Still So Much to Learn

I had a moment of cultural ignorance the other day doing an Arabic project. We were supposed to interview someone who was born in a Middle Eastern country and find out a little bit about what they thought of America, partially in Arabic and in English. Unfortunately I don’t know actually know anyone for the Middle East (one point for my Ugly American side), so I ended up going to the Arabic Flagship tutoring and meeting a Yemeni man named Maeen. As I listened to him talk about his home city of Ibb and how life went on there, I realized that I had a wildly different view of Yemen from the truth. Honestly, I thought it was just a barren desert country with a few sandstone cities sprinkled throughout, even though I knew Yemen had coastline and the ocean generally didn’t go well with desert. Maeen also told me all about the traditional clothing Yemeni people wear in daily life and I just couldn’t imagine how they survived in long jackets and pants all day. I waited until the end to incredulously ask all of my questions when he showed me pictures of Ibb, an absolutely stunning mountain city. It has gorgeous green terraces on the mountains with mist hanging near the tops, and the city spreads out in the valleys. Solitary prayer towers rise out of the buildings and you can see a massive, ornate mosque on one side of the city. I’ve been lucky enough to see many amazing cathedrals across Europe, but I don’t think any of them really compared. He described the weather as being much like San Francisco which blew my mind as well. Hearing all of this made me realize that even as I had been learning about the Middle East through Arabic class and supposedly understanding, I knew that I still had reduced the whole region to a single archetype in my head. I was so glad that I ran into him by the end of the interview. Obviously, even though I can pretentiously imagine I know so much more than the average American now that I’ve traveled a bit, I still have a long, long ways to go before really I know anything at all. It was a nice moment of ego reduction, and I think I’ll keep it in my head for a long time going forward.

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