I don’t like hot drinks. If I want to drink something, I do not want to sip it cautiously – knowing that any sudden move could spell ruin for my previously capable taste buds. It is true that I could let the drink cool, but by the time it is drinkable, I could have already lost interest. Why make life more complicated?
Last year as I traveled throughout the Middle East, I was frequently offered hot tea or coffee. Even though I was dreading the actual beverage, the smile on the face of my host begged for my acceptance and I didn’t want to be culturally insensitive. And while I never grew to appreciate the flavor (especially of coffee), I did grow to appreciate the hospitality.
This year, as I transfer luggage from guesthouse to guesthouse on the Jesus Trail, my own constructs of hospitality have been eternally challenged. Specifically, the family that owns the guesthouse in Cana has unknowingly showed me deeper meaning behind scalding hot, flavored water. Almost without fail, I am offered tea or coffee (from a small cup that reads “Happy Serving You”) and some sort of cake whenever I stop in to pick up or drop off luggage. At first, I assumed this was merely a cultural banality bordering on compulsory. However, as I spend more and more time accepting their hospitality, I find it more and more genuine. Saud may be busy preparing a meal for 10 people or more that evening, but it never seems that she is too busy to not sit with me as I try to hide how scared I am of burning myself on the drink. And as we talk, her with limited English, and me with even more limited Arabic, all of our cultural differences, perceptions and misconceptions seem to disappear. All that remains is people.
I also experience similar hospitality at all the guesthouses on the Jesus Trail. Hospitality is a medium by which we deconstruct whatever preconceived notions our own culture, media, theology, or ideology projects on us. It is at this point that we are no longer Arab, Jew, American, Swiss, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, poor, rich, conservative, liberal, etc.; we are only and commonly human.
So, now when I am offered a hot drink, I like to think of it as an extended invitation to share stories – to realize that we are more similar than different. And, because I am terrified of burning my tongue, I also like to pretend that my host finds me particularly interesting because it takes me twice as long to finish my tea.