My last column told the story of my last-minute substitution as “transportation coordinator” for three young international students, who needed a ride to a special Rotary weekend in Atlanta, several years ago. I was glad I was able to take off of work with little notice, and take them up there.
Two other interesting stories about that trip. At different times, on the way up and back, the kids would change seats. At one point, the young man from Pakistan was in the passenger seat next to me.
I asked Hammad how he came to apply for the Georgia Rotary Student Program scholarship? He said a counselor at his university suggested he apply, so he did.
“But my friends were all against it,” he told me.
“They said Americans hated Pakistanis, and would be mean to me.”
I told him that was simply not true; we just wanted to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice, for orchestrating the Twin Towers attack in 2001 in NY that killed over 3,000 innocent people; but that was it.
“I know,” he said. “People have been nothing but warm and friendly to me since I have been here.”
That is exactly the point of the GRSP program! To widen the doors of understanding between peoples of both countries. I was very glad Hammad had decided to take the risk of accepting our scholarship, and seen for himself the true nature of the American people.(This was pre-Trump.)
Unfortunately, he had to return home to Pakistan after fall semester because of a kink in his course schedule. Had he stayed for spring semester, he said, it would have delayed his graduation by another year. We were sorry to see him leave early. But I was very glad to have had the chance to get to know him a little bit better on that trip. And was very glad my club had hosted him.
The other thing that happened was, when I went to pick the kids up on Sunday morning for the drive back to Savannah, Soley (Iceland) came to ask if we could give another student a ride back to Savannah, as her ride was going to be delayed for several hours.
(Karina was from Brazil, and attending the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick.)
I told her it was fine with me, but it was up to the three of them to decide if they would be comfortable for that long ride back. They all agreed they would be fine, so Hammad sat up front with me and the three girls shared the back seat.
(We stopped for lunch at a Ruby Tuesday’s in Macon, so they got to experience lunch at a bigger, chain restaurant, as well as a small country dinner.
Both good experiences.)
Karina thanked me for taking her back to Savannah, and said her trustee told her that if we took her to Armstrong, he would drive up from St.
Simons Island to get her. I said that wasn’t necessary, Anne and I lived in Midway, which was halfway to Brunswick already. Then I asked her who her trustee was. Mike Muldowney, she said. “I know Mike!” I exclaimed. “Give him a call, and tell him I’ll bring you to the McDonald’s at Exit 67 on I-95, and we’ll call him when we leave Armstrong. At that point, we’ll be equidistant from that spot.” (A fine fellow; Mike later was elected District Governor.)
She was so surprised, but did as I told her to.
Mike was surprised to hear that I was the one bringing them back from Atlanta, as I “wasn’t on the schedule,” but was happy to meet us at that exit. It turned out that he got there five minutes after we did. ( I saved him two hours of travel time, but it was only ten miles or so from my house. Good timing, and it worked out well for both of us.)
By that time, Karina had discovered that Soley had spent six months in Brazil, several years earlier, on a high school exchange program, and had learned to speak Portuguese! The next thing we all knew, the two of them were chattering away in Portuguese for the next half hour.
More friendships made, and cemented. Another goal of the GRSP program.
That was a weekend I will never forget. And it happened only because I accepted the request to help out another Rotarian, who had to bow out at the last minute, unexpectedly. But, that’s what Rotarians do, Life sometimes offers these unexpected opportunities. I was glad I was able to take this one on.
Rafe Semmes is a proud graduate of the “Original” Savannah High School on Washington Avenue, and UGA. He writes on a variety of topics, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.