I used to be the warehousing manager for a large company and was in charge of the whole Middle East. I travelled extensively through the region and one trip I took from Dubai to Oman stands out in my mind…
As I bounced along the track, dust churning under my wheels, I spotted an old man walking along with his arm outstretched grasping the shoulder of the boy walking before him. They looked tired, dirty and hot.
I, being the kindly Western man, took pity on them. I stopped my car and in my limited Arabic, invited to take them wherever they needed to go. As I helped the old man in I saw he was blind and noticed his odour: an acrid smell of unwashed, sweaty old man. And for a moment I wondered whether I had made a mistake, inviting these strangers into my car.
Nevertheless, once they were in the boy directed me to their village, much farther and more precarious a journey than I had anticipated, along a steep narrow track that saw my wheels slip off the edge more than once.
Just as I was berating myself for being “too kind” we came to a stop, to a village on the side of the hill. The blind old man stepped out of the car and was immediately surrounded by villagers. With confidence and grace he gave them instructions and the next second I was surrounded by people, smiling and beckoning me to come.
It turns out I had brought home the governor of their province, their Wali. A huge red Persian carpet was lain out on the ground next to the white wall of the Mosque, and a feast of food; Arabic bread, dates, olives was piled around me. They even brought a brown goat for slaughtering.
It made me aware of how I had presumptuously taken pity on this blind man, thinking he was poor and needed my help. Yet he was the provincial ruler, admired and respected by everyone in his village and rightly so, for he showed me such kindness and generosity I left after many hours of festivities, stuffed to the hilt, amazed and humbled.
I think about that day often, especially whenever I catch myself about to pass judgment on another person.