Hola! Hope you're smiling :)
It was super cold yes. I wore an old jacket – I thought that was sufficient for Jeddah, I didn’t see a reason why I should pull out my nice coats and wear them over the abaya. My coat was old and dirty but generally warm. However, it couldn’t keep me warm enough that evening as I shivered in the airport.
At around 10.30 pm, I was getting hungry and cold, and so, despite knowing that the food stall doesn’t accept British Pounds, I went back to the stall to coax them into selling me food and take whatever currency I had. As I stood there at the counter, inquiring if there was a way to buy food with British pounds, a gentleman in uniform – a pilot’s uniform stood a few feet away, buying food. The man at the payment counter told me that there was no way I could buy food there without Saudi rials.
Disappointed and sad, I was leaving the food stall when the man in the uniform stopped me. I couldn’t immediately tell what he was upto but I was certainly worried. He was breaking the protocol – stranger men and women are not supposed to speak with each other. And yet, here was a grown up Saudi man, stopping me in public and trying to speak with me. This kind, gentle soul, my Saudi angel said I should pick whatever I wanted and he’d pay for it. I thought he was only being courteous so thanked him for the offer but didn’t take it. As I was moving away, he stopped me again and said he insists! I still wasn’t convinced I should take his offer so I told him I wasn’t hungry, at which, the pilot said ‘Madam please, take whatever you want. I am saying please!’ and that was true! He was saying please! I knew he meant well, he seemed like he genuinely didn’t want me to be hungry on a cold night. I agreed to taking things from the stall – a bar of Snickers and a bottle of water. He said I should take more but I was quite happy with what I had. The kind pilot paid for it, accepted my modest thanks and left. I returned to my seat in the special lounge – deeply touched and massively amazed.
I relished the Snickers and enjoyed the water as I kept smiling still, happy from such a wonderful experience of receiving kindness. As I finished my Snickers, I saw that the pilot was seated just outside the lounge with his friend. I must thank this man again, I thought. I walked up to him, and as I did that, I must admit that I felt slightly nervous about initiating a dialogue with stranger-man, something that’s against the law. However, I didn’t let my nervousness stop me from smiling at him, thanking him for the nice gesture and giving him one of the postcards from my ‘crazy-India’ postcard collection, on it I wrote ‘Thank you for your kindness. I will forever remember it.’ The pilot accepted the card with a smile and nervously sealed the dialogue, returning to his colleague and the food on the table.
What this random act of kindness from a stranger did to me is intense and amazing.
Until the moment I landed in Jeddah and a little after that, I wasn’t sure what to think of the country. I found myself agitated, confused and unable to come to terms with its strict orthodox laws. I let myself believe that my only reaction to such environmental hostility’d be disgust and I did feel that disgust.
With this act from a stranger and my many observations of the place, my perspective was challenged. I wonder if it’d be have if I didn’t travel to Jeddah and spend those eight hours in the airport. Orthodox and strict Jeddah is, no doubt but being there helped me see that it is also beautiful, complex yet enchanting and more than all that, it is kind and genuine. What Jeddah/SA is is not exclusive to me. It’s a country that chooses to be as it is, should the people of the country be unhappy or dissatisfied, they will figure out a way to find their needs met but as of me, I was an outsider and there in the country only for a few hours – what should really matter to me is the true beauty of the place and how the place treats me.
The place treated me exceptionally well, kind and gently, so warmly that when I took the Snickers and the bottle of water from the counter and the pilot paid for it, I was left in tears for my heart was touched. When a young airport official showed interest in speaking with me, despite me seeming like the most boring woman in the world, it made me smile.
Jeddah is a different kind of beauty, a kind I didn’t know before but beautiful it certainly is.
After the pilot bought me the bar of chocolate and water, I went back to the lounge area where I had my things and looked for a little something to give him in thanks. I flipped through the pages of my journal which I had prepared for use through my travels. In the journal I had pinned a very Indian postcard to be given away to a stranger. My holiday had truly begun when I plucked out the postcard, scribbled a message on it and walked up to the pilot to give to him. I could see that he was very nervous to be approached by a young foreigner woman in full public glare. He didn’t make eye contact with me but accepted my postcard, quickly thanked back and went back to eating his food. If it weren’t for his nervousness of the rules, I am sure the pilot would speak a little more with me and I’d know him better but this is exactly what the government restricts. However, I was very thrilled to notice that even the strictest rules didn’t stop a man from being so nice and kind.