I am winding down to the final stretch in this Qatar experience. It’s had its ups and downs, I will no doubt be reflecting on it for a while after I return, that is if grad school isn’t already kicking my butt ;-0
I don’t know whether I am in an up or down right now, but I’m just thinking and trying to make sense of the people I have met here and various experiences we as a group have had. I’m still not ready to say that I could live in an Arab country long-term. I believe and am relieved that I did not choose to stay here. But some of the Americans in the program are… kudos to them. Sometimes I feel a disconnect from them in a way because I feel like they just don’t comprehend the words that are coming out of my mouth.
Some know about my harrowing Arab world experiences to varying degrees, but I haven’t decided if it’s lack of empathy, lack of sympathy or just the belief that I should “get over it” that keeps me from really endeavoring to make connections with them.
my previous post is about my research focus— and think this has much to do with it too— or rather it’s just one of the many indications/factors that distinguish me from them.
I think I come with very solid ideas about what I like, don’t like, want and don’t want. And just so there is no misunderstanding about this, I let people know off the bat. The truth of the matter is, the vast majority of topics and activities and types of people that most other Americans interested in the Mideast are engaged with just don’t interest me at all (or if they do, and I have an opinion— which usually try to back up, they still don’t get /are visibly uncomfortable/ or worse try to encapsulate everything into trite universalisms— this is not “it’s a small world after all!”). Sometimes I try, but I am always sorely disappointed. Sometimes I feel like I did when I was at my job. Like I’m supposed to try to be a good “fit.” But ebony ain’t ivory.
I decided a while back that I don’t want to engage in discussions that don’t interest me, activities that bore me and experiences that in the end add nothing to my life and just make me chide myself for thinking this time would be different.
I don’t know if these differences are because of cultural differences between us, or just personality differences. You click with who you click with, right?
Then why can I click with the white people from Europe, and have real serious convos with them about any number of things? I suppose it’s because we come from such vastly different backgrounds and cultural frames of reference that we have so much to learn from each other. One woman told me that she was happy to have met me because for the first time in her life, she has a desire to visit the States (read between the lines— the white American in our class does not embody/present anything that would make her think America is a place worth visiting… lol.. oh context is everything).
I guess I’m thinking about this more in light of a little epiphany of sorts that I had yesterday. There’s at least one person in the program that I really don’t click with at all and I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual. I just can’t recall an enjoyable experience with this person… (like… ever). There’s no malice, we are just night and day different, well in our worldviews, core and periphery interests and future goals. It’s funny because on paper you would think we would be closer, but we’re really not.
And sadly I didn’t realize this when I went out with a group to an event that I didn’t have the full scoop about and ended feeling uncomfortable physically because of pervasiveness of the cigarette smoke in the box of a room we were in and metaphorically because as I fanned myself profusely hoping the cigarette smoke would not screw my chances for breathing well that night by making my allergies unbearable I knew deep down, that I should never have come.
It started off awful as I we rode a taxi and the conversation mainly revolved around people, places and events, past present and future that I was not a part of and would not be a part of. On one hand I think it’s rude to engage in this kind of convo when someone you know isn’t really a part of your click is present, but it’s deeper than that. I don’t think they really realized what they were doing. Furthermore, it made me realize the extent to which I never hang out with the particular individual mentioned above—- just how different our Qatar experiences have been— for a variety of reasons. Just how different we are. and more importantly just how much I don’t really care.
This situation has happened before, but never to such an extent. The actual event was even worse, and the ride back, although entertaining, was probably what most clearly articulated what I feel. I think this person said two words to me the entire night and by the end ignored me. It’s not a surprise and frankly I am relieved by not having to converse with them (does that make me bad?— oh well– I have o tell the truth and let the devil be ashamed) I don’t know why it took me 7 months to realize this. Sigh. Live to learn.
The sad part is though, this person probably takes it personal. Like I said, they literally ignored me by the end of the night. I wonder if they get it, if it’s clicked to them that we are just on two different planes and were never meant to form the bonds of friendship.
Eh. As for that part there’s nothing I am willing to do about it. There is no need for drama in the final stretch. We will go our separate ways, de-friend off facebook and not have to deal with each other again.
I said to a classmate the other day that there is a certain kind of American ex-pat that chooses to come to Qatar, and unfortunately, that kind is not me. It’s not a racial thing necessarily it’s a personal interest and world-view thing.
Sometimes I think that non-black Americans, especially the white ones (not so much East Asians) I encounter abroad don’t fully understand the privileges that come with that combination of blue passport and fair skin. and so they don’t get why I can sense that a person is more interested in talking to them, or trusts their opinion on something, even something that I probably have more knowledge about, more than they trust me/mine.
I told an American, I don’t remember if they were white or not, but they certainly were not black, that I would never back-pack across Europe. “Why?” they asked. My response is simply because a grimy, scrubby looking black woman in Europe (with African features) with only a backpack as her possession can be too easily confused with an illegal alien and I’m not going through that mess.”
They don’t understand when I don’t want to just go to random countries on the fly, because I need to get the scoop on the black population there if it exists, or worse yet because I already know what can happen to a black person there (Egypt, anyone).
They look at my reluctance to do things as, well I don’t know what….but it’s not favorable that’s for sure. They see themselves forging certain bonds and making certain connections and blame you for both not wanting to, or being hesitant to attempt the same or even trying but not being able to do so. They don’t always see that their best buddy is a racist prick or that that girl/guy is fascinated with them, initially at least because they fit the stereotype of who an American is.
I understand these things, and try to work around it, and make myself as comfortable as I can. What else can I do? I can’t ignore when a teacher or classmate or random man on the street makes this point painfully obvious. I have to protect myself or else I will go crazy.
I’m not saying that I don’t talk to people, but the wide-eyed Pollyanna in me died 5 years ago in dirty room in an apartment in Rabat’s old Medina. If you’re actually interested in speaking to me, communicating and learning and teaching me, not judging me, and not being a shysty individual, we can roll (too bad that is a hard combination to come by). But if not, I will not just look past actions and habits and/or customs that I find questionable. Nor will I attempt to forge a bond with someone with whom I don’t at least have a common interest with… I don’t really know how.
I scrutinize situations a lot, I know. But if using the rubric above I don’t have a desire to talk to you after the pleasantries are over… then Ma Salama! (goodbye). Either there is a connection or there isn’t. Full stop.
In short, I can never simply take the phrase “Arab hospitality” or “insert cultural group here’s hospitality” to heart because although I’ve been treated well here for the most part, I know a darker side of things, literally and figuratively. And I know the darker, ignorant side of things in the American context (and have heard Americans here say ignorant stuff too). But no one hears me when I speak of these things.
That’s their problem I suppose.