Sunday, July 22, 2012

A lesson in Brotherly Love from Kuwait



It was so big, and so COOL, two air conditioners running and escape from the 115 degrees Fahrenheit is well worth the effort it took to move into my new home.   I loved it!!   Three bedrooms, and office, two living rooms, kitchen, two bathrooms and housekeeper’s quarters. Fully furnished, even down to the salt in the salt shakers, completely equipped kitchen, the whole works, thanks to the diligent efforts of our company’s Kuwait office staff.



Now in Kuwait, one of the two hottest cities in the world, summers are something to behold, very hot but dry. The kind of heat that lets you comfortably jog early in the morning, and humidity so low, like 5%, that on occasion we played tennis in the late afternoon, even well about 100 degrees.

But late this afternoon it is time to drink a cool iced tea and enjoy the pleasant breeze from the air conditioning. I haven't been in Kuwait very long having just started a new Middle East IT Consulting division for our corporation in the Middle East, I don’t really know anyone yet, so I'm looking forward to just relaxing and getting ready for the work day tomorrow. It is a very unusual and strange feeling, being somewhere and no one knows where in the world you are.

Now what? Was I dozing off or did I hear a bell ring? I guess I have a doorbell, I hadn't checked. But who can it be since no one knows I'm here.

Opening the door I see a wizened old gentleman, an Arab obviously, but probably not a Kuwaiti since he didn't have on a dishdasha, the traditional dress for Kuwaiti men. He was carrying some papers that look like forms so I figure he is either taking a survey or is a salesman. If he is a salesman he's probably a Palestinian since many Palestinians come from Palestine or Jordan to work in Kuwait.  Employment opportunities are pretty limited in their homeland.  


He could have been Lebanese but they usually wear more Western dress and not head coverings.  Kuwait is sort of a mixture of Afghans, Indians, Palestinians, Lebanese, and of course, the obligatory Brits, Germans French and Americans and it takes a while to figure Who’s Who... 

It becomes immediately obvious that this old gentleman doesn't speak English and my Arabic is Very limited. Other than phrases such as praising Allah in a greeting or phrases “slowly slowly” (similar to our English “gently gently), the numbers 1-10, “no problem”, how are you feeling, please and thank you, and terms for right left and hurry… my Arabic is nonexistent.  


 Learning left and right is pretty important since the Bedouin taxi drivers usually don't speak English and in order to get to your destination, if they don't recognize the name of the place to which you are headed, you say left, right,  straight ahead and stop in Arabic quite a lot.  Mostly as they are screaming past your street at 70 miles per hour in an old Chevrolet whose air conditioner never gets turned on and the windows are always rolled up!!!  

After letting the man stand in the doorway for a moment, I invited him in.  It was too hot to stand in the doorway.  We sat in the main living room on the couch across the coffee table from each other.  After miles of smiles and pleasant head nods, the man, whose name I determined to be Adel, he handed me a printed card, fortunately printed in English. It turns out that was a sales representative for the Arab Times an English-language newspaper printed in Kuwait every day.

Since I had just moved in and was familiar with the Arab Times but didn't have a subscription I signed up and gave him payment. At this point he just sat there, smiling. I asked him if he would like some chai, the only thing I can think of that he might understand.  His smile brightened and he nodded.

Now Swami, my housekeeper was gone at the time so I proceed to the kitchen to make the tea. Being somewhat of a talented chef myself I mastered the tea making quickly and efficiently, adding just enough sugar, lemon and tea to make the lemon chai.  I hustled the 2 cups of steaming tea back into the living room and presented one to Adel.

For the next half hour or so we sat, sipping our tea, smiling, chuckling, nodding in a friendly manner, and just enjoying the peace of companionship. No words passed between us. At the end of the half-hour Adel decided it was time to go. I ushered him to the front door and amidst a jumble of friendly goodbyes and “ma’a salamas”, meaning both "goodbye" and "peace be with you", and handshakes and hugs, we parted company.  This whole scene I came to learn later is an example of the love and hospitality shown to strangers in the Arab world. 

The newspaper came every day, as advertised, and I didn’t see Adel again for a few weeks.  Then one evening about 4 weeks later, Yep, doorbell again.  It was Adel.  I invited him in and we spent another half hour sipping tea and smiling and nodding.   He left after friendly goodbyes and I never saw him again.

With all of the hype and use of “Social Media” and Tweets and Twitters, Facebook, cell phones, email and every technologically possible device to avoid actual contact in our communications efforts, I think often of that encounter.  How, without words,  that old man and I, coming from a completely different backgrounds and cultures and with no common language between us other than love and respect, were able to  enjoy the peace, companionship, and the quiet contentment of just being.

As Mary Baker Eddy writes in her Miscellaneous Writings (1893-1896)
“When the heart speaks, however simple the word, its language is always acceptable to those who have hearts.”

I’ve often wondered if Adel remembers too, that brief time of quiet peace and contentment, and wonders at God’s priceless gift of brotherly love which we shared.

42 comments:

kevin said...

Dad, I "Love" this story. You are right on the money about the human disconnect that is taking place in our world. Tweet, FB, IM, Android, IPad, Computers, Laptops, It just keeps seperating people. I really enjoyed your story, and actually felt like I was there with you.You are an excellant writer and will continue to enjoy reading your blogs! Ma'a Salamas!

Patrick Collins said...

Thanks Kevin. What a wonderful compliment. I appreciate it. I am writing these experiences so that you will see some of the things I have seen in my life. Life is Love... and that's all it is... and that is enough!!!!

Anonymous said...

Pat, this is the sweetest story! I just love the idea of sitting silently with someone for a half hour, sipping tea and smiling! :)
It's like music...the universal "language." -Amy

Patrick Collins said...

When I hear people sometimes criticize people from the Middle East, when they paint broad brush stereotypes of people, I think of that gentle man, just enjoying companionship, a little silent communion with a fellow traveler on this earth, and I thank him mentally for those moments. One if life's golden droplets to be savored and cherished.

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