Saturday, January 25, 2014

Visitor from Oman

We had a guest for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year: my daughter’s dorm roommate from Oman. It was a learning experience for us as we all tried to make her feel comfortable in this place that is so very different from her home. I learned what constituted halal food, and tried to make sure there was enough available so she wouldn’t go hungry. We had to explain to everyone in our families that it wasn’t permitted for a man to touch her (not even a handshake), and in our house I had to be careful to avoid intruding on her when she might not be wearing her hijab. It was a new experience for her because she had never celebrated Thanksgiving or Christmas. And before coming to Oklahoma she’d never seen snow either.

I think about how brave it is for someone to travel half way around the world to study in a foreign country, where people talk a different language and where so many people have vastly different customs.

I also think about what a profound affect this will have on her.

As I worked on putting the dishes in the dishwasher, my wife and I talked to her about life in Oman. She said they lived in a big house with 3 or 4 bathrooms, but they didn’t have a dishwasher or a dryer, and her description of the washing machine made me think it was a mechanical contraption. I asked if her dad or her brothers ever helped with these household chores and she just laughed and shook her head.

I wonder, how could it not change her to see men and women as equals in the household? Will the girl who left Oman six months ago be the same one that returns this summer?

As a reader and a writer, I like stories in which the characters evolve and grow as they face life-changing situations. Naturally, it piques my interest when I see people in these situations.