Our Bedouin Brethren

Forget the DNA research which told us we are more closely related to the Spanish than anyone else, I am starting to think that the Irish are most closely related to the Bedouin.

Last week, my friend and colleague Sarah Franklin posted on The Anti Room , a piece called ‘You say cronyism, I say helping a friend,’ about the propensity of Irish people to give each other ‘a dig out’. She mused that while, in other countries, it might be frowned upon to give people a hand; in Ireland it is the done thing.

Sarah’s post reminded me of a story I heard from another good friend, Jane Bishop. Years ago, Jane taught at the American University in Cairo. She loved her job, but was perplexed and annoyed when, during class tests, her students would cheat blatantly.

No matter how carefully Jane explained the rules of writing your own answers and not asking for – or giving – help, cheating during tests was rife. Frustrated, Jane wondered how on earth she was going to assess who knew what and who needed extra help.

She turned to one of the older, more experienced, lecturers. Smiling, her colleague asked Jane to think for a moment about the backgrounds of her students. They were desert folk, and in the desert, it is a matter of duty to assist anyone who asks you for help. If you don’t, you may as well sign their death warrants. Further, Jane’s colleague reminded her, many of her students were related to each other – brothers, cousins, second-cousins or in-laws. To refuse to help a relation was a matter of grave dishonour.

When Jane first told me this story, ten or so years ago, I was instantly reminded of Ireland and the way things work here. You help someone who asks you to. You help someone whom someone else asks you to. It is the done thing on this little island – and perhaps for the same reasons as it’s the done thing in the desert.

Then, yesterday, I read a piece on The Media Line that detailed how women are flauting the Saudi ban on women drivers. I couldn’t help but think how like Irish women these Saudi women are; they do what they have to do to keep their families ticking – working, shopping and ferrying the children to and from school.

I was also reminded of the Irish attitude to flauting rules; that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude that allows learner drivers to drive unaccompanied, that allows many infringements to go unchecked.

I’m one of those people who thinks that we’re all connected; every person is connected to every other person on the planet and we would do well to remember that: These similarities between the Irish and the desert peoples really helped to remind me of that.