Friday, September 11, 2009

Oviedo part deux - a lesson in receiving: say yes to everything!

Waseeem hadn't eaten all day (no surprise there as it was Ramadan) so we went our merry and inexorable way towards a kebab eatery, arriving coincidentally at about 9pm when the fast could be broken again as the sun burned its way down the vast skewer of the sky!
And how the the meat was burning in the kebab shop, admirable little beauties, two sizzling legs turning in front of the hot lamps, enough to make a grown man blush and we were ogling them like hungry children. But we were to be going upstairs to eat because Shahid, the haltingly kind owner, had invited the two of us along with Katrina and Xavier to come and dine with him after we had come to buy a kebab the previous night and he had noticed we were travellers and so had decided to help us.
Conscientious and attentive, he brought out a lovingly prepared spread in the mirror-clad dining room part of the restaurant, separate from the paying guests. Chicken mixed in with rice, a curry sauce, spicy chapatis, hot bread fresh from the grill and a fresh olive tomato and onion salad. There were inexhaustible quantities, even for five of us, and we were well fed indeed by the time of the dessert, a scrumptious trifle with cream topping decorated with pistachio nuts and a red jelly heart in its centre (which we photographed!). We enjoyed talking to him, he was quietly spoken and was happy to talk with us despite the demands of the restaurant below. Interestingly, the mark on his forehead, Waseem related, was actually caused as is so common by the observance of the 5-a-day praying regimen of being a Muslim. It is also true that a Muslim should be on the look out for people to help, especially during Ramadan, doing a good deed such as this being grace enough to enter heaven, which partially explains Shahid's eagerness to help. The meal was very generous, and we were very grateful come the end of a well-fed and well-rounded (in more ways than one!) evening, and happy to have met and spoke with a thoroughly nice man too. But as we were leaving he asked us if he could pay for mine and Waseem's passage to San Sebastien, at the cost of at least 20 euros each, which Waseem unfortunately turned down. I thought this wrong, and I will explain why.
Firstly, it disappointed Shahid, the feeling being we were less than "family" and this is not a good feeling, as by his gesture he was including us in some way in his family, religious, human or otherwise. Secondly, it would have been very useful to us, as we needed the money, were tired and hitchhiking was a difficult thing to do in Spain. Thirdly, we would have learned the very valuable lesson of accepting a quite incredible gift from a stranger, setting as it does a precedent for our own lives such that we would never be able to be stingy again. This act would have made us better people, had we let its thundering import of staggering cash value thud down into our lives, such that in similar situations ourselves as Shahid we would be a lot more likely to do as he did. True, the meal was very generous, and a very good thing to offer but accepting this gift made us better people too, and if we had refused, it is possible that that act would have even made us worse people. So for us, it was in fact an opportunity to receive those tickets, as we would have become better people and would would have contributed more to the world I feel.
So we left and Shahid kindly inviting us back the next night for kebabs (again on the house) we accepted, but the next evening after eating we went to say goodbye and, you'll never guess what happened, but Katrina and Xavier insisted on paying! I am prepared to say that when I brought out the money from my wallet I felt ashamed to hand it over. The whole point was that he was giving us something for nothing, and I for one would certainly not have come back to buy a kebab on that evening (I was a bit fed up with them to be honest and also, we had been there the last two nights! I wasn't about to just drop in now was I?), so the whole experience took on a most weird and unwholesome (for the soul) aspect of actually "paying the man back" for his generosity. Payment! We may as well have given him a tip too for his kindness the night before, and perhaps a few extra euros for the offer of the bus tickets, and then done the washing up too perhaps like the little Famous Five characters we really were. "Thanks awfully!" we would have trilled, "You've been such a sport!" Nevermind. At least I learned something from the experience. In the past it would have been me eager to recompense (disgusting word in the circumstance) our benefactor. It reminds me of something I once read, a critique of the ethos of Reciprocal Pity, where you look to do good to those who are lacking and who then, seeing you lacking what you have just lost (through giving it to them) then almost queue up to do good right back to you. The odiousness of this system is there ends up being a demand upon the world to recompense the giver, even especially the people you think you have had done a favour to who end up eager to harm their resources a to give it all back to you. Maybe you didn't even want it!
This shouldn't be so, people should give freely and irrespective of the person's losses and though it is then less predictable when (and who!) you receive good back from, at least giving can remain in the realm of good feeling and loving kindness and not in the rule book, and with more genuine goodness in the world, you get your return that way too anyway! And my golden rule: if someone offers you something, say yes. Yes to everything! That way you might even end up in a fix, accepting so much from someone one day that you will be forced to live by their example and won't be able to hold up your head in life ever again if you let chances go by to give things out and be good to people.

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