With almost no advance planning, Nancy messages me to ask if we’re going for a hike tomorrow. A hike. Did we talk about a hike?
Nancy and I bonded a year ago as she was planning for her September 2015 Camino. Now that I’m planning my return, we regularly walk and talk about Spain and Camino memories, and ponder life’s deep questions together.
“Yes,” I reply, “of course we’re going on a hike!”
Training Hike #4
Elevation gain/loss: 974/978 ft.
Pack weight: 10lbs
The cold weather inversion is making the valley smoggy, so we bee-line up to our favorite park up in the Cascade foothills, Silver Falls State Park, like we’d just skipped class without getting caught.
The seven-mile loop in this stunning park features no less than ten waterfalls. Its trails are excellent training—with steep climbs and descents that thread through a deep, river-cut gorge.
On our initial descent into the canyon, the largest of the falls, Winter, is roaring with the power of water as it cascades 134 feet onto basalt rocks below. We pose to take a quick photo.
Although we can manage an arm-stretch selfie, instead I ask a couple nearby if they’d take our photo. Asking this is a small, but conscious effort on my part to meet other humans and get out of my comfort zone.
Further down this trail, I’d discover why I’m glad I observed this practice on this particular day.
“I’ll take two,” the woman smiled, turning my phone to show vertical and horizontal. I grin back. On the second shot, she says playfully, “Change your pose!” Be playful! Do something different! Those words are ones to live by. I give Nancy bunny ears.
After thanking them, we go on our way, descending deeper into the gorge. The river gurgles gaily beside us as we talk about footwear, catch up on mutual friends and family matters, and share about our dreams and aspirations. With a Camino under our respective belts, there’s always lots to talk about.
One of the things I love about Nancy is how she gets death. She’s one of the few people I know who can talk about the reality of one’s eventual demise. Comfort with mortality isn’t morbid; it’s actually a way of celebrating the precious time we have on the planet. It’s a reminder to live fully today.
After several miles, we slowly ascend a steep hill and come to a fork in the woods with benches for resting. Under a tree there’s a heart made of fir cones. How lovely. I’ve come to trust in signs like these.
While we nosh on chocolate, the couple who took our photo shows up. In their mid-thirties, the man is sweating in his well-tailored navy blue peacoat. The woman, our funny photgrapher is in a white jacket, white hijab, and white knit newsboy cap. We greet them as they approach, smiling.
As the man sets down their pack on the bench near us, the woman looks at me and asks, “Would you like some coffee?”
I’m flabbergasted by the question. Coffee? Out here in the middle of nowhere? I don’t know what to say. I look at Nancy. (Nancy loves coffee.)
“Suuure,” we both say in unison.
“It’s . . . Arabic coffee. Do you know it?”
I shake my head, but the combination of her accent and the offer of a new kind of food delights me. I’m excited to try it, still stunned by her offer.
“It’s not like—how do you say—dark coffee. It is lighter. It has cardamom and other spices maybe you’ve never heard of.” She pulls out two paper cups—certainly they were intended for her and her husband—and sets them on the bench.
“Why don’t we share a cup?” Nancy suggests. Perfect! That way they still have their own.
From the pack, she pulls a large white carafe.
“You carried that all the way out here!” Nancy exclaims with a smile. The woman laughs, and doesn’t seem to mind the playful teasing. She pours out the steaming orange-brown liquid.
Though scalding hot, the coffee is amazing. Milky with a flavor is reminiscent of chai, it tastes of cardamom and a hint of flowers. “Mmmm! Wow!” I hand Nancy the cup.
“It’s my mother’s recipe,” she offers.
“I’m sorry—I didn’t ask your names,” I say apologetically.
“This is Ali, my husband,” the woman says, “And I am Fauzia.” Nancy and I introduce ourselves.
I want to know this couple’s whole story. Where are they from? How did they get here? What to they think of the US? How did they come to learn English? None of these seem polite, and I don’t want to assume anything.
“We are from Saudi Arabia,” Fauzia volunteers.
“Oh! What part?” I ask. I regret I don’t know this country’s geography at all, but have found this question handy for learning all kind of tidbits someone’s homeland. It keeps people talking about things they like and what features are nearby and spares me from looking like an ignorant oaf.
“We are from the south, where it is cold. But we also lived in Riyadh before coming here.” I’ve heard of the city, and am certain the country borders the Red Sea. I resolve to look a map later to see what is there. (When I get home, I learn that Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam. Mecca is there. It is mostly unforested, but has several wildlife preserves.)
As we sip the coffee, the warmth and kindness grow as Ali shares about the English language program he’s attending at a university. Fauzia teases him laughingly about practicing more.
“Would you like a date?” she asks, pulling a Tupperware container from the bag.
She opens it and extends them to us. “Thank you!” They’re almost round, taupe-colored, and have an almond inside. Heaven. Pure, sweet heaven.
“Did you bring them from home,” Nancy asks. Fauzia nods proudly.
I offer them some chocolate, and Fauzia grabs her stomach and says, “I am too fat!” This isn’t true, but I wonder about cultural rules about offering gifts. In Ireland, you are expected to take a cup of tea on a visit, whether you want one or not. To do otherwise is highly offensive. In one Native American tribe, Nancy shared later, if you compliment something belonging to a person, they must give it to you. In some cultures, an offer must be declined at least three times or you risk appearing greedy (even if you want it!).
I offered again a few moments later, but they both turn down the chocolate.
Before we go, we thank them profusely for the coffee and treats, wish them luck in their studies, and joke about pacing themselves with that big carafe in their pack.
The hill back to the car is staggeringly, gaspingly steep, but I feel like I’m floating on sunbeams of happiness, a bounce in my step. The exchange with Ali and Fauzia touched something within me.
“I can’t seem to name it,” I tell Nancy, “But something really good and beautiful happened back there.”
After a pause, she says thoughtfully, “Maybe it’s because they showed us hospitality in our own country.”
“That’s it. That’s exactly it, Nancy. They had no reason to be kind, to reach out to us, and yet they did.”
“I really wanted to ask them about how they’re being received here in the US with all the anti-Muslim sentiment lately. I wanted to know if people are treating them well.”
“Me too,” I say. “On the other hand, maybe it’s enough, or even better, that we met heart to heart and shared laughter with them.”
In Hebrews, it says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
My lesson on this training hike is that Camino angels are everywhere. Look for them. And, miraculously, sometimes it’s the angels themselves who offer the hospitality. Stay open.
Maybe it’s a lesson our whole world needs.