Passing through

“A visitor is the greatest blessing.” – Proverb of the Afghans Georgians Chinese Arabs ???

I really can’t remember which country I heard that in, but it was somewhere in this part of the world. Over-the-top hospitality is considered characteristic in the Caucasus, Middle East, China, and Afghanistan (at least).

I used to puzzle over how such a tradition would evolve in these regions. When you are poor, as so many have been, why would you welcome a guest – another mouth to feed, another person consuming your scarce water, taking up one of your beds?

Then I realized that these countries are all on major trade routes – the Silk Road and the Arabian Gulf. And when you live on a trade route, you learn the value of all kinds of commodities.

In Dubai, we’ve had lots and lots of visitors. It’s one of the things I like best about living here – because Dubai is such a hub, our friends are often flying through, or come here for a break. We even set up a guest room, the first time in my life I’ve had an actual space devoted to visitors.

Last night our friend John called from the airport and said he had six hours between flights, passing through from Kabul on his way to East Timor. He wondered what I was doing for supper, and whether he could take anything to Tom in Dili for me.

So he came over and we traded commodities: He took a shower, borrowed some clean clothes, had a few beers. He helped me cook dinner, showed me a great photo from Afghanistan of him with some of the boys, agreed to take Tom his headphones and a bottle of Scotch.

We exchanged news and gossip about the same topics that we usually cover with guests: Afghanistan, the deteriorating Middle East, the media world. He listened sympathetically as I groaned about the hassles and grief of packing up and moving countries again. We shook our heads at how difficult it is to make friends in big cities. And I told him how glad I was to have company in these last, sorrowful days in Dubai.

He waited to the very last minute to leave for the airport. We were still gabbing as I walked him down to the street. I stood on the sidewalk and watched even after his taxi pulled away.

Visitors are a blessing because they bring you things from afar, things you need to survive and things that make you know you’re alive.

Spices. And silk.

5 thoughts on “Passing through

  1. It has been our family tradition, too, to devote ‘space’ to visitors.

    A visiting African priest related the cultural tradition in his area to never ask visitors where they are from, lest the quality of the welcome given to them might be lessened as a result of that knowledge.

  2. Ajmal, yes it is horrible how you got stuck at the airport. It’s another case like what I described in the post “The market drives” – so many people want to work here (Afghans, Pakistanis, Indians especially) that they consider all of you suspect — even though you had a US visa for graduate school!!

    As though you would want to stay and work like a slave in Dubai rather than get an advanced education in the US…. really stupid.

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