I have not been writing anything for a while now and thought that I could use some practice again. Maybe even to just allow my brain to “breathe” again after cramming for all sorts of assessments, hoping that technology won’t give up on me again three hours before the deadline.
Just as I was looking through my Facebook news feed, seeing how my former Kosovar classmates, now seniors, are enjoying themselves in Dubai, the girls wearing abayas to enter the mosques, I started to think about what it is that I gained so far and will maybe gain at the end of my stay here in Saudi Arabia?
What is it that I will look back at in a couple of years and say, “that was something that changed who I am”?
Well, I think that experiencing a new culture is always a great thing that everyone should try at some point of his or her life. Even if it is in such a place like Saudi Arabia that many people consider strange.
I think that such experiences help us to grow. Maybe not immediately and maybe not visible to everyone but I am sure that it changes our mindset, the way we think about and perceive things and even that is something worth being grateful for. That tiny little change in our minds that may, in the end, change us as individuals, be it for the better or for the worse.
As for me I would say that thus far I have learned to behave myself a little bit more, considering cultural norms. I have learned not to take things too closely to the heart. For example if I happen to be at the mall and one of the mutawas asks me to cover my hair and as it happened yesterday, cover ALL of my hair because I was in Saudi Arabia after all, in case I didn’t notice that yet.
A couple of years ago I may have been innerly upset about that, if that ever happened to me. I may have walked home, thinking why it was ME in particular in THAT moment and not one of the other western women that were all around me with their hair exposed. But by now I can just put on that headscarf and keep walking like nothing happened, saving my energy for other things.
Another thing that I can think of is patience. While others get upset about how slow the cashier is, I manage to stand in line and keep calm, which I definitely would not have been able to do even a year ago. There is nothing I can do about it anyway, so why bother?
And lastly I think there is also the ability to understand and appreciate. Observing the way people do things helps to connect to it and accept it the way it is. Maybe not always and maybe not for everyone but I can say that after having been surrounded by modestly dressed women, some of which cover up entirely, I notice how it is now so much easier and so much more natural to give a muslim, covered up woman a friendly look or even a smile on the subway in the west while most people would go and find a seat further away or just not notice the woman at all.
I am thinking of a few lines from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, when Ben, the main character’s brother, talks about his expedition to the jungle. He says that by the time he came out of the jungle, he was a wealthy man and I think that there is a nice connection to real life here. You walk into a “jungle” of something new and unknown and by the time you get out of it, you may find that you are, mentally and intellectually, richer than you were before.