I never thought I’d say it: I miss the Middle East. I never thought I’d even think it. But a wave of missing the Middle East has been slowly, almost imperceptibly, rising and barely ebbing inside me everyday. I am going through a culture shock that sends tiny little jolts through me, and wraps around me like an abaya covering me from head to toe.
Racism shocks me. Not shock like surprise, but shock like “are these people still that stupid?” Shock like the realization that people actually still think that such a thing is legitimate, that there are people who still believe that the color of someone’s skin matters. That somehow it says something about who that person is. This is a shock, but rather than feeling angry, I feel sympathy for those people, and I try to stay away from them.
I miss the anonymity I had in the Middle East. I was an Arab, an Egyptian, a Sudanese, or just an American.
I miss the slower pace of life. Hardly anyone in the culture was ever in a hurry. Things could wait. They could get done today, or tomorrow “inshallah” (God willing).
There was an atmosphere of trust. You could put your purse down in a restaurant and go to the restroom. A shopkeeper would leave you in his shop to go and get change. There was no fear of being robbed or ripped off by someone.
Greed is not human nature. Greed is not universal. It is a particularly American nature. Almost everyone in the USA who provides a service or goods or any kind, is trying to get every cent they can out of you. Americans worship the dollar, and worship it at the expense of our health, well being, and safety. And somehow, amazingly, along the way, Americans have accepted this. I don’t accept it, and being in a culture that does makes me feel just a bit out of tune with my surroundings.
I miss the chivalry I received from the men and the courtesies I received from the women. Just basic human courtesies that we have forgotten to use in my home.
I miss the generosity. Anything someone had, whether it was a pack of Ramen noodles, a soft drink, or a sumptuous dinner, they would share, and would insist on sharing. If you gave someone a compliment or admired their earrings, watch, or bracelet, it was immediately offered to you. Of course, upon learning this, I was careful with my flattery. I had to insist on not taking expensive jewelry or clothing from women to whom I had given a compliment.
I miss the taxi drivers we used regularly. They were careful not to overcharge us. And, if we had accidentally left our purse or wallet at home, they would pay for our groceries, or clothing, or whatever our shopping charges were until we could repay them, not to mention a ride back home.
I miss the clear skies and the evening call to prayer. I miss the warmth and genuine delight I got from strangers when they discovered I was American.
I miss the Middle East.