The Hospitality of a Stranger

Service Taxis in Bethlehem Photo Credit: Public Domain

Service Taxis ~ Bethlehem Checkpoint
Photo Credit: Public Domain

I walk through the checkpoint complex in the wall separating my home on the outskirts of Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Among all the “vendors” shouting out their destinations, I find a service (pronounced: serveece), going to Hebron. I climb in and take a seat next to a Hajji (a term of respect for an older Palestinian woman.)

The experience of using this shared van form of public transportation in Palestine is unique and difficult to describe. If you happen to be the last passenger, it departs within seconds of your arrival. However, if you happen to be passenger number one, you could wait 30 minutes to an hour for all seven seats to fill. While some journeys are taken in relative silence, this is not generally the case. There is often news or music blaring from the radio ~ some engage in animated discussion, some eat, some smoke, some are on their cell phones, some visit with those next to them or in front of them ~ people are getting off and on at various “stops” ~ fares are passed forward and change passed backwards ~ it becomes a mini community on wheels.

Stuck in Traffic Photo Credit: Public Domain

Stuck in Traffic
Photo Credit: Public Domain

On this particular morning, I am the next to the last passenger to board. We wait five minutes. The last seat fills and we are off. Traffic travelling south out of Bethlehem city is especially slow this morning. About ten minutes after our departure, our driver is stopped by the Palestinian police and asked to exit the van. A few minutes pass and passengers begin checking their watches, anxiety mounting as they anticipate being late for work or school. Some disembark and unsuccessfully try to hail other modes of transportation. The Hajji next to me gets off, saying, “Eat,” and proceeds to enter the closest restaurant. After about 10-12 minutes, the unhappy driver climbs back into the van with a piece of paper, which I assume is a ticket for something. But the Hajji is now missing. The man in the front seat approaches the restaurant yelling, “Hajji, Hajji.” Soon she emerges with her little bag of food and climbs back into the waiting van of frustrated passengers.

We are off again. Some 10 minutes later, the Hajji pulls her shawarma sandwich from her little bag and offers me the first bite. I decline gracefully (I hope) and point to my own bag, indicating that I too have a sandwich. She smiles, nods and takes a bite. I retrieve my sandwich from my bag and do the same. As we eat, we share conversation ~ a bit of English on her part, very little Arabic on my part, and lots of hand gestures. Before long she is writing her name in my little notebook and inviting me to her home, which it turns out is in the neighborhood next to mine.

Shared Transportation ~ Hebron Photo Credit: Jan

Shared Transportation ~ Hebron
Photo Credit: Jan

The time has passed quickly and the van has reached the small village which is her destination. With a big smile and a pat on my knee, she wraps the remainder of her sandwich, gathers up her various bags and is gone ~ her final words are: “You come to my home.” As I finish my sandwich, I reflect on the richness of my morning experience with the Hajji ~ A complete stranger offers me the first bite of her sandwich and invites me to her home ~ I wonder if this would ever happen in our western insular society ~ I ponder the real meaning of what it is to welcome the stranger.

In the texts of our tradition, we are reminded: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for in so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it…” However, today I sense it was I, the stranger, who experienced the angel. Thank you, Hajji, for this lesson in true hospitality.

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14 Responses to The Hospitality of a Stranger

  1. Virginia Sauve says:

    Thanks, Dawn, for a beautiful flower in the desert of despair. A wise Hajji shows us hope. There is much to ponder in your story.

  2. Pam Patten says:

    A poignant reminder that small things are big things.

  3. Joan Tinkess says:

    Thank you, Dawn. I am thinking to myself, “How like Latin America!” The same camaraderie of strangers thrown together for for a short time, able to bond, to share, to tell jokes. And then, “you come to my home.” Would we ever do that in North America?
    Thanks for enriching my afternoon, my friend. Be well.
    “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

  4. Carol and Pam says:

    Dawn, thank you for the story on the hajji! It was great to share through your eyes and words; it was such an interesting experience! We felt we were there.

  5. Shelagh says:

    Hospitality like love requires both a giver and receiver. If either is missing, the circle is incomplete. I am deeply moved by your story and cherish the gifted moments you share that will be the foundation for new tomorrows.
    You are amazing grace.

  6. Margaret Hetherington says:

    It is like a breath of fresh air to hear of your rich encounter with this generous and friendly woman.
    No doubt she felt like she had had a similar visit of kindness and respect from/with you.
    Take care. Hugs to you both.

  7. Tanis Eaker says:

    It may surprise you, but I often find the people in the inner-city, especially the older ones, to be a great deal like this. They greet me and ask how I am, when I’m thinking I should wonder how they are, as some do not have good health and some not even a home they could invite me too. On one occasion some years ago, a middle aged homeless man I knew called to me as I left to go home, “I love you.” We find wonderful strangers everywhere if we are only open to them!

  8. Marilyn Blackall says:

    Hi, Dawn,
    What a beautiful encounter for both of you. Would that such a story weren’t so ‘unique’ in our world!
    Hugs from Peter and Marilyn

  9. sherry ann says:

    Dear Dawn,
    I love how you have described service travel. So true, so true… and with the added benefit to readers of experiencing your openness in the world and to companions along the way…
    with deep gratitude,
    Sherry Ann

  10. sharonmcb says:

    Thank you, Hajji. Thank you, Dawn. Two open hearts found each other. Namaste.

  11. Anne Loewan says:

    Hello Dawn,
    I loved your story. There is so much kindness and generosity, especially among the poor. Your story reminds me of my visit to a village in Nepal, where a stranger called me into her tent home and fed me. I left the village no longer seeing the poverty, but the generosity. We can learn from those with little to give but an open generous heart. May you often meet the angels among us.

  12. Rosemarie says:

    Transportation: Eat your heart out, Uber! I particularly liked the evidence that other passengers looked out for the woman still in the eatery.

  13. Stella says:

    My eyes filled with tears as I thought about the Hajji offering the little she had. Such kindness. But I know she sensed the kindness in your heart too.

  14. Peter Larson says:

    little acts of kindness. So different from the image we have here in Canada. Thanks, Dawn.

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