By Ajay Goyal
An incident last month showed me why Cyprus is still one of the nicest, friendliest, hospitable and safest places in the world.
At the start of the hotel season a lady that was to join our hotel in a managerial position arrived on an early morning flight from northern Europe to Larnaca and then failed to show up at work. Geena (not her real name) is in her mid-thirties, well educated, well travelled and had previously worked as an air hostess.
As our resort is located at the other end of island from Larnaca with no direct airport connection, arriving guests must change four buses to reach us in Polis Chrysochous and then further to Latchi. Six hours after the woman’s arrival in Larnaca, we received a phone call from an employee of transport company Zenon at Larnaca airport asking if Geena had arrived at her destination. She introduced herself as Chryso and said she had been concerned about Geena ever since giving her directions to Polis.
Chryso must meet hundreds of passengers each day making inquiries about transport. Why would she remember one passenger? Chryso told us that Geena “was very emotional and fragile. Almost crying… I had to take her to the bus myself and I felt that she was not very well.” She gave us her personal phone number and asked us to call her as soon as Geena arrived so she could stop worrying.
When Geena did not show after another two hours, a series of calls started that got increasingly frantic by the minute. Chryso took the initiative to call bus drivers and bus stations in Limassol and Paphos to ask if a passenger of Geena’s description had been on the bus. No one had. Now, we too got concerned and started calling Geena’s phone which was not connected to the network. After repeated attempts, one call got through, Geena answered but we could only hear sighs. Now we were alarmed and called the police in Larnaca.
In the meantime, Chryso and her network of friends in Larnaca had already started an informal search. She called some taxi drivers and bus company drivers to start searching the airport. This network of friends was activated by this one concerned woman at the airport in search of a stranger. At each bus station between Larnaca and Polis, ticket clerks and drivers were called repeatedly to see if they could remember Geena.
I reported the matter to police and after a while a CID officer called me to take details. A missing person report was filed on the phone and a police officer assured me they would send out an alert. Until late at night, Chryso, our staff and so many unknown people made international calls, searched the airport, parking lots, bus stations, all looking for Geena.
Twice that night police called me, asking for more details of Geena, they searched her Facebook account for clues and told me they were going to try and find her through her cell phone signal. Unfortunately, the phone was now turned off again. It was a sleepless night for many of us.
Next morning, a police escort walked Geena into the airport into the safe hands of Chryso. Chryso fed Geena and treated her with tremendous sensitivity because of her very fragile condition. She had ostensibly had been taking some medication and mixed alcohol with it to smooth nerves, which had the exact opposite effect. She had been in a bar until and then was sleeping rough when the police found her. Her luggage and things which she had left in a public WC had been untouched. Nothing was stolen.
Relieved, I found a hotel in Larnaca, booked a room for Geena and asked them to remove all alcohol from the minibar and host her until we could find her a flight back. Police went an extra mile and took Geena themselves to hotel. An air ticket was obtained by us for a flight two days later. But then Geena checked herself out and disappeared again. The whole drama repeated itself for another night. Police found her again and this time brought her to social services for safe custody. The recruitment agent that had recruited Geena was on a vacation in Tanzania but he, too, pitched in and bought an air ticket on his own account. Police escorted Geena to her flight and she was sent home into safe care of her family that had been kept informed of whole affair.
During the four-day affair we came across a dozen random people volunteering to help – airport employees, transport company employees, police officers, taxi drivers – who all went out of their way to help a complete stranger on the request of complete strangers like us. It all started with a call from a very humane and concerned Chryso. A sense of compassion and kindness spread through Larnaca. No one expressed any anger about the self-inflicted situation – there were only words of compassion and support.
A week later the SunHall hotel, where we had booked a room for Geena sent us an invoice for zero amount. Hermes airport operator held an event to acknowledge Chryso’s crucial help. The police officers cut all red tape and made an extraordinary effort to find her. None of the people involved accepted any money from us for their efforts when we offered to pay the taxi drivers and hotel. At my own hotel in Latchi, employees were worried sick about a person they had never met – and probably never shall.
A small incident of an unfortunate woman in wrong place, ended without a tragedy because so many good people pitched in to help.
The whole drama reminded me of the Cyprus and Cypriots I know and I love. I know and love this Cyprus where good nature comes naturally to people, where an act of kindness or a smile is not a transaction. The Cyprus I know is where people need no reason to help one another and they always rise to the occasion. It is precisely because of the good nature of ordinary Cypriots that the corruption and neglect in high places hurts a lot less.
Of course no story is complete without an anecdote. After taking a detailed missing persons’ report from me on the phone, the police officers that had been struggling to understand my flawed English and very Indian accent asked me where I was from. “India,” I said. “You work in the hotel?” “Yes,” I replied. “You have papers?” asked the officer. “Yes,” I said. “Give the phone to your maestro, master, your Cyprus (sic!) boss. “
When I told him I was the boss and that I could give the phone to anyone of my fifty Cypriot employees, he ended the phone call unsure if this was a serious report or an elaborate practical joke. I know even this to be harmless ignorance which can only be laughed away. I can state for a fact that Cypriots can be curious and a bit tactless but they are, as a whole, a very warm and welcoming people to all races and creeds.
I have been coming to Cyprus for over 25 years and every time my plane lands, I feel a little rush of joy, and it is because I know I am among good people.