Monday, July 6, 2009

I have met the enemy and I like them - 7/07/09

I consider myself to be open-minded. I have traveled well and have been introduced to many cultures. I am not, by nature, a racist or a bigot. I evaluate each individual I come in contact with by their actions, never on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, color of their eyes, accent, etc. I am proud to have raised three kids with the same values.

But, as many of my countrymen are, I am guilty of bigotry. In my mind, I lump the Middle East together: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Jordan……….et al. All the Arab nations, to me, have all become one big lump of dirt and sand, indistinguishable. Much like Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas to me. The only difference is that I really don’t hate anyone from those God forsaken states. But, since 9/11, I have a knee-jerk reaction to anyone wearing a ghutra.

I have not had much contact with Arab people. I have been to the Middle East but only as a military member working on logistics and weaponry that would be used to shock and awe them back into the Stone Age. I avoided any but essential contact with the citizenry.

I have recently begun working with the American Hospitality Academy, where I have come in contact with young people from many countries. Three of the current interns are from Lebanon. The only things I knew about Lebanon was the Hezbollah (bad), hashish (good), Tony Shalhoub (a favorite actor), and Khalil Gibran (wonderful wisdom). The sad thing is that I probably knew more about Lebanon than 95% of my countrymen.

I have had the opportunity to talk to these students and as a result have done some research on Lebanon. I have found that Lebanon is 30%-40% Christian, depending upon what account I read. I am not saying that as necessarily a positive thing as Christians certainly have wreaked their share of havoc around the world. I am merely stating that Lebanon is not totally a Muslim nation.

It is also not a pile of drifting sand. Lebanon has ski resorts, rich agricultural regions, and coastal plains. It is a very complex country with diverse cultures coexisting.

I have derived much pleasure from talking to these three people and they are among my favorites of the 100 interns that I work with. Their names are Ghaith Semaan, who goes by Gus (probably because we are too stupid to pronounce his real name), Krystel Ghanem, and Nour Mazraani. None of them have C4 strapped to their body (I have checked) and none of them are carrying hashish (I have asked).

Gus is the first Arab man I have ever spoken with other than from the back seat of a taxicab. He is an absolute gentleman, intelligent, respectful, and likeable, with a great sense of humor. I have become very fond of him and we often seek each other out for discussions. I intend to learn much more from him.

Krystel (left) is the most totally beautiful woman I have ever known, bar none. Her obvious outer loveliness is complemented by a charming persona, and a lovely soul. My day is never complete without seeing her bright smile and captivating eyes. Lucky for me, I see her nearly every day.

I have not gotten to know Nour (right) as well, but she, too, is an exquisite young woman that one cannot help but like. We joke about my early mispronunciation of her name, which is pronounced “Newrrrrrrrrrrr”. I don’t have the ability to roll the “r” enough to satisfy her. Looking back on my relationships with women, a focused rolling of the “r” could have had great benefit. Not everyone will get that.

The mission statement of the American Hospitality Academy includes “fostering international goodwill and friendships.” The intent is that the goodwill and friendship occur between the interns. A collateral benefit of the program is to teach a very old dog, new tricks. I have grown as a member of the human race from my contact with these fine ambassadors of a culture that I would have gone to my grave despising for no good reason.


orionsbow said...

Whale: I can't help but admire a man who can admit to misconceptions in the past and also find some way to overcome them and become a better man in the process. There will be one word of caution, however, momentarily. Firstly, on matters of technique. I have used the rolling "r". It works well. However, for my money the "Evinrude", sometimes known as "motorboatin'" is the prefered method. Brings a smile every time. As for the beauty of other lands, I doubt that there is a single place on this good Earth where one can not find both exquisite beauty and abject squalor together in some fashion or another, sometimes perhaps in very close proximity to each other. Islands of the Caribbean spring immediately to mind. While the islands and their extraordinary natural wonder are apparent to those who can afford to enjoy them, the residents hardly ever do or don't to the same extent that wealthy tourists do. I am sure that many places most Americans perceive as isolated or desolate or unwelcoming are just the opposite and that distinction could easily be made would we take the time to explore. The problem, I think, is that most of us find such incredible diversity and amazing natural beauty within the shores of our own country that we hardly find it necessary to look elsewhere. Now, to the nature of those great young people with whom you work. Remember, they were chosen specifically because their mission here is to both promote harmony and goodwill for their native lands and learn hospitality methods and techniques from Americans. Many people would say that Dutch hotels are best but I would offer that American hospitality sets the benchmark for the world, which, of course, says a lot about who we really are. The point is, don't imagine that everyone you meet on the street in Lebanon or Syria or even the UAE or Dubai is going to like you or want to be your friend because, after all, the overall culture of those lands is Islamic, and Islam is in dire need of a world wide thousand year reformation before its devotees can safely be considered part of a peaceful global community. While I fully understand that you have found all those young folks irresistably warm and enthusiastic you must realize that they could be no other way and successfully serve as hospitality ambassadors. That said, I do agree with you, they are certainly, from what I've seen of them, exceptionally giving and amicable. I'm sure you must enjoy them quite a bit.

g-man said...

I can see whence your Friday inspiration came from...hehehehe

Hakim said...

hey...I am from Lebanon, and glad that somebody is curious enough to look it up and sort it out.

guzzy said...

Rick... you never cease to amaze me my friend, shuttle driver and recently favorite blogger... I grin every time i see you driving cuz i know we are going to have a funny but interesting conversation :)

Dr. David W. Powers said...

Just caught up on the blogs that got you dooced. All I can say is this, "how dare you try to enrich the lives of yourself and others by actually getting to know people and enhance their experience in America. They were doing just fine imagining that America is full of redneck tourists and no truly intelligent life forms."
Great work Rick!