In this week's Writers Wednesday Blog Linda VanLaan reflects on the hospitality of Arabic culture

With Qatar currently hosting the 2022 World Cup, there have been numerous reports about what it is like to live there. Do you wonder? Do you have images of life in the Middle East? What’s it like to live in a monarchy? How about a place where Islam is the dominant religion? Are women treated well?
I am an unmarried single Christian American woman who has lived and worked in the Middle East since 2007, with the last eight years in Qatar. My first connection with this region was in 2006, when I accepted a job as an English teacher in Ramallah, Palestine. It was my first experience working with Arab groups, and I immediately was drawn to the warmth, kindness, and generosity of their culture. Arabic hospitality is famous around the world, and I felt lucky to be surrounded by it. As a result, I started looking for other education jobs in the Middle East, because I longed to stay in the Arabic culture. That search lead to numerous jobs throughout the Persian Gulf in the education field. In all these jobs I have worked with Arabs, daily experiencing their kindness and hospitality.

A recent experience reminded me why I enjoy living in this part of the world. I drive an older vehicle that needs repairing from time to time. I hate car repairs in my home country, and they are even more problematic for me in Qatar. Finding an English-speaking mechanic is challenging, and negotiating the cost of the repair is a skill outside of my comfort zone. While driving through a construction site last month, I damaged the underside front of my car, resulting in some plastic pieces hanging down and dragging on the street. I wanted the mechanic to just remove the loose plastic, but since our communication was limited, he chose to re-fasten the plastic with wires. It worked for a few weeks, but last week while driving I heard the plastic dragging. I was a single woman alone. It was hot outside (approximately 40 degrees C). I was not near a garage. I stopped my car and pondered what to do.

At this moment, the lovely Arabic culture appeared in the form of a young man of about 20 years old. I had stopped my car outside his home, and he had heard the plastic dragging. He could have just ignored me, or just watched to see what I would do, but he chose to approach me and offer to help. When I got out of my car to show him the problem, he insisted that I stay in the car. After surveying the situation, he went in his house and fetched his father and brother, who appeared with a toolbox, a bottle of water for me, and some snacks. These were local Qatari men wearing their freshly laundered, pressed, and spotless white thobes, which are the white robes worn by men all over the Middle East. I really didn’t want them doing car repairs in these clothes. Qatari men are fussy about cleanliness and will carry extra thobes in their cars in case one gets a stain. When I expressed my concern, they shooed me back in the car, and I obeyed. A few minutes later…. Voila! The loose plastic was removed. Yay! Exactly what I wanted!

What a blessing to experience the warmth of the Arabic culture yet again in my life, this time coming from some caring Qatari gentlemen who saw a lady in need and moved to help her! As we were parting and I was expressing my thanks, they told me to remember where they live, and be sure to stop again if I need anything. They were sincere. A few days later I was out walking in the neighbourhood and passed by their home. They were outside and saw me. I heard them calling, so I stopped, and we had another pleasant interaction where they asked friendly questions about where I’m from and where I work, and if I needed anything. What lovely people! This is the Arabic hospitality that I know and love. I hope you find this same kindness in your life. The world needs more loving actions. Let’s take inspiration from the Qatari gentlemen and work on both giving and receiving hospitality at every opportunity.

About the Author

Linda VanLaan is an international educational leader with twenty years of teaching experience in the United States and fifteen years of school leadership experience, primarily in the Middle East. She has served as a School Principal, Educational Consultant, Trainer, and Advisor in seven different countries, where her passion for teaching and learning has impacted both children and adults. She has a deep understanding of and appreciation for Arabic culture, and is an excellent tour guide.