Drink Tea?

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Bare rocks tower on either side of the dry stream bed as my husband and I hike through Wadi Dana, a Jordanian nature reserve. Clusters of reeds demonstrate here and there the presence of nearly-hidden water. 

A few hours into our hike, two Bedouin men wave us from our path with the words, "Drink tea?" Their donkeys tied nearby were laden with produce to sell in town.

The men boil their traditional Jordanian sweet tea over a tiny fire. We crouch around the fire with them. Their simple invitation to share tea opens into conversation about family, the beautiful mountains and plans for the day. Their English does not extend much beyond the two-word invitation, but they seem not to mind that our Arabic requires plenty of gesturing and signing to be understood.

Parting ways and hiking on, I wonder about the message communicated in their simple invitation. With our backpacks and hiking gear, we stand out as foreigners in their territory. 

Just smiling as we walked past would have been a sufficient greeting. Instead, their invitation to share their provisions makes us feel very welcome in a new place. As we pass the tents typical of the nomadic Bedouin shepherds who live in Jordan's rural areas, in the hours to follow we receive many invitations to drink tea.

The traditions of hospitality developed in a hostile desert environment are part of Jordanian culture today. Walking down the streets of our city neighborhood, it's not unusual to have strangers invite us in for tea. We have learned to only accept if we have no immediate plans—conversation over tea often lasts more than an hour!

Coming from an American culture where inviting strangers from the street into your home is nearly unheard of, the hospitality found here has deeply impressed us. It reminds me of the story of the patriarch Abraham who, when visited by three men (actually "the Word" who was later born as Jesus Christ, and two angels), promises a "morsel of bread," then calls for his servants to prepare an extravagant meal (Genesis 18:1-22). That is hospitality! 

Are these biblical examples practical today? In returning the many friendly Jordanian welcomes here the past few months, we have found many simple ways to show hospitality to those around us.

  1. Bring homemade "goodies" to your neighbors. Food is the easiest way to start a friendship.
  2. Greet the neighbor children. Building a snowman together might be the highlight of their week.
  3. Spend time with the older people around you. We "adopted" a couple on our street as our local grandparents. Their stories of times past offer a unique perspective on local history.
  4. Speak with people on public transportation. We met one of our good friends here on a bus to his home village. The conversation continued to his family's fruit trees and ended with the first of many invitations to his home.
  5. Carry a set of pictures with you that show your family and scenery around your home, especially if you are working or studying far away. Pictures bridge language barriers.

Any of these small gestures of hospitality can be a part of our daily tasks to love our neighbors as ourselves. Take time to read The Welcome Guest from the Vertical Thought archives, and add a new phrase to your repertoire: Drink tea? VT