It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. -Audre Lorde
Before coming to Qatar, I was guilty of thinking of Middle Easterners as a group. They were a people who wore traditional garments, were controlled by their strict religion, and had never tasted the goodness that is a Bacon and Cheese Quarter Pounder. Those assumptions changed as soon as I stepped off the plane, but it wasn’t until I met the women of Qatar University that I begin seeing Middle Easterners as individuals.
Maybe because of the way the media seems to portray Middle Easterners in TV shows and the news; maybe I didn’t give myself an opportunity to learn; maybe because I’d never met a Qatari in person, but for some reason seeing that the QU students we met with were real people that I could relate to was a turning point in my understanding of the Gulf region.
At our class discussion, our group of UMN and QU students covered everything from the American ideal of love versus the Qatari tradition of arranged marriage. We compared parties: ours with alcohol and loud music, theirs with dancing and friends. We chitchatted about eyebrows, fashion, dating, and college.
More similarities were seen in Mariam, a recently-graduated guest speaker who visited our lecture. She wore arms full of gold temporary tattoos and spoke incredibly rapid English as she discussed her feelings on moving out and being comfortable in her own skin, answering every question we had because, “I’d rather be embarrassed for five minutes than for you to have misinterpretations about the culture.” And when she answered a student’s question of her plans after graduation with, “I want to sleep!” my mind was made up: although the culture here emphasizes different things than in America, people are people wherever they come from. And although we have differences, we are very much the same.