Middle Eastern Hospitality by Caroline Muir
I was married on 13th August 1966 and one week later went with my husband to Lebanon, where he was learning Arabic at MECAS. I was 21 and had no actual knowledge of the Middle East at that point, but I had heard of the famous Arab hospitality.
My husband had completed the Intermediate Arabic course prior to our marriage and was on the Advanced course and I joined the Intermediate course. At MECAS at that time, students were sent off in November to gain some real experience of speaking Arabic in Lebanon and the surrounding countries and we decided to drive through Syria to Jerusalem (still a divided city then).
We had the most marvellous time for ten days and then we headed back to Shemlan. My husband adored our LandRover, but it was pretty ancient and after passing through the border into Syria at Deraa, we came to a grinding halt a few miles further on. It was around 8.00pm at this point and I had resigned myself to a night at the roadside, when a couple of hours later, a very kind Jordanian lorry driver stopped and insisted on towing us back into the town of Deraa and dropped us off at a garage he knew and introduced to the garage owner.
It was a bearing that had gone in a LandRover and we were told that it could be fixed first thing in the morning, but not that night. “But where is there somewhere to stay?” we asked. “Oh, you can stay here” was the answer. Our hosts were not well-off, but we were given the owner and his wife’s bedroom and my husband was taken off with the men. My hostess got all her girl-friends over and we had a wonderful “girl’s night”; thankfully all spoke some French and one of the friends was an English teacher, since my Arabic was very much at the embryo stage (it has improved a bit since). But in a mixture of languages we talked about everything from birth-control to the problems of marriage, children and, of course, men.
They were truly wonderful and seldom have I felt such warmth and had such generosity of spirit as on that occasion. Over the years I have come to meet and experience many examples of hospitality from many sources in the Arab world, but that first experience will always be something very special.
Caroline Muir is a former member of the Arab British Centre Board of Trustees. She served from March 2009 to September 2011.