By Cassidy Rich
What do you think of when you hear the words, “the Middle East?” If someone were to ask me this question two years ago I would have responded as follows: “Desert landscape, hot weather, dust, terrorism, women being oppressed, war, and unrest.” Ask me this question today and I will give you a much different answer. What changed? I traveled to the Middle East in the summer of 2015 when I was 20 years old and my view of this region was greatly shaped. Actually seeing with my own eyes what life is like for Arabs and not having it fed to me through media gave me perspective. I taught English at a summer camp at an academy in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and I realized that I had more in common with the women I interacted with than differences. These women had dreams and ambitions and were working to achieve them. I was surprised that many of them had gone to university and earned their degree and were now career women. It did not take me long to realize that my view of Arab women had been completely shaped by the media back home in the United States. Seeing these women working towards a goal reminded me of my college friends and how we were going to university to obtain our degrees. During my five-week stay in Jordan I met and made so many friends, despite the language barrier. If you were to ask me what I think of when I hear the words, “the Middle East,” you will hear me say: “Faces. I see faces. I see people. I see souls.”
I used to look at the Middle East as this distant region from my homeland where I would probably never travel due to the violence that I saw on TV. But once I traveled to the region and interacted with the people it made me realize that people are people no matter where you travel. I think that when we see pictures or footage in media we tend to forget that the people we are looking at on the screen are humans, too. They have lives, dreams, and hopes. That is what I realized when I taught English and worked with the female teachers in Jordan. These women were so much like me and I was so much like them. Looking back on my experience, I remember the adorable faces of the kindergarteners I played with. I remember the 4th-8th grade boys that thought I was crazy and laughed at me when I acted silly in the classroom. I think of the girls ages nine to thirteen that always wanted to give me high-fives because it made them feel strong and empowered. I look back on my trip to the Middle East and I see people who are continuing to live their lives despite the circumstances in the region. I see hardworking individuals who want to keep moving forward for the betterment of their people. I see souls.