Last week, I was at a party for a girl who had just married into my extended host family. An Iraqi woman was present. Towards the end of the party, she approached me and asked in Arabic where I was from, and why I was there. I explained to her that I was there to learn about Omani culture and Islam. This woman gave me a huge hug and told me that she had never met an American who was not in the military. I told her—truthfully—that I do not support the war in Iraq. She took pictures of me and kissed my cheeks many time.
It may seem a little bit strange that she took such a liking to me despite the fact that all that she knew about me was that I was an American who did not support the war in Iraq and who was living with an Omani family. Nonetheless, she wanted to be my friend.
The media here is the polar opposite of the American media in terms of content (however, general message is surprisingly exactly the same!) It portrays Americans as being unwelcome invaders, crusaders, and aggressors. The American media portrays the Middle East as being in dire need of someone to come bring democracy to a region of terrorism and oppression. I’ve discussed before on this blog what I interpret as inaccuracy on the American media’s part.
However, a common opinion here is that all Americans stand behind what a majority in Congress says, or what the military does. Like anywhere, media is biased. For people, it can be strange to realize that “not all Americans are like that.” The fact that I’m opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shocks some people. So does the fact that I tend to support a Palestinian state (although EVERYONE should read the book The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan because it is an absolutely amazing, objective book that is actually a really interesting, captivating read. Seriously. Read it now).
One of the most vital lessons that Oman has taught me is to look at all sides of a story before drawing a conclusion. More often than not, people surprise me. I’m sure I surprised the Iraqi woman I spoke of before, and I have surprised many others simply by being myself.
That’s what I love about humanity. It catches us unaware, takes our breath away sometimes. People defy our stereotypes all the time. All we have to do is look out our front doors, get to know our neighbors, either close-by or far-away, and be shocked by what people have to share with us. So many of the people I have met here have done that for me. I thought I was open-minded when I came, but I still found that I had pre-conceptions that sometimes were mind-numbingly inaccurate.
Oman has instilled a sense in me that I am right and wrong at the same time. It has taught me to get to know people. See what they can teach me. What they are really like. And they, again and again, blow my mind with who they are and what they do.