Sunday, February 27, 2011

No. 0972 Unmatched Hospitality

In Egyptian culture, foreigners receive royal treatment (particularly Europeans/North Americans...maybe due to vestiges of colonial mentality?). Anyhow, the idea behind it as I've been told by Egyptians is that the  person who is a traveller is somehow like an orphan, and therefore needs to be treated with extra care and shelter.

Just a few weeks ago, when the revolution here in Egypt was just getting underway, there was an evening when we found ourselves on the streets after curfew and needed a place nearby to stay. A woman who was a "friend of a friend" took us in. All NINE of us, complete strangers. And treated us as if we were family.

The expression "A friend in need is a friend indeed" can easily be changed here in Egypt to: "A stranger in need is family indeed."

Now, crisis situations do have the tendency to pull people together, but this sort of hospitality is not just limited to emergencies in Egypt, with Egyptian (& Arab) culture it is the norm.

I remember the first summer I spent in Arabia, living in Jordan and then traveling through Syria. Everywhere we went in our travels we were welcomed into people's homes, and given the most amazing meals and hospitality. I remember one evening, when I was walking in Hama, Syria, I saw a large number of people walking up a hill. A family saw me walking alone and invited me to join them to the top, where there were several children's playgrounds and an amazing vista of the city. We spent the entire evening walking around, them trying to feed me at every opportunity. Somehow we silently communicated, despite the language divide. At the end of the evening, the large family invited me into their colorfully painted bus (think Partridge family) and dropped me off at my hotel. I will never forget their kindness and hospitality.

When I was pregnant, my parents-in-law welcomed me into their home to take care of me. After the baby was born, again, my sister-in-law welcomed me and my husband and the new baby into their home for three months. During this time my youngest niece (at the time) gave up her room (with her books and toys and clothes) to accommodate us. There was never a question of our welcomeness. Here, family is family, yet as I've said above - even strangers find themselves to be family soon too.

This sort of welcoming environment makes it easy for foreigners to quickly call Egypt Home.

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