A feast from a stranger

Here's a happy story for Christmas week.

Earlier this month when we went camping, we were driving in a convoy through a dry wadi bed toward the campsite with four or five other families (there were 30 of us in all). At one point, we got passed by a local driving his own car, accompanied by his wife and a few kids, and we paused to ask him directions. He confirmed that we were going the right way, and then invited us to dinner at his house.

Jeremy responded, "but there are 30 of us!" The Emirati's wife laughed and said, "our house is big!"

Since we were already on our way camping, we said we'd come to lunch the next day instead. "Only" 22 of us could make it, so we rumbled back down the mountain in our convoy the next afternoon and showed up at this Emirati family's house for lunch.

They had a little over 12 hours' notice that we were coming. They live in a tiny not-even-a-village at the base of a remote mountain range. There is no Carrefour there, no restaurant, no roastery, nothing. But this man killed a few lambs and had them cooked up for us, and then rustled up (we still don't know from where) an accompanying spread of rice, chicken, fruits, and cakes. It would have been impressive even if they'd had plenty of notice and fewer of us visiting. The fact that it was very last-minute and there were 22 of us - WELL.

As we ate, we laughed self-deprecatingly at how Western hospitality just cannot compare with what we were experiencing here in the UAE. We joked about what kind of spread we would be able to offer to 22 people on 12 hours' notice - bowls of cereal, or the half-bottle of Sprite sitting in the fridge, or some combination of the tomato paste and onions that always seem to stick around when you've run out of everything else. Certainly not freshly slaughtered lamb on a bed of deliciously seasoned rice and chicken.

They also introduced us to their seven children and gave us a tour of the house. It was beautiful. However, when they found out that Jeremy, as the husband/father of the family, had allowed me and the baby to drive down the mountain in the middle of the night, they almost took away his man card on the spot. They insisted that in future, I was welcome to their guest room. The lovely part is, I know that they really mean it.

And that's the story of how an Emirati family in a small village opened up their house to almost two dozen strangers and fed them a feast on barely 12 hours' notice!

Merry Christmas from Downton Abbey

IHOP and Cheerios