When I first met Oscar and Evangelos, they were sitting across from each other at the Italian Club of Johannesburg, laughing and talking as they shared a pizza from a small white box. My teammate Kristen and I were sitting at the table quietly when Evangelos leaned across the table, smiled at us, and asked, “Hey, what’s that camera for? What are you guys doing?”
Oscar happily joined in, and within a few minutes we had a lively conversation. Curious about how an odd combination of a Greek soccer fan and a South African/Italian soccer fan got together, I asked, “So how did you guys meet?” Evangelos shrugged and said, “I was hungry, so he decided to share his pizza with me.”
My mouth dropped open, and I burst out laughing. “So wait, you two just met?” I asked. They both chuckled and nodded. “And I’m giving him a lift home a little later,” Oscar added. By this point I was looking around the bar trying to find out which bench or table “Punk’d” star Ashton Kutcher was going to jump out from, because as far as I was concerned, this had to be some kind of joke. Jokingly, I asked them, “Well, do you even know each other’s names?”
Evangelos paused for a moment, scratched his head, looked questioningly at Oscar, then tilted the empty white box toward him with his new friend’s name and order on it and read, “Oscar?”
Oscar heartily laughed and shook Evangelos’ hand and said, “Well done, mate!”
I couldn’t believe it. I’m still sitting here laughing to myself as I write this, trying to digest exactly what happened, and how much my tiny little bubble has stretched since I started this trip.
I told them what a strange pair they were, and that the same scenario would not have occurred in the United States. I find it ironic how, whenever I told people I was coming to South Africa, I was warned how dangerous it would be and what a crime-ridden city Johannesburg is. However, since I’ve been here, I’ve encountered numerous situations like that of Evangelos and Oscar: just normal, everyday people who are open, friendly and trusting. No gangsters involved in a complex trafficking and prostitution ring, no violent thieves whipping out shanks demanding cash and no creepers and rapists lurking on street corners in broad daylight waiting to strike in front of terrified onlookers.
I’m so used to the American mentality of “every man for himself” that it took a trip like this, where I was forced to interact with cultures from all across the globe, to show me glimpses of honesty, beauty and light in a world that’s dark. Maybe every international experience doesn’t have to be a scene from “Taken.”