For I was hungry, and you gave me food: I was thirsty and you gave me drink: I was a stranger and you took me in…
Matthew 25:35, King James 2000 Bible
We were wandering up a hot dirt road in a rural area, looking for water and a way to get back to Turpan. Sweat was pouring down our faces. From a distance, we could see where the lonely, uninhabited desert ended and the villages’ vineyards began.
We walked into the village, but it was mostly quiet. We could hear a few voices, children playing and screaming in Uighur, but they were all secluded behind the walls of houses.
We crossed a stream where geese were swimming, moving deeper into the village. There were houses all around us now, but none appeared to be open. By now, we were getting desperate for water.
Soon, I found someone standing inside their house’s atrium. “Do you know of a store near here? Somewhere where we can buy water?”
He pointed me across the dirt street, leading me into the atrium of another house. At first, no one appeared to be there, though, the man shouted something and entered into one of the side rooms.
Soon, the shop owner appeared, unlocking the room where the shop was. Inside, he showed us his freezer. Everything was frozen. We could not find any bottle that was not completely ice. That was almost better. We bought six waters and two sprites.
Then, we asked him if he knew how to get to Turpan.
“Sure. There is public transport,” he assured me.
“How long will it be until they come past here?” I asked.
He quickly dialed a number on his phone. He went back and forth with the person on the other end, speaking in rapid Uighur.
“The van will come by here in about fifteen or so minutes. Maybe thirty,” he told us.
We set several of our bottles out in the sun to melt the ice inside them. The rest of the bottles, we shoved in our pockets, hoping that they would cool us down.
After we talked with him for a few minutes, he invited us to go take a look at his grapes. He led us across the village, greeting a friend we ran into, and then led us out into the fields. Bending over, we walked beneath the grape vines and into his patch. “This one, these and this one are mine,” he said, pointing out the handful of vines that he took care of.
“These are local style grapes,” he yanked a knot of grapes off the vine behind me and handed them to us. “Eat up.”
“And those,” he continued as we sat on the grass underneath the vines, “those are American style grapes.” Apparently American style grapes were popular out here as well.
Along the sides of the vineyards stood imposing brick buildings, filled with holes in the top and sides. Galen and I had looked inside one of these buildings near the road, as we were walking into the village, and realized that they were meant to be filled with grapes after the harvest came in, hung from wooden poles. The holes allowed air and some sunlight in, giving them the chance to dry into raisins. The farmer confirmed all of our assumptions while pushing us to eat more grapes.
A few minutes later, after we had eaten as many grapes as we could, the man led us back across the vineyards though he had brought some more grapes for us to take on the ride back to Turpan. Soon, the van pulled up. The farmer’s wife, son and daughter piled out. We got photos of the son and father, but, as modest country Muslims, the mother and daughter scurried out of the way of Galen’s camera. After a few moments of thank-yous and hand-shaking, we took their places in the van, which lugged us back into Turpan.
One thing that has struck me as we have moved farther west in China is how hospitable the Uighurs are. In most Muslim cultures, there still remains the idea that a guest is to be honored, an idea once common throughout America but increasingly rare. We came into this man’s shop to buy water, and, with us simply asking about his grapes, he took us out into the fields to feed us.