By: Wesley Denham
This is my first time in the Middle East. I come from America, a wonderful country. It’s also the land of a thousand stereotypes. Arabs there are no different. The images we see on TV are not always flattering. To be fair, this is not specific to the US. This takes place on television sets, and around dinner tables, all around the world, time and time again each day. We fear what we don’t understand, and unfortunately, we don’t understand much of each other. Stereotypes have power. They can shape narratives, and narratives can shape the way we see each other, which can shape the way we relate.
I walk into a shop. The owner offers me coffee. I wander into a small restaurant. As I order, the man behind the counter smiles, offering me a sample taste of what lies ahead. It’s good. Going to get water, the man helping points to a couch and offers me a seat while I wait. Talking with a taxi cab driver, after finding out I’m from the States, he smiles and says, “Welcome to Jordan!” I hear this phrase again and again and again, “Welcome to Jordan!” I do feel welcome. Stereotypes begin to fade, with truth filling the empty space. These are kind, loving, and welcoming people. The narrative that begins to form counters the one that followed me here.
Moving deeper into language learning, new windows open into the culture. Faith and God are a part of everyday life. Family is important. Helping each other is a theme I see again and again. Taking joy from relationships, from time spent sitting and talking over coffee or tea, these are the values that come to the forefront. Stereotypes continue to fade. Truth takes up residence in my heart, and I see the beauty of a culture and a people that I was largely clueless to before.
To be sure, all is not perfect. Like anywhere else, problems exist. What has happened however, is that by living and talking and sharing and learning, old stereotypes are being replaced by a more authentic and balanced perspective. It’s a narrative, a story, that makes room for the good. Truth replaces lies. Stereotypes move out, reality moves in.
I came here not knowing what to expect. It would be dishonest for me to say I wasn’t a little bit afraid. Interacting with Arabs has removed this fear, with language study providing even more clarity into this wonderful culture. I am no longer afraid. I am blessed, grateful and excited to see what more I can learn from neighbors, from teachers, and from friends. Stereotypes have power, and they can shape narratives. Living among Arabs has destroyed the negative stereotypes I held, making way for a new story. One where what you see isn’t fear, but a smile and a voice that says, “Welcome to Jordan!” I do feel welcome, grateful for the new story that is being written.