As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.
– Margaret Mead, from Coming of Age in Samoa (American, 1901–1978)
As soon as we stepped out of the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Student Center, the magic hour was upon us. I wonder now if this is a sign? I just met thirty-two individuals who share my passion for education and being around them is like being in a box full of matches where one rub against another ignites a fire. One question, one thought, one perspective–that’s all you really need to spark something meaningful. A continued or continuing conversation, maybe? Something like that.
Back home, I’m used to what I know. I’ve grown into my routine. I’m increasingly able to be more and more certain about what must be. But suddenly, here, in the presence of these other kindred spirits, I feel most challenged to go beyond what I know and look into what the future really holds.
For the first time, I’ve felt just how much of an island we are unto ourselves. I think of how deeply we yearn for change but also of how shallow our understanding is of the world outside. There are so many Filipinos working in Qatar–I’ve met six today. They all smile as they do at home but I break at the sound of their voices when they talk of home and of returning. some of them won’t make it back, not any time soon. They’ve been deployed like troops to work outside of home and sorry as I am for the conditions that have brought them here, something feels unfair. We think we know their employers better, enough to judge and frame them in an always villainous role.
Today, what surprised me was how little I actually knew about people living in the Gulf. I’ve been taught to view them very differently–in stereotypes either created for our consumption by the West or through ideas we so callously share with others despite our lack of actual experience with those of whom we speak.
I’m slowly learning to silence these voices and as I do, I hear more of what needs to be heard. I watch this sunset, recalling the sound of being called to prayer in Brunei–how different we all are and yet similar.