Could you travel around the world on a vintage yellow motorbike, living by the kindness of strangers? Leon Logothetis did. The Kindness Diaries is his story.
It sounds like something you’d find at the multiplex, with an all-star cast, a finely tuned score, and tears timed to fall at the just the right moments to soften up the Academy voters’ hearts.
But Leon Logothetis wasn’t travelling by a script.
Whether it’s a young mother in a Belizean jungle ort a businessman on the streets of Manhatten, we each have some preconceived notion about what kind of life we think we’re supposed to live, and then we become trapped in that perception. Logothetis says this early on. It seems pretty self-evident, the kind of thing we hear all the time, but we as readers know he is somehow going to get beyond this…how could he embark on the journey we know he is about to take and NOT move out of his box?
The rules he sets for himself are straightforward. He would accept food and lodging, but not money for them. He would accept gas but not money for it. And he would, with his own money, repay the kindness of people who helped him, but not tell them in advance.
The story that come out is a series of vignettes that overlap each other, with people and places crossing and flashbacks mixing in with the present, which is the actual trip. Although he is speaking in the past tense, the way he tells the story is very vital, like reading a journal or listening to someone at the end of their travel day. There’s an immediacy that makes it easy to put yourself where he is, whether it’s dealing with yet another bike breakdown or reminiscing in his head about one of the people who brought him to this point in his life.
Logothetis doesn’t overlook the hardships, either. This is not a book of sunshine and roses. He gets lucky in unexpected ways – a desperate cheer for Manchester United gets him over the Albanian border where he had been detained, his lack of Karate knowledge found him a guide and friend in India – but he also had days of desperation when his bike breaks down, he cannot find anyone to give him food or gas, when border crossings were nearly his undoing.
But he does not give up, and people always come through.
Part of his gift seems to be his willingness to listen. He learns early on that everyone has a story, and finds that many of them are not only more interesting than his own, but challenge his reasons for his trip and what he hopes to get out of it. He may be looking for kindness and a sort of healing or rejuvenation, but he winds up sharing with us levels of complexity of people and places that are wholly unexpected. If there’s a price he pays along the way, besides frustration and discomfort, it’s that he begins to take upon himself the burdens of the people he encounters, many of whom do not have the can-do positive spirit that characters in books like this are supposed to have. This begins to ease when we see him start giving back to his “angels”, and the tone lightens considerably. His gifts? Books, schooling, and a cow, to name a few.
For all of the learning in “The Kindness Diaries”, and the lessons taught, received, and passed to the reader, it’s a fast read, perhaps because no one location or person is covered in much depth. The trip is too rapid for that, approximately six months. He doesn’t spend more than a few days in any one place and by nature of asking people for his basic needs, no one person meets those needs for very long. The tales of several people, all encountered in and for a short period of time, leave impressions but you rapidly move along. This is not a bad thing. It’s very much reflective of how we meet people when we travel. We encounter them in a specific place and space in time, get to know them very quickly and sometimes very deeply since there may never be another chance, and then we move on.
It’s this reality that keeps what could be a very formulaic, Hollywood-type feel-good book from falling into that. There’s no time for artificial relationships. He instinctively knows that people will not help a liar (save for a moment in Cambodia when he realized that lies of desperation were his only hope), and he keeps it straight. Even thought he says from the outset that he has a small camera crew with him, they only interact with people when he invites them along, and the way that he shares his tour, you get the idea that they truly respect this.
It’s worth noting that The Kindness Diaries is not crammed with the cliched, stock characters these books tend to trade in, which further lends to its authenticity. It may not be the volume that solves all of your ills or makes you the person you always wanted to be. But it’s a intriguing insight into what a man will do to try to find peace in his life, and what people will do when confronted with the truly out-of-the-ordinary.
And yes, the people whose kindness he promised to repay? They have been paid in full.
Learn more about Leon and his adventures at www.KindnessOne.com.
All images used by permission.