Misconceptions evaporate while living in Middle East

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Growing up in Walla Walla, I can't say I had much exposure to Middle Eastern culture or even that I had many Muslim friends. That didn't matter much when I decided to move to the Middle East in the fall of 2010.

I admit moving to Amman, Jordan, was a bit audacious, but I knew I had a lot to learn and little to lose. I was just a kid trying to explore the world, but more importantly, a kid trying to learn more about - and learn to love - a people I had grown up knowing so little about.

Like most Westerners arriving in the Muslim world for the first time I was expecting the normal stuff; women fully covered in long black pieces of cloth, men with thick beards and thin mustaches, and all of these men - of course - wearing dresses, and don't forget the whole risking death thing if I ever wanted to date a local girl.

It this kind of life I was ready to embrace upon my arrival to this region. I pictured myself somewhere between Lawrence of Arabia and a person on MTV's The Real World.

It didn't take long for me to learn my preconceptions of the Middle East were more off than they were on.

I did have a few cultural scares; like the time I went to the resort city of Aqaba in southern Jordan and almost shrieked like a schoolgirl when these water ninjas began appearing straight out of the Red Sea coming right for me. It turned out they weren't ninjas. Just moms playing with their kids and I accidently got in the way.

Then there was the time I was waiting for a friend inside a mosque that, unbeknownst to me, happened to belong to one of the most fundamental sects of Islam in the country. (I just couldn't figure out why people were starring at me.)

The reality is these moments are few and far between when compared to the amazing generosity, hospitality and friendships I have experienced over the past months. The fears I held toward Muslims, that were simply the natural outcome of growing up in a post-9/11 America, were quickly abolished by the love shown to me by my Muslim neighbors.

In November I was in Jordan during the Feast of the Sacrifice, which is the bigger of the two holidays within the Islamic calendar. That morning, my landlord came by our house with a bag full of nearly 10 pounds of fresh lamb as a gift to us.

I looked in the back of his truck to find it was full of lamb. It turned out he had butchered over $2,000 worth of meat just to give away to friends and neighbors.

And just because he could. The fact he was able to be generous was reason enough for him to do so. I have been surprised to learn that this is a common value in the Muslim world.

We as post-9/11 Americans are bound to hold misconceptions toward the Muslim world. I believe it is now our job to educate ourselves beyond prejudice and hate.

The Arab Spring of 2011 had a slogan shouted out in Cairo's Tahrir Square. "You laugh because we have Yahoo accounts and chat, but we are the youth that will bring liberty."

It is this era in history with unlimited access to information and thought that is able to see prejudices removed and important dialogue established between such different cultures, religions and people in hopes we might finally see peace in this beautiful part of the world.

This is an occasional column by Micah Studer, who grew up in Walla Walla and worked for the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation before moving to the Middle East in November 2010. He maintains a blog about his life in Jordan at dontscratchthat.tumblr.com.

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