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On Christmas Eve, as I finished work for the day I received a call to go to the manager’s office. I tiredly made my way there but I was curious to know what he wanted.
It was during one of the war free lulls in the Middle East and I was working for an oil company in Kuwait. Christmas is not an important event in this Islamic country and no locals take holidays at that time of the year.
The weather in Kuwait could not have been more unlike a North European Christmas with its long warm sunny days and not hide or hair of a Santa Claus or a reindeer to be seen anywhere.
I was part of a multi-skilled team working in the oil industry in the country and it had been four months since I was last at home on leave. I never thought it would happen but I had to admit I was missing Christmas in this Christmas free zone. I was missing my family and friends and the carols and food and even the old films It was getting me down and I was starting to feel in the dumps and getting depressed.
My colleagues and I had formed a small social club and we had organised a Christmas dinner with turkey, roast potatoes and some well hidden illegal homemade wine and cider and wonders of wonders a Christmas pudding. What was making matters worse was I would miss the party tomorrow.
Getting nearer the manager’s room I glumly thought how unlucky I was to be rostered for classes on Christmas morning starting at the cool morning time of six-thirty with a polite but bored class learning about Health and Safety in the oil industry
I knocked at the managers door and was answered from inside. Behind a massive paper strewn desk sat Kazim an elderly Arab gentleman with whom I usually had minimal contact. He was wearing a long white robe called a dish-dasha and a headscarf red and white in colour and tied round his head. He had a grey stubbly beard and moustache and a wide mouth with dark brown eyes and today wearing heavy horn rimmed glasses could have been taken as a double for Yasser Arafat
I drank the obligatory offered cup of coffee and we smiled and made some irrelevant small talk and all the while the thought went through my mind;”What does he want me for?
He pushed his empty cup away from himself and leaned back in his swivel chair and said in very good English
"Well, now, with regard to tomorrow...
“You have no class.
Your students will not attend."
I was curious and said, "I don't? They won't? Er... why not?"
He kindly looked at me with those coffee coloured eyes and said ,”Because I know that tomorrow for you in your country it is an important day, so I told them they don't have class."
"Thank you sir, that was very nice of you."
"No problem, Mister Michael. See you the day after tomorrow. And Mister Michael”?
"Happy Christmas to you"
As I made my way to my jeep I thought it was a very touching and generous gesture on his part and all the more so as he was under no obligation to make it.
After the party on Christmas evening and when all our hidden drinks had been consumed I went to bed.
I was tired and pleasantly drowsy from the Christmas dinner eaten in the heat and of course the alcoholic drinks had played their part. Searching for something to read to hasten sleep I found the bible in the bedside locker probably left there by an evangelical Gideon.
As I dipped into it by chance I came upon a passage by Moses, in one of his less bloodthirsty messages to the Israelites;
"The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."
It made me think again of what my Muslim manager had done and I swore I would always remember his kindness to me at a time when I was feeling lonely, far away from home and depressed. It was the best Christmas present he could have given me and I was grateful and his actions have never been forgotten.