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The Kindness of Strangers (My Saudi Edition)



[This is rather a long piece for my column because I missed last issue.]

Last month, a couple of books arrived for me from The Lonely Planet. One of them which highly piqued my interest is titled "The Kindness of Strangers" and I just finished reading the stories that truly depict the goodness of men and women all over the world. While there are people who do evil, there are more who do good, who are kind to their fellow, and are beautiful persons in and out. I would like to share you some snippets of the kindness I've experienced here in Saudi Arabia. As you know, this country is notorious in its reputation of being abusive and harsh. But sometimes, a man or a woman goes out of his/her way to help. Just because.

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One night, he stayed behind and told me about things I shouldn’t hear coming from someone like him. I just nodded when needed. I’m still in a daze. I’m having a conversation with someone like him! Wow!

I saw him often. I remembered counting days when I don’t see him. He usually returns when I’m expecting him to. He always acknowledged my presence when he sees me traipsing on the entrance. Even if I’m groggy in the morning, I would stand right up when I see him and he would bolt out his seat to salute me. When that nights were longer than days in the desert, I would catch him often during my idle hours in the hospital. He reminded me how many minutes more til we say goodbye. He asked me how my day was and I usually always go with “fine” and then he’ll tell me about his day. Whether it was busy or not.

No, we're not romantically linked. He was the Saudi security guard in the door where I usually wait for my sundo when I was new in the workplace. He disappeared one day and I've never seen him since. I've met strangers like him who befriends me but when I don't show interest, they all go away immediately. He was the only one who stayed to make me feel welcome.

Only he lingered.

*****

I’ve seen her once when my companion dragged me into her house to look at things we might like. This lady looked at me, smiled, and held my cheeks with her warm hands and said “Ahhh, beautiful! Very pretty.” She repeated that several times during our conversation, even reiterating it when my companion seems engrossed talking about some other things. I’ve never heard someone say that out loud. A stranger just gave me the confidence I never had.

I asked her about her leaving and she says she can no longer stay in this place. She gave me an advice, “After two years or so… leave. Go somewhere else. Explore. I spent eight years here. It’s time for me to go home.” When she speaks, she always holds my gaze and never lets go until I turn away. I felt her sincerity even if I’m not looking at her.

My jaw dropped when she gave me a discount on the little reading sofa I’ve been eyeing. She gave it to me at less than half of its price. I thanked her, feeling a little guilty of robbing her of a few more bucks from the original price but she is that kind and generous and warm-hearted. Surprisingly, I was the only one who got that huge of a discount. My questioning eyes landed on her brimming, glowing face. She just smiled.

Before we left, she gave me a kiss on my cheek. I told her I’m really glad I met her. I felt a tug in my heart because I might never see her again. Her home is in Egypt. When I was at the door, I looked back. She’s still standing on her living room below the chandeliers all aglow. Her eyes gazed at my face and she said, “You are beautiful like my daughter. You remind me so much of her.”

And she too lingers. For a moment in my eyes but for a long time in my heart.

I still use the reading sofa until now.

******

She was standing next to me when I asked the salesperson how long the sale will last.

The guy behind the counter looked at me, shook his head, and mumbled something without really meeting my eyes. He went on wrapping my purchase. I looked at him desperately. What’s wrong with answering my question? Is it such a bad thing?

I repeated what I asked but he just looked around looking for his companion on the store. What is wrong with this guy?! He said something out loud. Again, I was left confused. Then I felt her presence beside me. She was holding the pair of shoes I was eyeing a while back. She set it on the counter. She must have understood what was going on with me and the salesperson because she shook her head and asked me “What is it you’re asking?” I repeated my question to her.

She talked with the salesperson and the salesperson answered her. She turned back to me and told me what he said. I nodded and thanked her. While doing so, I fell under the spell of her lined eyes: deep and dark like an Arabian night in the desert… with a little sparkle shining like a lone star in the black vast sky.

With the unasked for help she extended to me, I’m guessing she’s beautiful inside and out.

**********

Strangers are everywhere and kindness abounds. We are alike in more ways than we are different.

May you be kind today.

XOXO your desert dweller,
Janelle

► Read Janelle's previous articles here.

1 Reactions:

Nebz said...

The truth, Janelle. It's only now that I read your piece, and I'm touched.

True. We hear things about them and only upon meeting them would we have a change of mind.

Many months back, we had a tire problem along the highway. Of all the cars that passed by (including a lot of private cars of Pinoys, only a Saudi stopped and assisted us (and even bought us a tire jack because we broke ours).

A friend told me a similar story. He had a tire problem and of all people who helped him, he didn't expect it to come from a Saudi beadouin who's herding his sheeps at that time.

I am always touched by a kindness of a stranger -- especially in a strangeland.

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