Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Loving the Unexpected in Qatar
I really enjoy being surprised by the unexpected, considerate gesture or the unpredictable act of kindness that sometimes pops into my day. When an angry looking Arabic gentleman lets me go ahead in traffic or a smile peers out of an abaya at me it is like opening a present I didn't know I had.
Sri Lanka and the Philippines are known for their charming and hospitable people. The southern states in the U.S. are legendary for the courtly manners and kind civility of their residents. But when I think of friendly areas of the world, I have never thought of the Middle East. Unfortunately, living here has not changed that opinion dramatically, but when there is a ray of unexpected sunshine from a typically somber, closed culture, it is delightful.
I have made it a game with myself now to see if I can get some of these grey bearded, grizzled old Arabs to smile at me as I offer to let them go ahead in the grocery store line or I stop my car for them to walk across the heated pavement in front of my car. They often don't know what to do and act very confused at the small generous act, but sometimes they are so disarmed they forget that they are weighed down by thousands of years in an unforgiving land and culture and actually smile.
The other day I was shopping and was surprised to find a heart-shaped potato in the vegetable section. Hearts are my favorite symbol, so of course I noticed it. As I popped it into the plastic bag with the other brown lumps I smiled and felt like I had found a treasure among the dusty common potatoes. Yes, this is what it feels like in Qatar when I can see sparkling eyes smiling back at me through the black veil of a covered woman. The Arabic people are covered with a thick coating of restraint, and they guard themselves behind their walls of exclusion, but their softer, genteel sides sometimes surface and I am reminded that Qatar really has a heart.