For part 2 of this post, I’m going to share about my observations of the country and culture I experienced.
I still remember the day I arrived. It was in late March, so it was still cold in the US, but the weather was hot and humid when I got off the plane. I was wearing a coat since it was cold, but I was afraid to take it off when I got there because I didn’t quite know the rules on that and I was afraid I’d offend someone. I remember seeing palm trees and thinking it was beautiful, and I couldn’t believe I was finally there. There are mountains all around, and a really nice view from the school. Most of the roads are paved, but there are no stop signs or traffic lights; just a lot of chaos. There are stray cats and dogs all over the place. I remember the first day I was there, we were just getting into my city, and I saw a huge group of camels. I’m starting to wonder if I imagined them, because after that day, I never saw another camel. Hopefully I’ll see some when I go back!
Most of you have probably seen pictures on Facebook, but here’s what I wear when I leave the school:
I try to blend in with the locals, mostly for security reasons. Most of the women here wear the piece that covers the whole face except for the eyes, but I only do that if I go somewhere by myself. Covering the hair is part of the religion, but covering the face is a cultural thing. I’ve heard that women didn’t have to wear the face covering until somewhat recently, and I’m not sure why it was changed. Men often wear a piece of cloth that looks like a bed sheet around their waist, so it looks like a skirt. Most men also carry a gun or knife on them. And no, it isn’t scary.
A popular activity that most men (and some women) participate in is chewing qat. Qat is a plant that is chewed, and is used to get high. A lot of people here consider it to be one of the country’s worst problems because people spend too much on qat and not enough on things they really need.
A lot of people are curious about the food. They eat a lot of chicken and kebab, but I haven’t really had a homemade meal made by a local. The food that I’ve had is, at best, mediocre. It’s certainly not horrible, but it’s not great either.
Other problems the country is currently dealing with are electricity problems and the lack of gas. The electricity goes out several times a day, but the school has a back-up generator, so the power will go out for about ten seconds, then the generator kicks in. Between 1 and 4 am, the generator gets shut off. It was fine most of the time, but at the beginning of June, it became so hot in the middle of the night that I couldn’t sleep when the electricity went out. The generator has to get shut off partly because it’s not good for it to run all day, but also because it runs on gas and there’s a major shortage. People line up at gas stations for hours, hoping they’ll actually be able to get it. It’s also used for cooking. One time a friend and I ordered a pizza to be delivered, and the pizza place called us back shortly after and said they couldn’t make our pizza because they didn’t have enough gas.
One of the greatest things about this place is the friendliness of people. Most people have been extremely nice and welcoming, especially my co-workers. It seems a lot of people have the assumption that all Muslims hate Americans and are terrorists.. and it’s just not true. They just want to please God the best that they can.
Hopefully this will help you to see a little better what life is like in the Middle East. I’m sure every country is different, but this is my perspective on the country I live and work in.