SCRATCH MY BACK
by Nick Hahn
I was in the Marriott Lahore, arguably the best hotel in Pakistan. My sponsor, USAID, provided a modest per diem for consultants, barely enough to cover necessities. As usual, I upgraded at my own expense for security, comfort, and convenience.
The Marriott had cornered the market in the third world, why USAID won’t pay the difference in their rates and local hotels I’ll never know.
It was mid-morning on a Saturday, my day off, I had just returned from a leisurely breakfast on the VIP floor, that ubiquitous perk provided to guests with enough points in the Marriott Rewards program. I had access to the VIP lounges worldwide, more a necessity than a perk in the third world, where I’ve spent the second half of an eclectic forty year business career.
With a 15-inch MacBook-Pro with 16 GB of expat memory tucked under my arm, I approached my room on the third floor. I saw the cart blocking the hallway, clean towels and sheets stacked on one end dirty laundry in a cotton bag on the other. The door to my room was propped open, this was for the security of staff, always a woman, and the guests.
I walked in with a cheery “hello” to let her know I was there and not to be alarmed. The bathroom door was ajar.
She shuffled out with a dour expression on her face and a wide sweeping gesture with her free arm, the other holding a wash bucket and the tools of her trade. She wanted to know if I would allow her to finish the work.
I nodded yes and indicated with my expat sign language that I wanted more regular coffee packs, not the decaf kind. She looked at me like I had asked her for a bottle of Dom Perignon and a side of caviar. There was not a hint of agreement on her face.
I gave up and went about reconnecting my MacBook on the desk.
The vacuum was insistent and loud; I was having doubts about being so accommodating, I should have insisted she come back later.
When the noise stopped, she was fussing over the bedside table, adjusting the placement of the lamp, phone and alarm clock.
It was then she saw it, I had replaced the Koran with my copy of the NIV Bible. It was a beautiful book, a black soft leather cover with thumb dividers for each chapter. It had two bookmark ribbons, one purple, and one blue. I used purple for the new testament, I kept it on Romans and used blue for my old testament favorite, the book of Job.
I was focused on a dreary report about the Pakistani cotton spinning industry when the sound reached me; it was a gasp.
I turned to see her pointing to my bible with what only could be described as a look of awe.
Her dour expression had turned to a wide toothless grin and a sudden ability to speak English if only with an indecipherable accent.
This was a statement, not a question, the woman was on the verge of tears, I would have said yes if my name was Goldberg.
My yes produced an almost beatific response, she wiped a tear from her cheek, smiled and answered, “me too Mister”.
That brief exchange started a stream of consciousness; she couldn’t stop talking, broken English interspersed with Urdu and a Fodor’s dictionary of local dialects.
She told me that Christians were a tiny minority of Lahore’s Muslim population, that they were persecuted in hundreds of ways large and small and relegated to the lowliest manual tasks that Muslims refused to perform like cleaning public toilets. The lucky ones worked in hotels.
She spoke hesitantly but with passion; “we Christians need to stick together, we need to help each other”. For the first time in my life, I understood what it meant to be a minority. To feel a sense of persecution for an accident of birth. I began to understand the solidarity that comes from oppression from surviving in a society bent upon your humiliation. People with common purpose soon learn that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. This humble cleaning lady on the staff of an American Hotel chain in Lahore, Pakistan was teaching me something profound, something I never learned in the Ivy League. The maxim that minorities stick together, Jews, Armenians, Muslims or Christians
“We help each other Mister,” she said with a grin as she loaded my coffee tray with caffeinated packets. “If you need extra towels or soap, you let me know.”
She handed me the guest survey form with a wink.
I was stunned, this woman was practicing the Golden Rule, a powerful lesson, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”
Every student in America should spend their semester abroad as a minority living and work in a Muslim country.
Then they’ll understand the true meaning of “do on to others”!