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“We’re going to kill the goat now. Bring your family and come eat” said the man in the parking lot as he motioned to the bleating animal in the back of his truck. Andrew looked over at me with a puzzled look not quite sure what to say.
We had met these men just minutes earlier in the parking lot when they were attracted to our crew of little red-headed Americans and wanted to take pictures with the kids. I was busy in the car whipping out our road-trip staple of PB&J, hoping to get them done before one of the younger ones slipped into a hunger induced meltdown.
Andrew fumbled through an excuse about us already making lunch and still needing to see a few things here to finally convince the men that we really wouldn’t be joining them.
He popped his head in the car to tell me about his exchange.
“WHAT”, I screamed. “They offered to kill a goat with us and you turned it down? Next time someone does that, you have to say YES”. He laughed at me, but knew that this was an experience that I was dying to have, and it was laced with jealousy since Andrew and the boys had been invited to do a similar meal later this month (but without the women).
As we munched on our peanut butter sandwiches and played in the dirt, I couldn’t help but be disappointed at the offer that had passed us by. I was convinced that we would never have a chance like that again. Little did I know, 5 minutes later an even better one would come along…
“Bring your family out to our farm” said the friendly man we’d been chatting with for a few minutes. “We’ll give you a tour and then you can join us for a meal – we’re having a party.”
At this point, things could have gone one of two ways. We could have politely declined and hurried on our way, or we could take this chance to embrace where we were and experience something that can’t be bought or fabricated – a human connection to a culture.
And so with a grin on his face, Andrew gladly accepted his offer while I tried my best to politely smile and hold back the fist pump and shout that were welling up inside of me.
What were we thinking? Here we are in the middle of Saudi Arabia, and three guys ask us to go back with them to their farm with our kids, and we actually went?
You see, this is exactly how cultural experiences are created, borders are broken down and humanity is shared.
But we didn’t even know them.
True. We might have been crazy, but we had a good feeling about this one and by being here a year, you learn that the western media picture of a Saudi Muslim may not be all that accurate.
Far from the Western stereotype, these were some of the kindest people we’d ever met.
As soon as we got out to the farm, were were immediately introduced to their friends and given some snacks and drinks. An hour long tour of the farm followed where we learned all about date and citrus farming in the middle of the desert. They told us all about growing up in Saudi and we indulged them with tales of America. It was like we’d been friends for years.
You see, back in the United States, if I were having a party, I would usually be so focused on the preparation that the last thing on my mind would be extra guests. There is not a chance in the world that I would invite a family of complete strangers to join us. Furthermore, I wouldn’t completely ignore my guests and spend my whole time with these “strangers”.
Yet that is exactly what they did.
Their smiles and charm instantly won over the kids and it was a simply perfect afternoon full of simplicity, laughter and new friends.
After all the guests had arrived (about 25 in all), we joined the hosts for a traditional meal of rice and leg of lamb (you can even see the foot on the leg Mason is gnawing on). We were the strangers, yet we were treated like family. Welcomed like royalty and invited to experience their life, their goodness, and remember that we’re all just human beings, in this big great world together.
These are the experiences that we dream of giving our kids, because at the heart of it, this is what travel and adventure is all about. The experience to step out of your comfort zone and to see life differently. Because by seeing all the things that make us so different, we come to realize that we’re really all the same.