What is a hero? Have you ever encountered one?

I think heroes are people we rarely see or only hear about in the news. Some might like being in the spotlight and save others for their own personal gain, but the real heroes are those selfless people who don’t even want a thank you for what they do. I’m sure most people have had the privilege to see such heroes.


I was helped by a good Samaritan when I was living in Guinea, Africa. I was just learning the local language, so it got me into trouble a couple of times. Once, I was at a street stall buying some candy for the children in my neighborhood. I probably bought the equivalent of 300 yen worth of candy and I thought I handed the vendor what would be worth 500 yen. I know the shop keepers didn’t make a lot of money selling snacks, so I sometimes told them to keep the change if it was small enough. So, I told her to keep the change and started to walk away.


She started yelling at me in her local language and I was completely confused. I thought she was trying to give me back the change so I insisted that it was fine that she could keep it. She started laughing and still spoke in a raised voice which made me more confused.


In Guinea, there is a kind of local custom that if there is a conflict or a disagreement between people, anyone within listening distance has a right to join in and give their opinion of the situation. Conversations can get quite lively and heated but are often resolved without much damage or harm to anyone.


So, within seconds I was surrounded by a group of 10-20 people all having their say as to what should be done. I had no idea what was happening and started tearing up from the confusion and frustration of not knowing what to do.


Out of nowhere, a man whispered, surprisingly in English, something like this in my ear, “You only gave her 200 yen but you need to give her 100 yen more.” I apologized over the noisy discussion continuing around us, paid the poor lady, and then the man snuck me away. I escaped without anyone noticing I had left.


I thanked the man over and over and he just smiled, shook my hand, and walked on his way. I might have given him a piece of candy as a thank you before he left.


I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t shown up. He took the time to understand what was happening and find a way out for me instead of joining in the discussion or just walking on by. I am so thankful that he took the time and I know I want to pay it forward when I get the chance.


Thinking back on this story, I think that I need to be more aware of my surroundings, especially living in Tokyo. It is a fast-paced life and I often focus too much on my destination, how I’m going to get there, or what I’m going to do. I might be missing an opportunity to help someone in need. I’ll have to keep my eyes and ears open.




good Samaritan (noun) – a person who generously gives help or sympathy in a difficult time

heated (adjective) – full of anger and excitement

have one’s say (idiom) – to have the opportunity to express yourself fully about something

out of nowhere (idiom) – in a sudden or surprising way

pay it forward (verb phrase) – respond to a person’s kindness to oneself by being kind to someone else