Kendrick warily approached his quarry, eyes wide with anticipation but with understandable trepidation. He was encroaching upon sacred turf: another child’s ice cream cone.
Life’s fears and apprehensions are but ephemeral concepts to a boy of a year and a half – particularly one like Kendrick, who’s been given the gift of constant international travel and has thus learned the value of trust and immersion on foreign soil. The other lad was a Saudi boy of 3, traveling with his dad and burka-clad mom, savoring an icy treat in the warmth of a Marrakesh night. Undaunted, Kendrick kept the other boy in sight as he drew close.
As he drew within striking distance, an amazing thing happened: the boy extended his arm, ice cream cone in his tiny hand, and offered Kendrick a taste. Then he upped the ante, cradling his new, younger friend’s curly-haired head in his arm and gently feeding him.
Kendrick is the toddler son of our friend Noel. And he is now part of the list of people who have reminded us about the value of tolerance, acceptance and trust.
We gained a lesson in international relations and cultural acceptance. Two tiny humans from dramatically different backgrounds, social structures and customs, speaking different languages but bound by common love of ice cream, quietly, simply and beautifully negotiated not only a truce, but constructed a new friendship using an ice cream cone as a negotiating tool.
For the next 30 minutes, the two new pals cemented their transient bond. They shared the rest of the ice cream, and then the boy’s mom topped off Kendrick’s impromptu dessert with a couple spoonfuls of her own. We exchanged smiles with the parents and grinned at the boys, who were now taking turns wearing the other boy’s baseball cap.
Earlier in the day, as we strolled the souks and dodged vendors hawking everything from henna tattoos to snake charm sessions, we discussed problems in the Middle East, mostly in the context of places we wanted to visit and those we would not. Saudi Arabia was top at our collective “no thanks” list, mostly due to attitudes toward women and strict laws that cost people freedom and in many cases their lives.
So the irony wasn’t lost on us when a Saudi family exhibited random kindness to one of our own.
Ice cream long gone and the hour reaching bed time for the boys, we thanked the other couple, complimenting them for instilling kindness and acceptance in their son. More smiles, and other man threw his arms around me in a farewell hug.
Humans often make the mistake of shaping attitudes from snippets of information and anecdotes, particularly when it comes to far off lands where the languages, customs and rules are all new and different. But if we look past differences in clothing, language, religious beliefs and customs to see the heart beneath the tribal costume, saffron robe, or military uniform – like Kendrick did – we’re more likely than not to find quiet acceptance within.
Even without the promise of a yummy ice cream cone.