The kindness of strangers

One sweltering hot day in Bahrain’s Muharraq district, I was sitting on a ledge in the shade, scribbling random thoughts in a notebook. After a few minutes, I was interrupted by two young men from a large house across the street. “My name is Yousef,” said the tallest. “I would like to invite you to my home. This is Hassan, my cousin. We have a family gathering. Please come in and join us.”

I hesitated. A single woman, entering a house with two complete strangers? In my head, curiosity and skepticism fought a brief battle. I’m glad to say curiosity won. Inside, I was welcomed by the entire family – about 15 of them, mostly women.

Every Friday, the extended al-Matrook family meets for lunch. Everyone brings dishes.

The kindness of strangers - Bahrain

Had I eaten lunch or should they set a table for me? Afraid of imposing, I said no thanks. Instead, I joined them for coffee. They insisted I try the whole buffet: bakhlava, creme caramel, pancakes, sweets, fruits, nuts and more.

Along with delicious Arabic coffee. I jotted down the recipe, spilling a bit as I went. After making sure I wrote it down properly, one of the women went into the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later with a jar containing some coffee and a bag of accompanying spices: cloves, cardamom and saffron. “Take this home with you,” she said. “Of course, with Arabic coffee you must have this,” she continued – and produced a large bag of ripe dates.

The kindness of strangers - Bahrain

After a while, afraid to outstay my welcome, I got up to leave. But by then it was time for tea. I stayed for nearly two hours, made new friends, learned heaps and had a wonderful afternoon. (Probably gained a few kilos as well – but well worth it.)

Arab hospitality is legendary. Where else would a wandering stranger be invited into people’s homes like that? Certainly not in my part of the world.

The kindness of strangers - Bahrain

Oh, and the dates? Didn’t take them home. Ate them all for dinner. Ambrosial!

This experience has defined Bahrain for me. Where have you encountered the kindness of strangers?

One sweltering hot day in Bahrain’s Muharraq district, I was sitting on a ledge in the shade, scribbling random thoughts in a notebook. After a few minutes, I was interrupted by two young men from a large house across the street. “My name is Yousef,” said the tallest. “I would like to invite you to my home. This is Hassan, my cousin. We have a family gathering. Please come in and join us.”

I hesitated. A single woman, entering a house with two complete strangers? In my head, curiosity and skepticism fought a brief battle. I’m glad to say curiosity won. Inside, I was welcomed by the entire family – about 15 of them, mostly women.

Every Friday, the extended al-Matrook family meets for lunch. Everyone brings dishes.

The kindness of strangers - Bahrain

Had I eaten lunch or should they set a table for me? Afraid of imposing, I said no thanks. Instead, I joined them for coffee. They insisted I try the whole buffet: bakhlava, creme caramel, pancakes, sweets, fruits, nuts and more.

Along with delicious Arabic coffee. I jotted down the recipe, spilling a bit as I went. After making sure I wrote it down properly, one of the women went into the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later with a jar containing some coffee and a bag of accompanying spices: cloves, cardamom and saffron. “Take this home with you,” she said. “Of course, with Arabic coffee you must have this,” she continued – and produced a large bag of ripe dates.

The kindness of strangers - Bahrain

After a while, afraid to outstay my welcome, I got up to leave. But by then it was time for tea. I stayed for nearly two hours, made new friends, learned heaps and had a wonderful afternoon. (Probably gained a few kilos as well – but well worth it.)

Arab hospitality is legendary. Where else people would ask a wandering stranger into their home like that? Certainly not in my part of the world.

The kindness of strangers - Bahrain

Oh, and the dates? Didn’t take them home. Ate them all for dinner. Ambrosial!

This experience has defined Bahrain for me. Where have you encountered the kindness of strangers?

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22 Responses to “The kindness of strangers”

  1. Barbara Weibel 18 October 2010 1637 #

    have had so many similar situations in my travels around the globe. Had I descended into fear rather than accept these impromptu invitations, I would have missed some of the most treasured experiences of my travels. Kudos for trusting your gut in this instance. Wonderful story.

  2. Jason 19 October 2010 0141 #

    Sophie,

    What a great story of kindness and generosity. Thanks for sharing it.

    Jason

  3. Marie 20 October 2010 0956 #

    What a great story! This is also my experience with people in the Middle East – so generous!

  4. Petter P. 20 October 2010 1125 #

    That’s very moving. Too often people choose skepticism.

  5. Louise Hayling 20 October 2010 1256 #

    What a lovely story!

  6. Anne-Sophie 20 October 2010 1258 #

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

  7. Tina T 20 October 2010 1418 #

    Looks like a happy family :)

    • Anne-Sophie 20 October 2010 2335 #

      Interesting comment, Tina. You know, I think they are a happy family. The atmosphere was light-hearted, free-spirited. They seemed to care a great deal about each other.

  8. Nancie 22 October 2010 1013 #

    What a wonderful and unexpected way to spend an afternoon.

  9. Sabina 23 October 2010 1610 #

    I love this story! I wish it would happen to me.

    • Anne-Sophie 23 October 2010 1642 #

      Well, Sabina, you’re in the right part of the world (you’re still in the Emirates, no?)

  10. wandering educators 26 October 2010 0048 #

    I would have been scared, too. but how WONDERFULLY it turned out – and what a photo – the smiles!

  11. Anca Popa 27 October 2010 1344 #

    What a nice story! Thanks so much for entering our competition. Good luck!

  12. ayngelina 28 October 2010 1823 #

    I’ve also learned the value of saying ‘yes’ although I’m often fearful that I’m imposing. But I’d never turn down food :)

  13. lara dunston 28 October 2010 1826 #

    Hi Sophie

    Great story! Totally relate having lived in the Middle East for so long. I’m missing their hospitality!

    Lara

  14. Kathryn 24 November 2012 1138 #

    I can’t wait to go to the middle east. I hope the safety situation in syria etc improves soon (of course mostly I hope this for the people who live there, not my own travel plans)
    Kathryn recently posted..Packing Mistakes: 9 Things I Pack But Rarely Use

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 November 2012 2111 #

      Thanks for reading, Kathryn. I do like the Middle East, especially the people. Hope you’ll enjoy your visit to the region :)

  15. Mariam Almatrook 30 December 2012 1617 #

    Thank you so much for this lovely piece!! We just found out about this article through a friend. It was a great pleasure having you and you are always welcome here! By the way I am the second one from the right in the first picture :P. I wish you the very best with your traveling and maybe one day we will get to see you again :)

  16. Mariam Almatrook 30 December 2012 1619 #

    Sorry I’m the second one from the left* in the first pic :P

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 30 December 2012 2335 #

      Mariam, how wonderful to hear from you.

      Although it’s been three years, being invited to your house remains one of my favourite travel memories. Unfortunately, I managed to leave my notebook in the hotel that night, and with it your e-mail addresses.

      Please give my love to your family – I hope everyone is well :)

  17. Jameel Almatrook 31 December 2012 0813 #

    Hello sophie, hope you had a grand christmas. It was my pleasure to have you in my house, unfortunately I was away from Bahrain, so I missed meeting you. My wife and children told me about you and for a long time they were waiting to to hear from you (now we know the reason).
    We are glad to read your article about the visit and hope to see you soon.

    Wish you a happy and prosperous new year.
    Jameel Almatrook

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 31 December 2012 1644 #

      Mr. Almatrook,
      Thank you – and sorry I didn’t meet you then, the father of such a kind and generous family. All the best for the new year to you, too :)

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