Those who lived between two languages or moved between two cultures know well the difficulty of translating definitions. What you view as a duty may be surprising to others and what you think is a vice may be something normal to others or perhaps even desirable.
I remember Eugene’s cold weather and I can still recall its people’s kindness to this day. Eugene is a tranquil city northwest of the US. I remember its rains and the cold winter nights, and how its kind people were amazed to meet an Arab who had come from the faraway Najd and how they complained of rain and waited for the sun as if they are enjoying the news of the rise in stock prices so those who sold stocks make quick profit.
It was a casual chat on Sunday evening with a man in his 50s and whom features I remember well till now. He was surprised by the concept of off-roading at the time, i.e. when youths in the Gulf and specifically in Saudi Arabia ride their vehicles on high sand dunes. He thought this was reckless and crazy, and he was upset that this act was linked to bravery. I agreed with him and I tried to explain to him the idea of bravery in Arab culture. I was consciously – or perhaps unconsciously – trying to unblemish courage from the thoughtless act of heading towards absurd danger. I remember the conversation well because he’d stop me after each sentence and try to give an example so he understands better.
It’s as if he was using the example of the Arab poetry verse: “Opinion comes before the bravery of the braves”.
I was and I still do want to complete this conversation. It’s very painful to remember a conversation you haven’t finished, and what’s more painful is to miss dialogue with a stranger for almost two decades. He mixed up between the absence of fear and bravery, and all I wanted to tell my strange pal in the faraway land was that these are two very different things: the absence of fear is like constant fear, both are very dangerous. You see this absence of fear in mobs, madmen and extremely dangerous people, like those in prisons across the world serving sentences longer than it’s been since our conversation.
Running after bravery
Ancient Arabs spent half their lives running after bravery, dear sir. This is why we got exhausted while finding a definition that can help make the image clearer. I asked him to excuse me for using the dictionary as I needed it to define the words: cowardice, recklessness, thoughtlessness, fear and integrity in order to compare between them and negate and confirm the dominion of bravery when it’s in its context.
There is a painful loss in every act of bravery and if it’s not for this obvious loss, the brave will not be differentiated from the reckless; the former is certain of real loss while the latter does not know the taste of loss to understand the pleasure of the former feeling. Focus my friend: Caution has nothing to do with fear just like there’s no link between recklessness and courage.
The bravery that comes at 3:00 a.m., or a spontaneous bravery of the moment against the river and waves, or bravery of the free soul who does not think twice when he sees or hears an appeal for help is true bravery, my friend.Turki Aldakhil
In the “undauntedness” of the brave – at the time I did not find an accurate translation of this word from Arabic – there is certainty and trust in those who will come after them. People have an amazing capability in distinguishing bravery from other descriptions, and in some cultures, the individual’s courage confirms his family’s stance towards the world.
The size of loss – which is the certain condition to define bravery – is proportional to immorality, my dear old friend. I write this sentence today while I know well that my condolences will be delivered and that some solace is sharing of real pride as our current students in the US will not have to engage in a discussion like the one I engaged in about defining bravery when tackling off-roading two decades ago.
American television channels will this year associate bravery with the names of two Saudi students who drowned in a river to save two children, Theeb and Jaser, may God have mercy on their souls. The Canadian Language Learning College (CCLC) named one of their halls after their tribe, Yami. Theeb and Jaser saved plenty of students studying abroad from engaging in a dialogue like the one I engaged in. The bravery that comes at 3:00 a.m., or a spontaneous bravery of the moment against the river and waves, or bravery of the free soul who does not think twice when he sees or hears an appeal for help is true bravery, my friend. The voice of those in fear or a mother in distress reaches everyone, knows no language barriers and distinguishes the definitions of bravery, boldness, recklessness and actions which bring pride to an entire people.
They were where they were destined to be, Duham al-Yami who is Jasser’s father and Theeb’s uncle said. He added: “They were the best of our children. It was two months or so before they were scheduled to return. They were about to graduate and at the age of marriage but "Allah's plans are always predominant.”
I will never find in any dictionaries a way to fully and accurately deliver the meaning of what Jasser’s father said “Allah's pans are always predominant” to my readers who do not know Arabic and who never read about the Arabs’ appreciation of true bravery which happens and suddenly ends and which impact echoes in faraway continents while fathers and mothers bear their loss with beautiful patience. At that moment in the river, the two martyrs were swimming against the current to define humanity which distinction they will earn from the hand of King Salman.
The two men sacrificed the pleasure of staying on the shore because bravery was in swimming against the current. Their souls were prayed on by the tears of the heart from all religions and by all those who witnessed or heard about the incident at the Chicopee River in the US state of Massachusetts.
The name “Yami” in that cold hall in Canada will remain an answer to anyone who asks about the definitions of bravery and humanity of the Saudis in general and a source of pride to the people of Najran and Theeb’s and Jaser’s families in particular. It’s another scene to be added to the examples of a word that’s difficult to define – like bravery at 3:00 a.m. – in a conversation between a Saudi studying abroad and an American asker.
There are actions which result in immortal joy, and this is one of them.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.