There is nothing more wonderful than to have a helping hand when one is in a jam. But what to do when you are in a new country where you know nobody? I realized, to my surprise, that helplessness can sometimes be an asset. My experience is that new immigrants to the U.S. help each other whenever they – we – can.

We have all learned the hard way that, as Euripedes said, there is no greater loss than the loss of one’s first country. I misplaced my briefcase in a large conference in Washington and went to the organizers for help.

They barely listened to me; they had other priorities. The recovery was critical for me, for the briefcase contained important work papers. Having no success with the bigwigs, I went to the humblest, a janitor. He took me to the head janitor, a Mexican wetback, who liked my Spanish accent, and asked all the janitors to initiate a thorough search.

I had my briefcase by the end of the day. For my first visit to the U.S., I accidentally packed my visa in my checked suitcase instead of my carry-on handbag.

When I changed planes in Paris, the French authorities told me that I could not board the flight to the U.S. without the visa. Luckily the gendarme was a Senegalese immigrant. He led me to the baggage room, against the rules: I spotted my suitcase and retrieved the precious document.

One time I flew to attend a close friend’s wedding in a small town near Berlin, but on arrival found there was no room at the only hotel in town. The only option was an expensive hotel some miles away.

But a Bangladeshi bellboy was willing to listen to my woes and told me to have a drink in the bar. Ten minutes later he returned with the key to a top-floor room. Another time a cousin died in Rochester, Minnesota. On my way there, the connecting flight from Minneapolis was canceled because of bad weather, and I couldn’t get another.

As I told my sob story to an airline official, a Salvadoran overheard and offered to give me a lift to Rochester on his way to an adjacent town. He drove through a snow storm and went out of his way to get me to my exact destination. He wouldn’t even take a cent for gas. He said he owed help to a brother.

(The writer is a Washington-based international development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected])