An interesting contrast between life in Northern California and Abu Dhabi.
PS Out of interest do sisters think other sisters are weird if they randomly smile at them in passing?
We should all depend on the kindness of strangers
Tala al Ramahi
In less than a month, it will have been two years since I left Northern California to adopt this country as my home, once again. And yet, 23 months after my arrival at Abu Dhabi airport, what I still long for more than that American state’s famous In N’ Out burgers is ... its strangers: those men, women and children who I would walk past during my strolls through town, the bikers I crossed paths with on our 8,180-acre campus, the people on public transport, whether they were student commuters on our campus shuttle or friendly off-campus neighbours taking the CalTrain to San Francisco. I did not know any of their names, but their kindness created a sense of community that somehow made my adopted home have a heart.
Despite being a long way from Abu Dhabi, an 18-hour plane ride away to be exact, the strangers I met during my time in “the Golden State” were friendly, cheerful, thankful and helpful. I remember the first time I tried to hurl my bike onto our campus shuttle’s bike rack: I failed miserably (it’s not as easy as you imagine, trust me). But before this new commuter could even attempt to figure out how to latch one piece of transport on to another, a pair of hands grabbed my bike’s body and swiftly attached it to the bike rack. “There you go, hon,” she said before hopping on the bus after me.
My mother, who was planning to travel to Boston a few years ago without my father, was initially hesitant about the trip because my youngest brother was less than two years old at the time. She couldn’t imagine the inconvenience of having to carry a stroller up and down massive flights of stairs to get to the subway for three weeks.
But she came back describing it as the “easiest” trip of her life because people around her never let her carry the stroller on her own. There was always someone there to help.
I can recall numerous instances of similar random acts of kindness during my three years away as well. In Abu Dhabi, unfortunately, this hasn’t been my experience. Upon my arrival, for instance, I was used to smiling at strangers, a habit I picked up when I was in Palo Alto, California because it was just what you did when you locked eyes with someone as you walked or biked past.
Such acts can make your day more bearable and more joyful. Try it one day and I think you’ll understand.But despite one of Prophet Mohammed’s most revered sayings: “smiling at your brother is a form of charity,” any attempt on my part to smile at people here is rarely reciprocated. Instead, my smile is mistaken as a proposition by many men and just plain weird by most women.
According to a study published in 2001, people who perform random acts of kindness experience what is known as a “helper’s high”, a rush of euphoria followed by a longer period of calm. According to the study’s author, Allan Luks, providing help even in its most basic forms, “enhances feelings of joyfulness, emotional resilience and vigour, and can reduce an unhealthy sense of isolation”.
All it takes is propping a door open for a woman pushing a stroller or stopping and helping someone who is obviously lost. Volunteer in the country’s numerous organisations if you really want to take that high to another level.
We can all definitely work on being more thankful but somehow, “thank you” is not a phrase uttered here very often even when there is nothing easier to say.
A college friend of mine had a target of performing at least one random act of kindness per day, whether it was tipping the barista at our on-campus coffee shop or even donating $400 of unclaimed money she found walking to class one day to a local charity.
The results of the study really ring true when I recall my own experiences in northern California. I never felt alone. Maybe it is about time we create that sense of community by adopting our own targets for kind acts each day.
Pass a smile along. Or at least, reciprocate when poor souls, like myself, attempt to. http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090527/OPINION/705269926/1080