The next day was a full and long one. It began by meeting the dean and faculty of the department of medicine at a research conference, where they seated me in the front row along with faculty. I still had on the wrinkled polo shirt and faded, torn jeans on that I had slept in the plane with the previous night. I wanted to explain the situation, but there was no time for that. Everyone else was dressed immaculately in white robes and head coverings. The conference began immediately, most of it in Arabic. I sat there rather uncomfortable, pretty sure that I was not making much of a first impression and not a clue on how I should be acting. At the conference I met a colleague who had previously communicated with me by e-mail and had been assigned to arrange my schedule while there. She was warm and kind, seeming to understand what I was going through.
After the conference, I went back to the hotel, with immediate plans to contact the airport and find out any news about my luggage. Unfortunately, no one answered the phone at the baggage claim office, requiring that I drive back to the airport and ask about it in person. I prayed all the way in the cab that my luggage was there. When I got to the airport, however, no luggage. I was so disappointed. The next day I would have to give a presentation to the medical students and meet other faculty, who would decide whether or not to work with me. I would have to wear the same polo shirt and jeans. The cab driver took me back to the hotel. He was gracious enough, however, to drive me to a general store and wait for me to purchase a couple shirts, a pair of pants, and socks. When I got back to the hotel, however, nothing fit! The kindness of everyone I met helped to dampen the anguish I felt about the probable loss of my luggage and the humiliation I would experience the next day, again. I was not in a good mental state. It would be a long three weeks, and the journey had just begun.
Early that evening, however, I got a call from the colleague I met earlier that day at the research conference. She asked me about my luggage. I told her it had not arrived. She said that she had a doctor’s appointment latter that evening, unable to see the doctor during the day due to her busy clinic schedule, yet having to be seen because she had just learned that she was about 3 months pregnant. After her doctor’s appointment, she promised to go shopping for me. I felt bad about agreeing to her generous offer after her full day at work and doctor’s appointment, but I didn’t know anyone else, was in a wheelchair, with no transportation in a frightfully foreign country. I was desperate and so thanked her profusely. At 11:30 that night she arrived with two complete men’s suits, three shirts, and an assortment of fruits, bread, cheese, and even a pair of swimming trunks (knowing that the hotel had a pool that I might enjoy). She refused to take a single penny for all that she had bought. It is an understatement to say I was overwhelmed.
I’ve been in Jeddah now for 2 weeks. After one week, my luggage finally arrived. My initial impression and fears of what I would encounter here have taken a complete turn.
After interacting with a wide range of Muslims in the airport, staff at the hotel where I’m staying, university staff, medical and nursing students, and faculty in medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry, I now have a different impression. What is responsible for this turnaround? In the past two weeks, I have gotten to know a people who are not only kind and generous to a foreigner (and one of the worst kind — a Christian American), but who have gone out of their way to help, sometimes even at considerable personal expense.