The last place Roshan took us was to the tomb of a man who is important in the Sufi tradition of Islam. People come to visit his tomb, walking around it counter clockwise three times, touching it and praying. There is a Mosque there as well, and people come to the mosque particularly on Fridays for prayer and community fellowship.
Roshan led us behind the mosque where he explained that people came with food to share. Everything was communal and free of charge. Massive cauldrons were set up over fires. In one cauldron, an incredible quantity of lamb was being cooked. In another, chicken. There were well over twenty such cauldrons. Not all were in use, but it was clear that hundreds of people could easily be fed if they were all in use.
I passed a cauldron filled with chicken and rice. The woman tending the cauldron asked Roshan something. He turned to me and asked, “Would you like some food?” My stomach immediately started growling. Yes, I would like some food!
I had expected to be given a small portion, a taste. However, a large bowl was procured for me and a mound of rice, chicken, and vegetables was heaped inside! A spoon was placed in my hand and I tucked in. It was delicious!
I said that I wanted to move into the shade as the noonday sun was starting to take its toll on me. We moved over to a long shady walkway where women and children sat on ornate blankets, eating and talking. Anitha and Shandani were invited to join the women, and I found a small corner as well (the men were off on their own, talking and generally avoiding being with the women and children). We were given watermelon, another type of melon, water, and soft drinks. The women and children laughed and took photos with Anitha and Shandani. The children took turns shaking my hand and saying, “Hello.”
When we stood up to leave, the children presented us with knotted pieces of muslin cloth. It was explained to us that this was a good luck charm and would help us on our journey.
The remarkable aspect of this was how it occurred at just the right moment. I was completely out of cash. The bank machines were giving me grief and I was flat broke. I was able to exchange my last $10 USD for enough Manat to buy a tank of gas. There would be no lunch for me. No stopping for a snack. But here, in the back of a mosque on a random Saturday, I was given exactly what I needed.
Such kindness and generosity with strangers has been the hallmark of this trip so far. Time after time people have opened their homes, their cars, their cell phones, and their lives to me. I am humbled by the genuine good will I have been shown. Would any of this happen back home?