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?