A uniformed military officer is approaching me quickly in the Jeddah, Saudi Arabia airport thrusting an A-4 envelope in the air and speaking way more Arabic than Rosetta Stone has managed to teach me so far. Our local agent is gesturing at me, but I can’t quite make out why. I stand my ground and try to keep my cool. I notice his weapon is holstered, his beret is pretty cool looking, and he is sweating in the 72 air conditioning.
Twelve hours later, I am in a London café having tea and shisha with a new friend named Ahmed, and the smile in the photo pretty much says it all.
What was said and done in the interim says a lot for what I have come to believe in about our world and its people. Basically, the message is this: if people are willing to do a teaspoon of good when they can, one day, quite unexpectedly, the scale will tip the right way. Here’s the rest of the teaspoon?
Mohammed was an Air Force officer, but I chose not to ask him why he was here. He asked the first question, and in the interest of time I’ll use the kings English instead of trying to re-create the pigeon Arabic/English/hand gestures we were using. Will you take this envelope to London with you? Oh boy. Heathrow hasn’t exactly been on low threat level lately. And I’m walking in with what? Well, turns out these were the passports for a small young family. Saudi law requires a woman to be accompanied by a man to enter the country, or prove she is a family member. So, if she comes to visit for the holidays before he does she must bring his passport with him. Problem is, if dad wants to follow before fedex can deliver, he’s outta luck.
So, on the spot, as the last passenger to board the flight for London I had to make the call. My downside appeared to be some punishment for bringing passports into London. Or worse, demonstrating my lack of trust in plain view of a local business associate when one of his countrymen was in need. It had to boil down to the simplest base terms: do a teaspoon of good or turn my back.
My actions would likely shocked 99% of Saudis (that I would even bother) and 99.9% of Americans (that I would have the guts), but amidst all the noisy conflicts covered so completely by the media on our shrinking globe, it’s the people that make peace. And personally, the best way to prove that to yourself is to go meet a few. Spending a few minutes with Ahmed seemed to prove that rule once again.
Note: Many of you know of our journey through the Middle East in April, and some know of our plans to return and expand the franchise of what we have learned (or been taught) there.