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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Little Story on the Lighter Side

Enough politics!

I think I need to get outside into the fresh winter air, take some deep breaths, look at the stars and realize how small and insignificant we all are... meanwhile a little story.

Years ago I was living in Khartoum, Sudan (working for the Red Cross/Red Crescent). I went for a meandering walk one afternoon - a hot, dusty, dry afternoon (like every other afternoon). As I wandered away from the Nile into a jumbled neighborhood of mud walls and small square mud homes, I was drawn up the street to what looked like a gray tent, flapping in the hot breeze just next to the hard-packed road.

When I reached it, I leaned over, pulled back the cover and peeked in (it was a cloth tarp over sticks). There looking back up at me was a tiny, wizened woman. She had few teeth in her mouth and even fewer possessions in her tent. I felt rude and backed away, until she spoke in Arabic and waved me back.

To make it a shorter story I'll tell you that she sat me on a paving stone, put her small pot on a charcoal stove and made tea for us. We sat together for a long time, sipping tea and just being... with no words (I only spoke 10 words of Arabic). I felt like I was with everyone's grandmother.

As I left, I tried to give her some Sudanese pounds, out of concern and to thank her. She waved her small hand at me in a univeral way that said, "No way! You'll just upset me if you keep waving that money at me." I went back quickly, squeezed her hand and headed off to find my way home.

Just a moment in time. Now I'm going outside...

What a heart-warming story Gary. It's strange where one finds humanity.
Yes, Gary, yes! Like Dimitri in India. I felt much the same in n. Africa. People so incredibly poor, yet once they accepted you were so very hospitable and giving. Rich and poor alike, I found them to be siblings in our human family. Nationality, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status - all fell away and were immaterial; we were all just folks.Sitting on a faded rug spread on a hard packed dirt floor in a tiny hut, drinking sweet mint tea from a small glass cup, with a donkey, chickens and a horde of giggling children by the door. Or entertained in a luxurious home of a banker plied with enough delicacies to feed Lee's army, it was all the same. Just People, fellows in the earth's mass of humanity. We reached out and touched each other as brothers.
that's a fine story - and well told too.

isn't that a muslim tradition, Gary - to always welcome a stranger into your home? it's the one side of islam that doesn't get the publicity.
An lovely story of the warmth and friendliness of the Sudanese.
wonderful story!
Try and come in contact with a Norwegian in that way, and he/she would give you a look of death and call the cops on you. I'd rather live in Sudan then actually...
Lovely story. I wonder if climate has a strong influence on personal boundaries? You'd know, Gary, being a traveller - are people in warm climates more open that northerners?
That was lovely..

Good comments all! Madcapmum - I don't know who has studied it or not, but my impression is that people in warmer climates are 'warmer' people too. This isn't just in the poorer places where people learn to live with almost no personal boundaries (because of poverty, crowding and family closeness). It's also true of Italy and Spain (for me). Maybe less housing, more outdoors time, less clothing... all add up to more closeness.

Ian, I'm not an expert on Islamic culture, but I know that politeness and generosity are greatly valued. In Sudan, during Ramadan, the old tradition of everyone being welcome at every table was still in effect. That meant that at dusk when the first meal of the day was served, many people set their tables right on the sidewalk or street and anyone else (including me several times) could join in. Even wealthy people were doing this and quite poor people were joining the 'picnic'.

Worried American - I love your phrase 'siblings in our human family'.
If you have some spare time left I would really like to know more on your Monastic period Gary. Where, why, why no longer and what is left of that period.. (if you don't mind my impertinence:-)
What Dimitri said, me too.
Dimitri and Madcapmum, maybe I'll do a longer post for this question, but here's the brief answer:

In my early 20's I felt a deep desire (thirst) to find the truth. It was visceral and really drove me to experiment and explore. I studied philosophy; read like a madman; travelled the world; studied the bible, went to the Holy Land and followed Jesus footsteps; lived in a Kibbutz and studied Judaism; explored the Bahai faith; read about Buddha and met monks; and went to see any spiritual speaker I could.

At one point I met a young teacher from India (in Colorado at the time). I was very moved by his words and the feeling I got when around him. I began to follow him and was eventually taught to meditate. I followed him to India. After some time there, I asked to live an ashram (monastic live).

I then spent almost 10 years living a spiritual life, that involved hours of meditation a day; spritual discourses (meetings where people spoke of their experience of truth) and daily service. I lived in India, N. America, France and Italy during that time. I became an 'initiator' or mahatma and travelled around the world teaching and meditating.

At one point I felt compelled to leave and live a more normal life ... I met my wife, moved into the 'world' of employment, mortgages and all... and had two children.

Now? I still meditate and feel that that phase of my life has shaped me greatly. I'm a great believe of experience over ideas or beliefs and I'm convinced that peace, understanding and enlightenment are within each of us.

There's a lot more to share, but there's the brief version!
You story gave me goosepimples and I think this is quotable..

"I'm a great believe of experience over ideas or beliefs and I'm convinced that peace, understanding and enlightenment are within each of us."

I could easily start a Gary's quote page! There is so much you say that I hold onto!
I second that Arulba.
Thank you so much for sharing this, Gary. You never stop amazing me.
Gary, a compassionate globetrotter..

That was so interesting Gary and perhaps somewhat unusual to start looking for the truth and then become more materialistic. Could be a hole new path to enlightment:-)

Did age or even better, experience stop you from looking further or did you find it?
Gary, I enjoyed your stories very much. Such an inspiring life you've lead! (It makes me want to delete all my silly posts ;)). I hope we'll hear more about your travels and the insight you've gained (and will, hopefully, share).
I will communcate with you later.
Wonderful snapshot of a precious moment in your life. Thanks for sharing it.

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