Moving to this country was a shock to the system. It was supposed to be seamless for someone like me; being confident and bubbly, making friends would be easy right?
Turns out it was something else that I had not prepared myself for. I am originally Indian, but have grown up around the Middle East. Moving here was a world away in thinking, living, and socialising. Straddled between the East and the West, I struggled and was frustrated with continuous questioning about the Middle East and I guess, my upbringing in general.
For me the Middle East is a place where individuals go out of their way to make you feel at home, known the world over for Arabian hospitality and are willing to give you everything they have to ensure you are comfortable.
My experience is that of accommodation, tolerance and acceptance. Sitting in the majlis (an outdoor tent) alongside them when they break their fast at iftar, during their holy month of Ramadan and talking with friends till the early hours.
While over here we can hear the serene abbey bells chiming as we stroll across the city- centre with our shopping. Back home there can be a certain comfort that envelopes you with the multiple calls to prayer heard across town throughout the day. Often a signal after our all-nighters that it was probably time to go home.
One of course needs to mention the exquisite and very stark cuisine difference. Everything from falafel, tabbouleh and hummus consumed alongside some wonderfully strong shisha. A stark difference from Sainsbury’s and the sorry and downright pathetic excuse for shisha at Second Bridge.
It is a place, where women are empowered and not oppressed. A region where, by and large, they are in fact able to drive, highly educated, and run hugely successful businesses. If anything, come across as more empowered and assertive than men do.
This is a small snippet of a much larger image that I have grown up with. A welcoming region and that is rich in culture and what it has to offer the world, found in the authenticity of the people and their tradition of accommodation to whomever walks in.
I, time and time again, am caught up in discussion about what it is ‘really like living in the Middle East, it obviously must have been difficult’, what practicing Islam really entails, and how they interact with non- Muslims. I, no doubt am not the only person from the region who has faced this. I will discuss this region and any questions that people have till kingdom come. I encourage questioning and inquisitiveness and curiosity. However, there is a fine line between inquisitiveness and ignorance.
What comes to mind when you think about the Middle East? Islam, obviously extremism, the Arab Spring, a complex region which is difficult to understand or make head or tail of. Unfortunately, that is the overwhelming rhetoric that I continuously hear since I have moved here and is a poor excuse for the frustrating infuriating blatant ignorance and immediate dismissal of the region that I continuously come in contact with. The comments are subtle, in no way overt, but it is continuous and unrelenting.
I no doubt concede that it is at this time, a region of unrest, but at no point should that result in painting the whole region in one singular brush stroke. If anything it is one of the most diverse regions in the world, in terms of ethnicity, religion, and culture, steeped in history with tremendous contributions to the progress of mankind.
Maybe it is the lack of curiosity about what happens on the other side of the world. Or the lack of wanting to learn more beyond the confines of the immediate surroundings.
Or perhaps quite simply put, the pretentiousness of living in a blissful bubble of solitude. It seems so strange that in an era of information and connectivity, we still remain very much disconnected from what goes on beyond our borders.
There is more that meets the eye than click- bait headlines and the links that are shared on your Facebook feed. As someone who has lived there her whole life, the region categorically does not consist of terrorists and terrorist survivors. So no, I don’t understand and pointedly detest statements such as ‘Islam being a religion of hatred’, blatant discrimination, and hatred towards my Muslim friends for their way of life.
There is an alternative view to what we see of the region and indeed how it is portrayed, and it is our decision to look for and engage with it. I want, no need this image to be given more prominence so people know the Middle East. A place that I, amongst many others, call home.