Bismillah Rahman ar-Raheem.
You have been transported into another world. The sounds, what you see, how people look, how people behave are all alien to you. Travel opens your eyes. Takes you outside your comfort zone. Teaches you self sufficiency. How to handle strange and surprising situations. A tingling sense of wonder.
However, it can also lead to a kind of self righteous arrogance. It is easy to find fault with the places you visit. To shake your head at the people, and their country. Human nature finds it easy to find fault in others, but we don’t like to be criticised.
Where I live in the Middle East we have a litter problem. It covers the whole country, and yes no doubt it has to change. Visitors often notice and complain about it. However, lets keep our self in perspective. Lets look back at the history of rubbish in the UK. Actually the UK was a mess. A lot of rubbish & pollution everywhere. Only when it got really bad did a movement happen to tidy up. My mother was part of a Council initiative to teach people to put rubbish in the provided bins & not to dump waste etc in the early 1980’s. Not so long ago. Here in the desert at that time, the Bedouin were living in the desert. Their impact on their environment was minimal, they didn’t have plastic.
A Culture and lifestyle thousands of years old, and a lifestyle that has left little trace in the desert (until very, very recent years).
Plastic has come with development. From where has that development come? Err oh wait.. yup.. that was us.
How can we then be so intolerant? I was raised and taught from a baby not to litter. I spent my childhood learning this. People here have only just started littering, how then are they going to know to teach the children not to litter? It will be another few generations here before this has the chance to happen here. First the rubbish will get left, then the impact will be felt, and then the people will begin to adjust their behaviour.
Behaviour doesn’t change overnight.
The traveller comes, observes and makes judgments on the land and people.
Please lets look at the harm caused by the flight industry. Okay so we musn’t litter yes, but those people from a low economic background littering, have never taken a flight in their lives, and likely never will. I wonder which leaves the greater impact?
We conveniently forget that side of caring for the environment. Why? Oh yes because we are doing it. How many people give up their travels because it is better for the environment? How many people only use public transport when they travel – at home and abroad?
Time and time again I have seen people travelling in countries with a modest Culture, seeking to party like they do at home, drink alcohol, wear next to nothing (like really… pink lycra hot pants when all the people around you are covered?!! Would you wear that in the Vatican?), they travel with an unmarried partner. We do all these things and expect the people receiving us to be tolerant. We are paying after all. Yet we don’t show the same courtesy to them.
The people here in my little corner of desert are very modest people, and yet they tolerate tourists and travellers visiting their country as an un-married couple. For the people here (for our Religion and the law of the country) this is a huge and unquestionable wrong. Yet they do not make those people visiting feel uncomfortable or that they are doing wrong. How quickly the tourist tuts and shakes their head about the rubbish. Or equally makes judgments about the lives of women here (without actually knowing much about it at all).
I read a blog by an American teacher who was expressing sadness because of the lack of “ambition” of the girls she was teaching. She was posted in the Middle East not too far from where I live. She thought sadly – all they want to do is get married and have children. Like this is some kind of low menial task. Just for those who are too stupid to have a career. She talked about trying to teach them to have some vision. What she wrote would have struck a chord with many Westerners who have visited the Middle East. They probably cheered her on.
For me while I appreciate the sentiment, and that she wants to help, it also offends me. I used to work in a financial office negotiating with lots of different parties (lawyers, banks, clients) to get a mortgage completed quickly. Those negotiations pale in comparison to the negotiations I carry out with my rather stubborn and contrary, 3 year old son.
Raising children, making a home is a hugely important, difficult, and in the West undervalued role. The children are the future and how you are raised does play a huge role in the adult you turn out to be. The fact that girls aspire to do that well here should be celebrated not looked down on. What is it about Westerners that make us want to “save” these girls. We are the ones need saving – we have lost what they still have.
I came into my marriage after 23 years of education and with NIL (or very, very, few) skills that were actually useful to me as a wife.
Why can the teacher not focus on teaching the young girls here skills, and knowledge that will help her carry out her ambition to her best ability. Even if the teacher herself may want her to do “more”. If she wants to be a mother and a home-maker praise her for that. She wants to build the future. Teach her skills that will help her do that job to her best ability. Teach first aid, teach literacy (and how to teach that to her children), teach cooking, about health, how to play constructively, patience, teach her about the development of children, her Religion. Then the girl will be able to live her dream (HERS NOT YOURS) and you really will have helped.
Of course there are people that will argue, that the only reason she would want to be a housewife is because she was raised to think that. Yet, I could also argue that the only reason the Western woman wants a Career is because she was raised to think that. What gives one superiority over the other?
See wonderful landscapes, the people that live there, and take the time to notice the little things.
Take the time to hold off on your judgement, as you would like them to do for you.
Then you will find perhaps the world has something to teach you, and perhaps you still have something to learn.
Subhana Allah (glory to God) the world is a wonderful, fantastical place.