Anyone who’s travelled in the Middle East seems to come back with tales of the legendary hospitality that is engrained in the Arab and Muslim culture. I experienced this myself several times on my recent visit to Lebanon, especially in those little backstreets where there aren’t so many tourists.
I was visiting the southern city of Sidon, the nearest thing in Lebanon you’ll get to a sleepy seaside town, with a port and a Crusader castle. After visiting the ruined castle by the sea, my friend and I explored the small alleyways of the Souk and settled into a small corner cafe for a lunch of chick-peas, houmous and salad. All was quiet at first in the narrow lane, but as we finished our meal, the Friday prayers finished at the Mosque opposite and all the men came streaming out.
I’d had my eye on the cake seller with his trolley all through my meal and soon my sweet tooth got the better of me and I stood in turn with the others whe were waiting to buy their cakes from the round metal trays. The men standing by motioned to the cake seller to serve me first, and so I pointed to what I wanted to try – a couple of this, three of that, one for now, a few for the journey (I’m just so greedy that way). Uncertain of the cost, I held out a few notes, but he waved them away – ‘it’s God’s money’ he said. So I went away with a bag of free cakes, appreciating that on the holy day of Friday, outside the mosque, he wanted to show me I was especially welcome.
This sort of experience happened so many times – a couple of free biscuits here, a little extra there. It’s one of the reasons why, despite the political uncertainties, a visit to this part of the world can be so rewarding.