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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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A World Of Kindness

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Their eagerness soon rubbed off on me. I found myself becoming excited at the sight of an elderly person boarding the bus because of the opportunity to do a mitzvah. And I only needed to travel 3,600 miles to a place nearly devoid of Jews to experience this.

Combis don’t have a button to push or string to pull to let the driver know you want to get off at the next stop. They don’t have a printed map of the route. But they all have a sign plastered on the window next to the seats by the door, indicating that they are reserved for the elderly, the disabled, for pregnant women and women with small children. Peruvians certainly have their priorities straight.

And the assistant working at the door? He/she is doing a thousand things at once, often half-hanging out of the bus because the door won’t close due to overcrowding. But in one instance I saw the assistant do something remarkable. He was counting out change for passengers that had just gotten off, keeping track of who still needed to pay and what stops people needed to get off, and he was shouting out the bus route in an attempt to squeeze even more people inside the combi that couldn’t possibly fit anyone else.

And yet, he stopped all he was doing to make an announcement as an elderly woman squeezed her way onto the bus. Passengers! He cried. There is a señora who just boarded the bus who needs a seat. Who can give her their seat? Within seconds the woman had her choice of seats.

The assistants wowed me on more than one occasion. It seems as if combis never come to a complete stop, even when letting passengers on and off, and slowly roll away while the assistant is out on the sidewalk, attracting passengers. The assistant had just hopped back onto the moving bus this one time when he flung the door open and made as if to leap out once more. He shouted out onto the street, Señora, you dropped your scarf!

This is the country so infamous for stealing people’s possessions? Apparently they forgot to mention how good they are with returning lost possessions. I learned a lot of things in Peru- animal care, Spanish, independence… I just never expected one of those things to be the proper way to do chesed.

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I have to admit it. I was scared. And I don’t get scared. Or at least I don’t like to advertise when I do. But the wording of the e-mail from the U.S. State Department was so… harsh. Violent armed robberies are on the rise in Peru. In just three days I was going to be a U.S. citizen traveling alone to this apparent hotbed of crime called Peru, starting out in big, bad Lima.

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I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it. They specifically warned us not to, and you don’t mess with the army. But how could I not? I peeked over my shoulder and saw the olive drab back of the supervisor. Good. I dropped the paper into the box along with the chocolate spread and watched it continue down the conveyer belt. A minute later the box was sealed. No sirens went off, no soldiers rappelled down the walls of the warehouse, fixing their guns on me. I exhaled. And then laughed. My note was just one of several that had snuck their way into the food packages that day. And the IDF had no clue…

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