By Robb Davis
One: A dying village on the edge of the Sahara. We arrive late in the day to assess the nutritional status of children. The village well is drying up. They will have to leave soon. They offer us tea. The village is devoid of animals… except for one chicken. They ask “Do you eat chicken?” We say “No… please. We do not eat chicken.” They slaughter the bird—the last. We eat with our heads hung low: honored guests feeling the burden of that honor.
Two: A street outside the airport in Islamabad. My UN flight diverted from Peshawar on my way out of Mazar Esharif. Ill from the effects of the harsh winter on the steppes leading to Uzbekistan. I am lost, with no idea how to get “home.” He approaches and offers help. He takes my hand, hails a taxi, ushers me in, rides with me chatting about the City. Miles across town—a place I could not have found—he places me on a bus. Pays the taxi and the bus fare, and tells the bus driver where to drop me in Peshawar. We hug in parting and never meet again.
Three: A Masjid in Davis, CA. Children play outside in the Ramadan night. A car approaches, and tosses sheets of a torn up Qur’an at their feet. His/her face is not known. The car is not identified. The children rush to tell their parents and they shake their heads in sad wonder at the purpose of such an act.
One: I learned of hospitality in places deep within the “Muslim world.” I could multiply these vignettes by dozens and they would only scratch the surface of how my life was altered as I learned that hospitality is not merely a cup of tea or a meal shared, but rather the opening of one’s heart to the stranger. I can never be the same for having experienced that kind of hospitality. My only hope is that I can offer the same.
Two: A hate incident is the opposite of hospitality. It is the closing of a heart. It is saying: “You are not welcome here. Your kind has no place here.” When it occurs we see those at whom it is directed made to feel unwelcome. We see them doubt their place among us. We see them shrink back into the shadows.
We sit behind the masjid after prayers as Ramadan comes to an end. We share a simple meal. We come together to challenge the hate by acts of mutual hospitality. I say “You are welcome here” (such a small gesture). They serve me food. We are human together. My interlocutors are from Kazakhstan, the Kurdish region of Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Lebanon, Pakistan, and the United States. There is no rush. There are many smiles. And as the cool evening flows through us I wonder whether we can all agree to counter the hate via the day to day opening of our hearts; with the quotidian sharing of ourselves; with the dispensing of the kind of hospitality I was blessed to receive over all those years in all those places.
Robb Davis is the Mayor of Davis