In Arabian Nights

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Nothing was really so important to my father as the achievement of selflessness. He rarely mentioned it directly, but tried to guide us to it in a roundabout way. It was sometimes like setting out for a specific destination without a map or the name of the place you are hoping to find. With their rock-solid culture of values, stories were a way of understanding the goal.

During one visit to Morocco, I remember travelling back up towards Tangier. I had been given a small coin for my pocket money. We stopped at a market to buy some fruit. Standing there, I saw a woman with no hands, begging at the side of the road. In front of her was a bowl. Feeling very sorry for the woman, I went over and dropped my pocket money in the bowl.

When we got back to the car, I told my parents what I had done. I expected praise, to be told how well I had behaved. But my father’s face soured.

‘Never give charity if the reason is to make yourself feel better,’ he said. ‘Real charity is not selfish, but selfless.’

After his death, I began to learn of my father´s own selflessness. Hearing that he had died, a number of people wrote to tell me how he had helped them anonymously and that only later had they realized he had been the benefactor.

Perhaps his strangest act of charity involved the Queen of England.

On a state visit through the Middle East, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth had presented an Arab head of state with her customary gift, a signed photograph of herself in a silver frame. Reading about the gift over his morning tea, my father must have balked at such a presentation. Through Arab eyes it would be regarded as a tasteless embodiment of ego. My father withdrew a large amount of money from his bank, purchased in cash a gift more appropriate to royal Arabian taste and had it sent to the head of state, on behalf of the Queen.

In Arabian Nights

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