The question is, who is our enemy? Is every citizen in a hostile country to be considered dangerous? Can we face our fear and find a commonality?
The Abu Dhabu Bar Mitzvah by Adam Valen Levinson appeared in my mailbox courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company. I have been reading it for some time now. It is sometimes funny and always interesting.
Levinson, a young man of Jewish heritage, reacts to 9-11 by-- according to most--risking his life by visiting countries considered dangerous to Americans. What he discovers is that people are people everywhere. He encounters hospitality in places considered hostile to Americans.
As a mother, I am appalled that the author disregards personal safety in search of knowledge; as an American citizen I appreciate his pulling back the curtain to show real faces of those we fear.
Early on, Levinson realizes everyone he meets was 'performing,' considering how to act and talk. Anyone could be a spy, an informer. He assumes an identity that he hopes will pass off as Lebanese, keeping his mouth shut and head down when on dangerous roads.
Levinson obtained work at a university in Abu Dhabi and from that home base traveled across the Middle East. So far I have read about his trips to Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran. Coming up is Egypt, Yemen and Somalia. He includes actual names and dialog and draws from his recordings and notes taken on the road.
I read about camel races with robots jockeys, Levinson's belated Bar Mitzvah in Abu Dhabi, strangers who show him the sights, and his visits to ancient places decaying with time.
Photographs from the book can be found at Levinson's website.
Who is our enemy? Are our fears justified? What risks are we willing to take?
My weekly quilting and craft group held a potluck. I was sitting with the two vegetarians, women from India. One was dressed in an ornate sari and dripped in her finest gold; the other wore Western clothing. I asked about their roots in India and learned about their immigrant experience.
Both are married to men with PhDs and are mothers to successful and highly educated adult children. One attended an Indian school taught in English, and the other taught herself the language watching soap operas after her immigration to America.
I heard about a child encountering prejudice in school when a classmate complained they would not be on a team with 'that child' while the mother, through her silence, showed tacit approval of he son's racism. I heard about a bright child's needs ignored because the teacher 'had' to treat all children the same. A change in schools gave the child the advanced coursework he needed.
And I heard about a honeymoon trip to the mountains of Kashmir. I was told that in India newlyweds seek out the cooler, moderate climate of the mountains for their honeymoon. (Relatives in India can not believe she now lives "in Kashmir" all the time!)
On the way to their destination their bus encountered a bridge which was closed. The couple had to either cross the bridge, return to their last hotel, or move on to the next town. All choices included a long walk with all their suitcases.
A van load of young Sikhs from a military base on a day's frolic were also stopped by the closed bridge. They offered the newlyweds a ride back to the town where they had been the night before.
It was explained to me that the Sikhs were considered terrorists. The Sikhs also make up the bulk of the Indian military force. And yet the bridegroom accepted their offer, and in great fear, his young wife climbed into the van.
Four large young men, one willowy groom, and one young woman. She feared rape.
The Sikhs chattered among themselves, and the bride could just make out some words, knowing a little Punjabi. Then, a Sikh turned and asked the groom, "Why did you come with us?" And he answered, "If I can trust the protection of my country to you, I can trust you will protect my wife."
They were stunned and thanked him. And the young wife feels goosebumps go up her arm to this very day recalling his words.
*****I will continue to read Levinson's journey into hostile territory, learning about places and people I will never see, an armchair voyager in an easy chair with a cup of tea at my side, cuddled under a hand made quilt, grateful that someone else's son risked everything to face his fears.
I received a free book from the publisher.
The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East
by Adam Valen Levinson
W. W. Norton & Company