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Feb 19,2017 - Last updated at Feb 19,2017
By the spring of 2012, I had been living in Jordan for nearly three years. And while my Muslim friends at the NGO I was at never wore face veils, some women on the street did.
I have to admit that whenever I saw these women on the street, I felt a bit uneasy because all I could ever see were piercing dark eyes.
I never understood why I felt the way I did. After all, this was their country and their way of life. It was just some kind of diffuse discomfort that always seemed to come over me.
One morning I was running towards a very busy intersection in Amman. I tried to beat the red light. Bad move.
I tripped and fell flat on my face, shattering my glasses, twisting my nose almost into my cheek and tearing the skin off much of my face.
Even though terribly stunned by this mighty fall, I was still able to recognise car tyres racing towards me. I kept thinking, “what a terrible mess for my sons to have to identify”.
I tried desperately to lift myself up, but it was useless. I could not move.
Suddenly, I felt both my underarms being grasped, as if locked in a vice. I was being quickly dragged through swerving streams of fast-moving traffic towards the other side of the intersection.
My peripheral vision caught sight of lurching movements and flapping black robes.
The blaring sound of car horns seemed strangely muffled. My whole world became surreal.
Once on the other side, I was gently placed on a bench and asked if I was alright. I was too stunned to say anything, but I did manage to move my head in the affirmative.
I wondered who or what had picked me up and rushed me to safety. Then through blurred vision, I saw two Muslim women pulling away from me. These had risked their own lives to save mine!
Before I could utter a word, they had disappeared. I never got to thank them for having saved my life.
Each of them had been wearing a niqab, so I never saw their faces, but by then it did not matter. I saw only their kindness.
I get a nice feeling recollecting acts of kindness. I guess I have always been more partial to warm fuzzies than to cold pricklies, and kindness is definitely a warm fuzzy.
In stark contrast, two weeks ago, I was standing on an “up” escalator at one of the metro stations in Budapest. My eye suddenly caught sight of a young man about five steps above me. He was struggling to balance an overpacked 1.5-metre duffel bag on top of a huge wheeled suitcase.
As I was wondering what would happen if he lost control of it all, he did.
The entire luggage load escaped his grasp and tumbled back onto me. I, in turn, then tumbled all the way back down the escalator and ended up on my back.
Not one person lent me a hand. Not one person asked if I was alright. Not one person asked me if I needed help.
The only sound I heard, besides the chug of the escalator gears, was the young guy shouting down to me, “oops! sorry”.
By the time I arrived at the top of the escalator — still lying on my back with luggage still partially on me — someone yanked me up into a vertical position, then promptly got off the escalator himself.
That left the way clear for all the others on the escalator to get off.
I was stunned by the fall, but even more stunned by the complete indifference of those around me.
It gave the term “cold pricklies” a whole new meaning.
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