If you’ve ever had Arab friends, you know that Arab generosity and hospitality is unmatched. I’ve known or had Arab friends for many years, but my time in Saudi Arabia has shown me not only the generosity and hospitality that is so embedded in Arab culture but that there really are kindhearted people who will help a person in need, even if it’s not a family member or someone they know.
When I came here six years ago I remember going downtown on the bus provided by our employer so that we could do some shopping. There was a grocery store in the area where I live but downtown you can buy from the fruit and veggie market where you get a lot more for your money. The idiot I was with at the time insisted on going to the fish market. I hate fish by the way and he bought a lot. We were late, thanks to his insisting on buying so much fish at once because the Red Sea was running out of fish. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that the bus ended up leaving without us. Walking back toward the main market, a car stopped and asked if we needed a ride. We got in with no fears. It wasn’t like being in America where at times you may be afraid to get in the car with someone you do know. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point. Either way, he took us all the way back to the Royal Commission area which can be a 20-30 minute ride depending on where you are coming from in the city. He asked nothing and refused to accept any payment. Where can you find people like that?
Something else I will always remember is spending Ramadan, the month of fasting, here. During the month of Ramadan, everyone tries to be more generous. How can a people who are already generous be more generous? During this blessed month there’s the usual like feeding others, donating your time and money. But try traveling during Ramadan. I should point out that you are not required to fast when traveling and must make up the days you missed after Ramadan and before the next one. But for shorter trips like from Yanbu to Medinah which is a two hour drive at most, many feel that there is no need to break the fast. So, you get on the highway and you hope that you’ll be able to make it to your destination before maghreb (sunset). But in reality, there will be times when you simply cannot. What if you don’t have anything to break your fast with in the car? It has happened in the past, and I’m pretty sure it will continue to do so. Well, along the way you can find people who pass out water, dates, yoghurt and other things to travelers. There’s even one area I remember on the way to Medinah where these men set up a place for people to stop and pray as well. It warms my heart every time I see something like this. They do it seeking blessings from Allah and it is just wonderful.
One other exceptional event took place two years ago when my mother came to visit me. She spent a month here in the magic kingdom. Unfortunately because of when she arrived, I wasn’t able to do much with or for her. The semester had started so I didn’t have a lot of options for going places either. My students, per my instructions, each wrote her a paragraph about Saudi Arabia. It was sweet how they told her about places she should go. They didn’t know that she wasn’t Muslim so some of the advice was not quite for her but she liked it anyway. She took every last one of those paragraphs with her when she returned. And even though she didn’t see much or experience much, when she left and returned to the states all she could talk about was how nice my friends were to her. They invited her for dinner and she got a taste of some traditional dishes as well as Arab hospitality. She was treated so well that she asked, “Now who’s going to do this for me when I go back?” I tried to convince her to stay longer, telling her that it wouldn’t happen and she could only experience it here. Well, obviously that didn’t work because she decided to go back home, but she did say she’d like to come back.
Those are just a few of many stories. But today, I experienced something so unexpected that it literally brought tears to my eyes. Even as I’m writing this I can feel my eyes welling up again. So here it is. Those who know me know that I’ve been struggling with some personal problems for the past year. And being in a foreign country with no family makes the struggle that much more difficult. Sure people have tried to say words of encouragement, but in all honesty I believe it has been impossible for them to relate. Due to these changes in my life, I was forced to move out of my apartment. But, being that I’m a woman trying to do this on my own, to say it’s been hard would be the biggest understatement of the year. I started this venture four months ago and I’m still not done. Yesterday, I spent two hours in the old place while a driver and two other workers emptied a lot of, excuse my French, crap out of the place. It was hot and I really felt for them as they worked. Even after that, there is still much work to be done. I needed and need more boxes. The place needs to be cleaned. So many things. So I started asking around about where I could get some boxes. I asked wherever I could. Honestly, only a few people responded and two of those few were people I don’t really know. One individual asked what size I needed and how many. So I explained what I was looking for. To my surprise, this amazing person, who I’ve never met by the way, offered to send a driver with some boxes as well as workers if I needed them to move things. I sat and I cried for a bit. I experienced a whole range of emotions at that moment. I was surprised, overjoyed, touched. I will never forget this. And I wish there were more people like this in the world.
Kindness and generosity still exist today and they can be found right here in KSA.