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Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Today I cheated and gave away $20.  That’s because the first encounter so annoyed me I had to find something to leave a sweeter taste in my mouth.  It was my first lesson in detachment, I think, because clearly I was attached to how the gift giving made me feel.

We’re in Barbados today.  I went on a bike and swim excursion.  We were taxied by Mike, a local, to the highest point on the island.  Barbados is a lovely island, well-festooned with bougainvillea, ginger, and other flowers.  So even though we were passing many homes just as poor as on the previous islands, I was lulled into a sort of stupor by the colorful displays and couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures.

Mike taught us that half the homes here are made of cement, and the other half are wood.  The wooden houses are called chattel (meaning “possessions”) houses and slaves used to be called chattel.  When the slaves were emancipated, some of the former owners allowed them to build houses on pieces of land they owned but the owner could evict them at any time and take possession of whatever property could not be taken away.  So the former slaves learned to build houses from wood which could be taken apart in a single day and carried elsewhere.

Our bike ride was a six mile downhill trip.  We saw a beautiful waterfall and the country club where Tiger Woods was married.  Then Mike picked us up and drove us to a local beach.  On the way, we passed some of the richest real estate on the island.  He pointed out one particularly exclusive condominium community called The Sands.  I asked him if anyone famous lived there.  He replied, “They must be famous if they have $18 million to buy a condo.”

Our beach was a tad less upscale but seemed popular with locals and tourists alike.  The was a bar and small restaurant at our beach and when we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a woman standing by the open hood of her taxi, testing the radiator cap to see if it was cool enough to take off.  I wondered if she would be a good person to give my ten dollars.  It was not what I had intended.  I’d left the boat thinking I’d like to find some teens.  I had a hunch they would have a pretty interesting response to a ten dollar bill.  But I decided a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush and, once we’d embarked, I sought her out.  

At first Monica thought I wanted a taxi.  Lots of taxi drivers were standing around, hopeful as sparrows flitting around the edges of a picnic.  I explained I was part of a project called the Year of Giving, and wondered if it would be ok to give her ten dollars. I could tell right away Monica was a wary sparrow as she had a look in her eye that said, “What’s the catch?”  I assured her there were no strings attached.  I would just like to know what she would do with the money, and maybe take a picture.

“Well, ten dollars doesn’t buy much,” she said.  “I couldn’t hardly buy a pack of coke with that!!”

I was taken aback, not only by the cost of coke, but by her lack of pleasure.  I soldiered on bravely, and enquired into the cost of food in Barbados.  “Oh, yes!  Food is very expensive.  You can buy one small bottle of coke for $2.25. That’s all.”

“So what will you do with your ten,” I asked after handing her the bill.

“Oh, I’ll buy something to eat I think,” she said nonchalantly.  I had a feeling she was really hungry.  I tried to engage her in more conversation, but it was like pulling teeth.  She told me making a living as a taxi driver was great in the winter, but in the summer it was very hard.  In the summer you get maybe one cruise ship a week.  So she has to budget her money carefully to make it last all year.  She also told me she owned her cab, and that she was responsible for all its maintenance.  When I saw her earlier with the hood of her car up, she explained she was just checking the radiator.
Monica is 67 years old.  I asked her when people retire.  She said 65, but she couldn’t afford to do it.  She is single with no kids.  She was clearly one tough broad, and I think not a little jaded by a career of ferrying around rich visitors to her island.  So maybe my ten wasn’t as appreciated as much as I would have liked.  On the other hand, maybe the real gift for her was to be able to speak frankly about how it felt to be under-appreciated and under-tipped, expressed so well in that little snipe, “Ten dollars doesn’t buy much.”

Well, I left Monica and toddled off to the beach for a bit of a wade.  We had less than an hour and I decided to spend it walking and praying the rosary.  My Lenten observance this year is to pray a rosary a day.  I decided to offer it for Monica.  I’d like to say my motives were pure, but I think a part of me was hoping I could strong-arm God into changing her attitude.  But I have to be honest—as I sit here writing this, I think I’m the one who got the attitude adjustment!

The bonus ten went to Clare.  I found Clare at the end of the beach—well past where most of the tourists hung out—sitting splay-legged with a bucket between them.  She seemed to be peeling some thing which she dropped into the bucket.  I was so taken by her I grabbed my camera right away and shot a few pictures, trying to include what looked to be a makeshift outdoor home a little ways behind her.  Too curious to resist, and still a little fed up with Monica, I approached her.

“What’s your name,” I asked.

She gave me a toothless grin and replied, “Clare.”  Well, that got me.  I love St. Clare, St. Francis of Assissi’s first female follower.  I’m born on her birthday, as a matter of fact.

“Clare,” I said.  “I love that name!  Is that your home back there?”

“Yes, it is.  I’ve been living there twelve years now.  No one else lives with me.  It’s all mine.  I got a dog.  She’s big with babies right now.”  All this in a rush, and straightforward as a child.

“What are you peeling there,” I asked noticing that her hands were badly damaged.

“Onions.  Them are potatoes back there and a couple of eggplants.  I have a friend in town who is a professional and when he has food that’s just a little old he brings it out here for me.”

“Clare, what happened to your hands,” I asked.  She explained that fourteen years ago someone had thrown a bottle into her house which exploded—I assume a malatov cocktail—and her house was destroyed.  She got out but over 95% of her body was burned.  The culprits were never found.  I wondered why she was here and not with family.  According to her, her family lived on another Island, and she’d come here when she was twenty years old, over 40 years ago.  She didn’t want to go anywhere.  This was home.

She also said she had a son in New York who was a “big police sergeant” but he never sent her money.  That was the only time a shadow of a frown crossed her face.  Otherwise, she was ebullient and her eyes sparkled with diamonds.  My mind wanted to charge her with a diagnosis of mental illness, but my heart saw she had a radiant energy that made her shine with a resilience and joy which I and Monica, in our relative states of wealth, lacked.  It was a reminder to me to be grateful for my blessings, meager as they sometimes seem.

Before the fire Clare used to work on the plantations.  Her job was to cut and carry sugar cane on her head and throw it onto the trucks which carried it away to turn into sugar.  Now she still feels useful.  “I help the tourists now,” she exclaimed.

“How do you do that?”

“I keep the robbers away.  They see me sitting here knowing I’m watching the beach, and they leave people alone.”  She took obvious pride in her volunteer position.

By then I was kneeling in the sand with her, searching through my backpack looking for my money.  I wasn’t going to bother explaining what I was up to.  I just wanted to give her ten dollars.  I found it and gave it to her.  She stuffed it in her bra and with sincere gratitude said, “God bless you!”

“What will you do with it, Clare?”

“I will buy my dog some food.”

Clare had a watch on her left wrist and I noticed the time was getting short.  Standing, I told her I had to go.  With her permission I took a few pictures.  Finally it was time to leave.

“Wait!  Before you go!  Tell me your name!”

“Rose,” I said.  “Like the flower.”

Taking my hand, she said, “I love you, Rosie.”

“I love you, Clare.”

And Monica, you crusty old broad, I love you too.

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Blog post by Maria D., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

Tadiyass! (that means hello in Amharic)

Well friends, I had the pleasure of meeting Asrat last weekend and would like to introduce him to you all. I have only taken a cab 3 or 4 times since moving to the DC area in October 2010. Serendipitously, out of the few times I have hailed a random cab, I’ve had the good fortune to ride with Asrat twice! Each time I was feeling low but both time we cheered each other up by chatting about topics ranging from national politics to Neti pots.  That is to me what being human is all about – connecting with one another.

 

Anyway,  Asrat is originally from Ethiopia and has resided in the DC/MD area for the past 8 years.  He has some family here but most are still in Ethiopia and it has been a long time since Asrat has seen them.  He sends money and other things home and works incredibly hard everyday as a cab driver in order to take care of himself and others.  In fact, both times I have met him, he’s just started a second shift after a brief nap at home.
Asrat’s life can be rough at times, but he did have some advice for those currently un- or underemployed, “Work hard to find a job.  You don’t have to wait, it’s not easy, but you don’t need to depend on others.”
It was this hard work ethic that may have lead him to do what he did with the $10 I handed over.  “I’ll give it back to you, thank you.”  It was a kind gesture, but not surprising coming from a kind man.  Even though Asrat thoroughly enjoys engaging with others on the job, he is often concerned for his safety.  As such, what would Asrat want or need from us?  A safer job.  Not too much, if you ask me…

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I asked if I could take Pierre's photograph and he said, "Why not, I am a handsome man!"

After attending a luncheon fundraiser for Room to Read that featured journalists Cokie and Steve Roberts, I hailed a cab and headed over to my office at 24th and M Streets.  I asked the cab driver how his day was and he responded, “Wonderful.  Every day is beautiful!”  I peered up at the name listed on the taxi permit fastened to the underside of the sun visor and saw that his name was Pierre.

I leaned over, grabbed my book bag and pulled my small notebook out to take some notes about this jovial character as we traveled the 30 blocks across town.

Originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Pierre moved here in 1972.  “I remember it well, it was the year that Mr. Nixon had some trouble,” the 66-year-old said still smiling broadly.  “And the Dolphins won the Superbowl!”  He would know that too because he moved to Miami before moving to DC later in 1975.  He hasn’t been back to Haiti in a while though.  In fact, he isn’t aware of any family still living there.  “If I have some, I don’t know them.” 

“I’ve been driving a cab since 1984 or 85.”  He’s been lucky, he said, that he has never experienced any dangerous situations while driving his cab like Freddy, the recipient from Day 331 who was shot while driving his taxi back in the late eighties. 

I shared with Pierre that part of my motivation for this project was my mother, who passed away four years ago this month.  He told me that he lost his wife two years and eight months ago.  “We had ten children and 20 grandkids.  The oldest is now 46; I had her my last year of high school,” he said turning onto M Street.  “All but one of them are here in DC.  And the 20th grandchild was just born the day before.  “I was coming from the hospital when I picked you up,” Pierre said.  

I love this guy.  He had such an energy and esprit de vivre!  His ten dollars went to buying his lunch for the day.

“I really like what you are doing,” he said as I got out of his cab.  “Probably many people have thought something similar, but the difference is that you took the initiative and did it!” he said with his intoxicating voice.  

I hopped out and snapped this photo of him as he pulled away.

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This weekend we had a snapshot of the cold that awaits us this winter.  This morning it was near freezing when I went to the gym.

Today’s post took place during a really busy work wise.  Long days followed by work related events in the evening.  After an event at the Brazilian embassy, I headed across town to meet up with a friend of mine from Spain who I hadn’t seen for years.  Although it was late, this was our only chance to meet up so you push yourself a little and try to squeeze everything in.

Exhausted, I hailed a cab home to my apartment in Dupont.  The driver was a man named Tekele.  He was really nice and I enjoyed talking with him.  Originally from Ethiopia, he’s been driving a cab here in DC for 18 years.  Before that he worked almost nine years for PMI, a leading parking management firm.  “I like driving a taxi very much,” he told me.  “But you have to be really disciplined to do well at this,” since you work your own hours and set your own schedule for the most part. 

Having been in the business for such a long time, he has seen it all.  “Just other day a guy got in my cab and told me to go to Georgia Avenue,” he began to tell me.  “Then he fell asleep.  When we got there I tried to wake him up but he was really sleeping hard.”  Tekele finally got the man out of his cab.

There is a large Ethiopian community in DC.  Tekele says that many people like himself fled his homeland as a result of the civil war that began there in the 70s.  “I originally escaped to Italy,” he told me explaining that he spent six months there until Catholic Charities arranged for him to come to the United States.  He hasn’t traveled back to Ethiopia much.  “It’s so expensive especially with kids,” the father of three told me. 

Ethiopian platter at Etete

I shared with him that I had tried Ethiopian food many years ago and didn’t care for it.  This is odd too because I like almost all kinds of foods from other countries.  Especially spicy food, like Ethiopian food.  I guess I just had a bad experience because I recently went to a place called Etete at the corner of 9th and U Streets and tried it again and really enjoyed it.  The injera, a spongy flatbread made with a thin sourdough batter, took a little getting used to.  “Etete is a good place,” Tekele confirmed. 

We got to my place and I explained my Year of Giving to him and asked him to accept my $10.  He agreed and I paid him the fare and tip plus the ten dollars. 

I got home and realized I totally forgot to ask him what he was going to do with the money!  It was late and I was really tired.  He had given me his cell number so I called him on Sunday October 31st and asked him.  He was happy to hear from me and explained that he had donated the money to his local Virginia police department.  Hopefully he gave it to the actual department and not the Fraternal Order of Police.  I’ve had a very bad experience with the telephone solicitors from that organization and no longer give to them.

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So my first two days at work are in the history books.  I am still in orientation mode, but I can tell you that this organization is full of talent.  The WWF is doing really meaningful work around the world.  Please visit their website to learn more about their 19 priority areas.

I am still trying to catch up on my blog entries!  Today was actually day 211, so I am 13 days behind in my writing.  Oh, by the way, if you are at the supermarket this week and see a magazine called Woman’s World, there should be a story in this week’s edition about the Year of Giving.  I haven’t gotten to the store yet to check it out but am going tonight, so I will let you know.

Alexander on his pedicab (photo: Reed)

Day 198 was interesting.  I spent the entire day over at my brother and his wife’s house dealing with my sick computer.  At 11:00pm we were still running into dead-ends.  I hadn’t given my $10 away so I grabbed my things and headed back to DC in hopes to find someone along the way to give the $10 to. 

Right off of Pennsylvania Avenue near James Monroe Park I spotted a pedicab waiting to pick up a late night fare in front of Kinkead’s restaurant.  I parked the car and walked over and introduced myself to Alexander.

After a career as a military air traffic controller, he tells me that he has been pedaling for the past three years for a company called DC Pedicab.  “We’re the original pedicab company in DC, we started four years ago,” he tells me.  It’s a nice alternative to a traditional cab.  You slow down your travel and actually can take in some of the rich history of our nation’s capital.  While Alexander is pedaling away he likes to share some of that rich history with his customers.  After an hour and a half of chatting with him I can assure you that he is very knowledgeable about the city. 

photo: Reed

Fares typically run about $15-$30, but this all depends on how far and how many people he is pulling.  “I actually charge a little more if the customer is considerably overweight too.  It’s a lot more work!”  And he is a good judge of weight.  He said he could guess my weight and what do you know, he guessed mine within five pounds! 

I asked him what his longest fare was and he said he once took a wounded veteran from the centerfield entrance at the new Nationals Stadium all the way to Walter Reid Medical Center.  How much?  $150!

Alexander found this job on Craigslist.  “I like it.  I pay a monthly fee for the pedicab and then I can work the hours that I want.”  He says that he earns good money and stays in shape.  He also likes that he gets to meet all different kinds of people.  “You never know who you are going to meet.  I even drove Sir Richard Branson around at the Virgin concert at Pimlico.”  Here Alexander talks about another very memorable fare that he had.

We sat and talked for a long time about a myriad of topics.  From what he was doing the day MLK was assassinated and racial tensions in America to what it was like growing up in a Polish-American household in Bridgeport, Connecticut (his mother was first generation and his father second generation.)  Not to mention all the DC history he shared with me.

If you live here or will be in the DC area, I encourage you to give Alexander a call.  You could do a romantic night out on the town or maybe an hour-long guided tour of Washington.  He offered a special rate of $45/hour (please tip him on top of this!) for the readers of the Year of Giving.  Trust me it will be worth it!  He can be reached at 202-531-7432.

Almost forgot, his $10 went on his metro card.  Sometimes Alexander wants to sit back and relax when he travels!

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First of all, happy father’s day!

From time to time I look up some of the statistics of the blog.  What would you guess is the number one word searched upon that leads people to the website?  Giving?  $10?  Reed Sandridge?  Nope, the number one word for weeks now is “Mohawk!”  I have no idea why.  I went to Google and typed in Mohawk and the Year of Giving doesn’t come up.  I did mention mohawks on Day 13 when I was sharing that Davie from Day 5 offered to give me a haircut to thank me for helping him out…that was one style that he said he was good at.

Anyway, today’s story is slightly different from most.  I grabbed a cab over to the Courthouse area of Arlington.  I thought I might give the cab driver my $10.  His name was Ismael.  A 54-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, he has lived in Virginia for the last 21 years.

He tells me that he likes driving a cab because “I get to meet nice people like you.”  Despite his kindness, people are not always nice to him.  “It can be risky and even dangerous.”  Although nothing really bad has happened to Ismael, he says that some people have threatened him and occasionally customers quickly jump out of his cab without paying.  “Ninety percent of the people are good decent people though.”

I asked Ismael if he would accept my $10, but he said that he couldn’t.  I asked him to humor me though and tell me what he would do if he found $10 or somebody randomly gave him $10.  “I would pass it along.  If I don’t earn the money then I don’t think I should keep it,” he said.  

I really wanted to give Ismael my $10 and figured that he couldn’t stop me from giving him the money.  We arrived at my destination and the meter read $10.  I would have normally given him $12, but decided to give him $22 and include my $10.  I thanked him, wished him good luck, and handed over the money and my Year of Giving card.  Then I quickly jumped out of the cab probably like those individuals he had told me about and entered the restaurant where I was meeting some friends for dinner.

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I met Moe on Monday evening.  My cousin Cheryl and I hailed a cab in DC to take us over to Rosslyn, VA to meet with my brother, sister-in-law, and friends Conor and Scott.  We were meeting them at Piola, a good pizza joint that I was first introduced to in Buenos Aires in the late 90s.  Later, I ate at Piola in Sao Paulo. 

Piola - Rosslyn, VA

About a year ago, Piola opened up here in DC.  In an age where pizza seems to be getting so processed and tasteless, Piola is a little bit of hope.  Even the pizza they make here is not as good as the pizzas they serve up in Sao Paulo though…then again, Sao Paulo has some of my favorite pizza in the world.

Cheryl and I didn’t talk to Moe much on the drive.  We were busy chatting away.  When we arrived, Moe said he had to ask a question about what happened at the end of Cheryl’s story.  Cheryl explained and we got out of the cab.  Normally I would probably think it was rude for the cab driver to be so nosey as to ask something like that, but, not the way Moe asked.  He had a real genuine interest. 

We paid the fare and got out of the cab, Cheryl noticed she was missing one of her rings and looked all over for it.  The driver got out and checked around the car, under the seats, everywhere.  But it was not to be found.  The 58-year-old former real estate executive and father of two twin boys took our contact info and offered to get in touch with us if he found it.  

I was touched how thoughtful and kind he was and I pulled out my $10.  He took it and said he would use it for gas.  

In all the craziness about the ring, I forgot to get his contact information to invite him to the year end party and maintain contact with him throughout the Year of Giving.  So, Moe, if you check this out, drop me a note!

By the way, Cheryl found the ring in her hotel room the next morning.

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