This was 2014. I was on a road trip somewhere between Petra and the Wadi Rum in Jordan. I wanted to explore the countryside, clear my head, and try to figure out what I wanted to do next now that I have left Mindanao.
It was the middle of Ramadan and I was in a region known as the Holy Land. Perfect time to go out and explore the land of the prophets, I thought. Besides, I was alone at home as my partner then was in Lebanon for a work trip.
The desert countryside never ceases to amaze me. As always, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the desert landscape and centuries or millennial old villages that dot it. Even more surprised by gorges and valleys that had ponds and streams, bounded by reeds and huge rocks. I passed by one that had a big enough pool that it had about a dozen locals swimming in it, boys jumping off the huge rocks as diving platforms. It was a hot day and the water looked refreshing and inviting. I couldn’t resist.
Soon enough, as the only stranger in the water, I naturally invited everyone’s curiosity. Kids are usually more openly curious and young boys approached me and started to talk to me in Arabic. I wanted to encourage them so I squeezed every bit of my sprinkling of Arabic vocabulary to engage them. They laughed as I supplemented my limited Arabic with funny body language.
After a while, grown men approached too – older brothers or fathers of the young boys. They too had some questions – where I am from, what is my country like, what am I doing in Jordan, and whether I like Jordan.
It was past 5pm and I noticed the people in the pond were getting fewer so I took that as a sign that I should get going too. As I was heading for my car, one of the boys and his father approached me and asked me where I am headed. I said Wadi Rum.
“Fasting?”, the father asked. “Yes”, I replied. “Then come to our village, it is almost iftar”, the father said in a voice that indicated concern that a stranger will be breaking his fast alone.
So I followed their car for about 15 minutes back to the village I passed by earlier that afternoon as the pond was already in the outskirts. As we drove into their small neighborhood in the village, I could sense some excitement. Apparently word has already spread that a stranger is coming to join in the iftar.
I was invited into the house of my host, into the terrace next to the garden. There was still 10 to 15 minutes left before iftar and we talked some more while his son sat on his lap.
In the course of our conversation, I found out they are Palestinians living in Jordan. I remind myself that Lebanon and Jordan host the largest populations of Palestinians outside their homeland. I learned too that they still have relations in Gaza.
Now this encounter happened during a difficult period for Gaza as everyday, there are news footage of the Israeli bombardment of that tiny enclave. Silently I wondered how my host and other Palestinians in Jordan must feel watching men, women, children, and the elderly back home buried under the rubble. I kept this thought to myself.
I noticed my host’s mood became melancholic so I switched the topic back to sons, football, and food. Speaking of which, the food is now laid out in front of us because it is time. He leads the du’a for the iftar and thereafter, I could be seen partaking of the home-cooked Palestinian cuisine. Yum. My host, Mohammad, patiently explains to me the dishes and sweets in front of me. We break for a bit to perform maghrib and we continue the conversation while sipping our tsai.
That night, as I continued my drive towards the Wadi Rum, my thoughts were on the seeming irony of the hospitality shown by people who themselves were driven out of their homes. I thought that is pure generosity.
At that point in my life, I could empathize with my hosts only to a certain extent because whereas I voluntarily exiled myself, my hosts were forcibly driven from their homes by others. I would see this irony again in the years to come and in other lands I got to plant my foot.
As my car drove out of their driveway that night, I remember saying a silent prayer for my host and his family. To this day, I continue to pray for them and Palestinians.
So, for those of you who get an opportunity to be hospitable to a mussaffir, a traveler or someone who is away from home, particularly a fasting one, grab it. More than the food, it is the act of kindness and generosity that he will never forget.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Zainudin “Zen” Malang is a proud Moro. He was founder and Executive Director of the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC), and former member of the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team and Third Party Monitoring Team in the GPH-MILF peace process. He is presently based somewhere in Africa]