Yours?
We walked up to the office by the entrance and I pulled the single bill from my wallet cluttered with receipts, expecting about 18 manat back from the woman casually sitting behind a desk. Instead, I got 80, a large sum in Azerbaijan (and no small change for a budget traveler either). I told her that the change was wrong several times and eventually the entire office was involved. She was persistent that there was no error, I had handed her a hundred bill.
After some back and forth, my driver suggested that perhaps I had the bill in my pocket and gave it without realizing it. My pockets were, after all, cluttered with paper. There were 4 people telling me I counted wrong – completely believable to myself. Perhaps I was, or maybe there was some underground drug money going around? Much stranger things have happened to me.
The Numbers Don’t Add Up For Me Good Or Bad
Along the drive I counted the money over and over; something wasn’t right. Everyone had told me I was mistaken before we left – now more than 40 kilometers away, my driver said, “you look troubled.” We pulled over and counted again. He said he didn’t think it possible the woman would give such a large sum incorrectly but it didn’t matter, “we’ll go back and find out. Even if we’re wrong, at least out consciousnesses will be clear.” We turned around.
Confirming With Our Eyes
As we pulled up some time later to the Nardaran Fortress museum, the woman and her staff were waiting outside. She was visibly shaking yet profusely thanking us as we got out of the car. Had we driven off she told us, she would likely have lost her job. Convinced earlier I handed her a 100 bill, after we left the mistake became apparent.
To be honest, I was half expecting to look like a fool upon arrival. I’ve mixed up money many times before. Or my driver could also have easily convinced me he had handed me a 100 bill, keeping the discrepant change for himself. Of the many things that could have gone wrong, the few things that could have gone right, did. My driver later told me he thought I was wrong yet didn’t want me to leave Azerbaijan with any doubts. Rather, it further solidified what travel has been showing me over and over – things always work out – with a strong tendency for the better.
I love this story. I’m sure you made that woman’s day when you showed up, and you probably made her consider that maybe most people are primarily good too.
I hadn’t thought of that but now certainly hope so.
What a lovely post!!!! I love when you say: My personal life scales are also tipped in favor of last-minute planning, disorganization, and a level of forgetfulness that often lead me to my most memorable travel experiences.
So true, so true! Although I bet it took some work to get to Azerbaijan!!! Love the virtual tour of a wonderful country!
Sometimes I’m surprised I get around with this head of mine, and it’s only getting worse with time!
What a great story, Anil. Like you, I believe that most people are good. I also believe we attract what we put out, so because I expect people to be good, they generally are. I know people who live in negativity and think everyone around them is trying to “take them,” so that’s what happens.
I’ve noticed that as well and you often find what you’re expecting without looking for it.
A great story Anil, and good job on being so honest! Not many would do the same as you did.
And don’t worry, the last-minute planning, disorganization, and a level (higher than normal) of forgetfulness are the perfect receipt for good adventures; I’m sure you know this already 😉 It works best for me! 😀
I’ve probably accumulated a good amount of sins in other categories by now, I didn’t want to add accidental theft to the list 🙂
…and couldn’t agree more, personal entropy does lead to nice travel surprises!
Always better to be honest because as you said, there are more good people in this world than bad and you’re more likely to come across those people when you’re showing kindness and honesty. I would have had to go back, too. We often find bar staff in Turkey haven’t added enough beers to our bill and we always tell them – it’s resulted in freebie beers on subsequent visits to certain bars. Karma!! 😉
Beer karma is the best kind 😀
Great story and I have the same thoughts about people’s fundamental nature of concern and kindness. I have had the fortune of coming across such generous and honest folks on the road as well. However your story, especially the part about you going back and the lady waiting there expecting you, was the kind of incident that makes me suspect that our lives are guided by some master agent on another planet. Maybe the mars rover will find the control centre. LOL, who knows!
There is an elegance that exists in nature and events that makes me wonder as well.