The Code of Hospitality

Two men were crossing the desert when they saw a Bedouin’s tent and asked him for shelter. Even though he did not know them, he welcomed them in the way that the conduct of nomads dictates: a camel was killed and its meat served in a sumptuous dinner.

The next day, as the guests were still there, the Bedouin had another camel killed. Astonished, they protested they had not yet finished eating the one killed the day before.

“It would be a disgrace to serve old meat to my guests,” was the answer.

On the third day, the two strangers woke early and decided to continue on their journey. As the Bedouin was not at home, they gave his wife a hundred dinars, apologizing for not being able to wait, because if they spent any more time there, the sun would become too strong for them to travel.

They had traveled for four hours when they heard a voice calling out to them. They looked back and saw the Bedouin following them. As soon as he caught up with them, he threw the money to the ground.

“I gave you such a warm welcome! Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?”

In surprise, the strangers said that the camels were surely worth far more than that, but that they did not have much money.

“I am not talking about the amount,” was the answer. “The desert welcomes Bedouins wherever they go, and never asks anything in return. If we had to pay, how could we live? Welcoming you to my tent is like paying back a fraction of what life has given us.”

Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian author who has sold more than 100 million books, which include 14 short story collections and the novel “The Alchemist.” He has been a fan of the Internet since the early 1990s. He spends at least three hours a day online, writing e-mails back and forth with his readers and posting photos on Flickr, MySpace and a blog.

Coelho’s online activities also include promoting pirated copies of his own books. Since 2005 he’s been directing his readers to an online site where they can download his books, in languages from German to Japanese, for free. “I always thought that when, at the beginning of your career, you strive to be read, you can’t change your mind later and become greedy about it.”

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