Second language English class can often be rather arduous and dull, however there is always that occasional writing prompt to distract from the drudgery of learning another language, and for me, my native tongue….again (in case I wasn’t proficient enough in my conversational skills). On this particular day, the 20 of us piled into our English classroom as per usual, but we were greeted by an unusual question. After all, our word matching exercises don’t often require the deepest of discussions. The prompt proceeded to ask, “What would a tourist appreciate to know before arriving in your country of origin?” Though my school offers a standard Omani Ministry of Education syllabus for roughly three-quarters of the students, there is also an international stream, in which about one-quarter of the students, including myself, participate. On many days, in the strict closely monitored classroom, I tend to forget our differences, or at least notice them much less. However, whenever we get the chance to share our own personal experiences through our writing, it is a truly wonderful thing.
Though I cannot generalize about entire nations by purely the people I’ve met, I truly love my friends here. Their friendships have been one of the most enriching aspects of my exchange. Looking around the room, sans myself, we represent a little Arab league. There are Jordanians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Sudanese, Egyptians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Somalians and of course Omanis.
Regardless of the domestic turmoil within a country, I think it is important to hear first hand about daily life and what drives one’s sense of national sentiment and pride. There are still so many beautiful things to hold on to that are often times overlooked in larger media generalizations. When I read the newspaper, the part that seems to most dominate my impressions are war and bloodshed. It’s hard to envision life apart from this. However, there is so much life apart from what we read in the papers.
For example, there are plenty of shopping malls in Iraq, and to this day it remains one of the favorite pastimes. In Sudan, many people take great pride in the beautiful mountain range outside of Khartoum and the growing tourist industry to the area. Or in Somalia, there are a few beautiful suburbs nearby the airport filled with highly educated and literary people who do not receive food aid. We cannot hide from the failings or problems within our countries, however painting things in black and white does not help.
When it came time to talk about my country, I had to pause. There was so much I could say and and the silence of the room did not necessarily help. Despite popular belief, our lives are different than what is exported through American TV, video games, and movies. We are more than gun culture, gangsta culture, suburban culture, and shopping. America is less a product of our booming pop culture, and more an incubator, at least as I see it, for free thinking and innovation.
Our society is not as superficial as it seems. We often are close with our extended families. When things are good, we celebrate the diversity of all our various ethnicities and races, representing the multiple immigrant people that make up our country, whether it be the St Patrick’s Day Parade to the Puerto Rican Day Celebration. Yes, there is also a growing disparity of wealth, a disproportionate number of African American men in jail due to a justice system that is not always fair, and some latent fear of others that has prevented any agreement on immigration. Sure our politics our contentious at best, but it is challenging to unite a nation of so many different people. We all have problems in our countries, but this was a time to bask in the good stuff. I spoke about our landscapes, which are more immense and glorious than the photos of only LA and NYC would suggest, and that somehow it all fits together into an incredible intergalactic type quilt-work of a nation.