Outsourced: part four

One student's journey across the world

Outsourced: part four

Olivia Griffin, News Editor

As I disembarked the jet, I looked around the airport terminal to see women walking around and gathering their luggage while wearing the black, face-covering niqab veils. The men standing next to the women, presumably their husbands, were wearing long, white, dress-like tunics that covered their entire body, and a white cloth on their head held on by a black rope. And there I was, jeans and a pink Hollister shirt, your stereotypical-looking seventeen-year-old American teenager, standing amongst the throng of traditionally dressed Arabs. Everything about me screamed that I was an outsider to this culture, from my pale complexion to the copy of Obama’s most recent book that I had been reading on the plane to the American passport crunched tightly in my hand.

“Welcome to the United Arab Emirates,” the customs agent said as he stamped my passport – as if I needed a reminder of where I was.

The niqab veils were a source of great fascination to me throughout my entire time in the incredible and beautiful city of Dubai. While Dubai is incredibly modern and Westernized, many elements of Middle Eastern culture, such as the traditional attire, remain incredibly visible in and around the city. Initially, I did not understand the veils, and in my naive, Westernized opinion, I quickly labeled the veils as “bad”. However, upon seeing and interacting with the real women behind the veils, my opinion changed from the simple “veils are bad” to a more complex and mature belief. Contrary to popular belief, most of the women wore the veils based upon their own free will and were not forced into wearing them by abusive husbands. The women in the veils weren’t completely sheltered from the Western world, either; they carried Prada purses, wore Ray Ban sunglasses, and made calls on iPhone 5s. While obviously this is not representative of every Middle Easterner, seeing these women made me realize that we Americans did have something in common with these mysterious desert dwellers – a lot in common, actually.

Some Americans assert that Middle Easterners need to become “Westernized” and learn about us, but maybe we should consider learning something about them, too. Take, for example, the fact that people sometimes have major discussions about how veiling is bad, yet they don’t even know the proper terminology, calling a veil a “burqa” (in reality, a burqa is a metal face shield, which is hardly worn anymore except perhaps by older, more traditional women). Before forming opinions about those who differ from us in their practices and customs, we should strive to abandon ethnocentrism and xenophobia and acquire a solid understanding of the practices and customs of those cultures.

Another stereotype I held before going to the Middle East was that it was a region of violence, a place where radical terrorist groups organized suicide bombings and beat up little girls like Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan (which, technically, isn’t even a Middle Eastern nation) for trying to attend school. Looking back, I am embarrassed to say that I fell into that thinking that is, unfortunately, quite common of many Americans. The Middle Easterners that I encountered were anything but terrorists: in reality, they were very peaceful and religious people.

Just a few days in the Middle East and my opinions about the region were drastically changed. No longer did I see it as a zone of radical, militant religious groups, of war and suicide bombings, of oppression and injustice. Today, when I see the Middle East, I see a region of extensive history and fascinating cultures, an area of devoutly religious people, and, for the most part, a friend and ally of the United States, both presently and for the future.

Click here to read Outsourced: part one

Click here to read Outsourced: part two

Click here to read Outsourced: part three