A few Fridays ago, I took a well-deserved break from real life and headed over to Second Wind for a dose of story time.
The first event of its kind, this "open mic" afternoon opened my eyes a bit more to a region that I'm shamefully unfamiliar with. Although the Middle East was the focus of six years of higher educational study for my eldest sister, I have never seen this place, nor heard an actual conversation in Arabic or Persian or any other language of the area. And, despite being close friends with a wonderful gal of Iranian descent, I have no clue what Tehran or any other city in her home country looks or feels like.
Living in a country with such close ties (good or bad) with this region, I should be more aware. Thankfully, this event was one of my first steps to decidedly become more aware.
Over a huge box of Hurt's Donuts, an ever-growing group of Global Engagement Fellows shared stories. One tale of a hair-collecting famed potter left us all in fits of (slightly uncomfortable and nervous) laughter. Arabic majors and monolinguists alike shared memories of their feelings of discomfort as they navigated new cultures and customs. My friend Sadaf (ushered on by myself) told us about her first months in the United States after emigrating here - such a huge move begun at an already difficult time in a teen girl's life, and to a country whose language she didn't speak!
I was pleased with the discourse we shared at this coffee hour. Although I found certain opinions (especially sweepingly generalized and negative ones) to be unfounded or unsubstantiated, the overall tone was a positive one. Here is a region of the world which many (including certain American politicians) have gone to great lengths to vilify and demonize. This is not to say that instability and conflict does not exist in this part of the world - we know that to be true. But this was also once the Cradle of Civilization, as many a high school history teacher drilled into our heads. Developers of modern mathematics were nurtured here. We cannot forget the history, nor the culture and the people who remain.
Conversations like these could be the start of developing a more thorough understanding of our fellow humans just an ocean away.