Mutually Horrified or ("Let's Talk About Religion")

Me and Savannah are on a daddy-daughter date to Jeddah's old city, al-Balad. Mostly it is crumbling, dilapidated buildings and very pungent odors, but it's interesting and authentic and probably cheaper than ice cream and I like taking pictures there. Savannah carries my tripod. At the end of the day, daddy-daughter dates are simply good opportunities for me to pursue my hobbies with a servant to carry my stuff.

'Sup.
We pad along a sandy street for about a half-block before a trio of Saudi teens stop to talk. After pleasantries, they invite us to become Muslim, which we politely decline, although I think about it more than I usually do because one of the kids looks like what Don Johnson would've looked like when he was a teenager, if he had been Saudi.

Later, as we edge around a large puddle laced with raw sewage, Savannah notes that we are invited to convert to Islam quite a bit here in Jeddah. Why is that? she asks.

Well, I tell Savannah, I suppose they are happy being Muslim, and they think that maybe we'd be happy being Muslim too. As a Mormon, I feel like I have the least business of anyone in getting annoyed when somebody wants to talk to me about their faith. I spent two years of my life sharing my faith with strangers because I believe it makes both me and others better -- the least I can do is teach my daughter to permit others the same latitude to share their beliefs with us. All this reminds me of my favorite "religious person at your door" story.

"I WILL buy you pop. Do not resist."
I'm a senior in high school and I'm on the staff of the school newspaper. I edit the Opinion section. The editor-in-chief is a wonderful girl, soft-spoken, organized, easy-going, effortlessly and authentically kind. We're good friends. Brandy is her name. One afternoon I'm tooling around with my guitar in the living room after school. The doorbell rings and I pull the door open and there's Brandy standing there on my doorstep in a floral skirt with an armful of Watchtower pamphlets. A horrified expression crosses her face as she recognizes me, and as it dawns on me what she's doing on my doorstep, a horrified expression crosses my face too. So we both just stand there for a few seconds, staring at each other, mutually horrified. And in those few seconds it occurs to me that in a short year or two, I'll be standing in dress clothes with religious tracts on the doorsteps of people who would rather see anyone but me, and I hope they'll treat me like a human and not like an insect. And so I offer Brandy some lemonade, and we have a nice visit in my living room, and she leaves me with a Watchtower that turns out to be a pretty pleasant read, to tell you the truth.

Later, me and Savannah pass by a working class Pakistani man sitting on the bed of a little pickup. He strikes up a conversation with us, and we visit for a time. He must see a bead of sweat trickling through my eyebrow, because he asks if we're thirsty. No, no, I say. We're heading home soon, we're just fine, thanks. He rises and pulls a couple riyals from his pocket. "Wait," he commands, and he strides off down the narrow street. "No! No!" I call after him. I know what he's doing and I wish he'd stop. But you can't defuse Muslim hospitality. You just can't. And so he returns in a few minutes with a plastic bag filled with cold cans of pop and cold bottles of water. I thank him profusely and we visit for awhile longer before parting at the call to sunset prayer.

On our way back home Savannah is sipping her sweet soda in the back seat. She's watching the dusty streets roll past her window, the mustached men on the curb come and go. "Muslims are nice," she says to no one in particular.