Sunday, August 10, 2014

IN THE VALLEY

The University Mekkar attended strongly encouraged all incoming freshmen International students to live in the student dormitories. The smaller rooms housed two people, while there were also quad layouts with an additional common kitchen and living room areas. The normal practice was to pair together two or more individuals from very different countries and cultures. Ideally, it seemed to Mekkar, that the hope was to expand each student’s knowledge of the world and create a greater environment of tolerance. In Mekkar’s mind, institutions of higher learning have this as part of their overall agenda and it is increasing each year. Of course, there were some situational challenges as well. The Arctic Warrior saw this experiment as a way to solve problems with creative solutions.

One of his roommates was from the Middle East. At first, Sharif was very cautious as he moved about the campus. He was always looking around corners before entering any area. Mekkar soon found why in a discussion with him and his friends. Only a few years before, Sharif and his papa were coming out of a restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon after eating a delicious dinner. Unfortunately, a car bomb exploded nearby which killed his father and injured the young man also. Mekkar tried to relate with his situation as much as could but his own relatives had lost their lives in a different manner. It took some time for Sharif to overcome these fears and he did. Sharif’s friends from back home received Mekkar into their little group. The northerner even dubbed them “The Desert Clan”, even though Mekkar knew most of the group was from coastal cities instead.

Their clan, except Mekkar who was not an adherent to their religion, would carry a small rug around with them in their vehicles or in their backpacks. One person in the group has a bad knee so he carried an extra foam pad to place underneath his rug. They were to be used during their minimum of five prayer times throughout each day. They would always direct themselves by laying out their rugs on the ground in a specific direction. One of them had a compass that was set to always aim toward their holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. At first, others wondered what they were doing when they see the clan together in this manner, such as in their dorm lobby area. Mekkar knew better and would leave them alone, out of respect, to carry out their daily rituals. The young man from the Far North understood that people from other parts of the globe had different cultures and did things differently. Mekkar would sometimes attract unwanted attention with some his own actions or speech, thus he could relate.

A couple of years later, the clan invited Mekkar to travel with them when they were about to visit their relatives back in their homeland. Since, Mekkar had been to the Middle East before with his papa, he agreed. The Arctic Adventurer had already traveled extensively around the world and was looking forward to a new journey. The plan was that Mekkar would be there for a couple of weeks, while the clan would stay a whole month. The bonus for Mekkar was there were no classes during this time and it was during their cooler season.

During one instance, while the group was visiting their relatives in a southern valley region, they were all drinking and laughing together during the day. The Ouzo was flowing. Mekkar would add a cherry flavored additive to it the alcohol as he was not a fan of the strong black liquorish taste. A milder red liquorish flavor would have been acceptable to him, yet that was not available there. As they relaxed there, the group noticed a few others around them. Mekkar, with the others, were aware of a band of uniformed officers having fun among the opium poppy plants over on the nearby plain.

Sharif offhandedly stated to Mekkar, during the group’s interaction in this place, that he had gained a new appreciation of life and the world by going off to college. Sharif also said that after the initial cultural shock, he has become a better-rounded person. Before leaving home, Sharif commented that he had a limited view of the planet as a whole with little exposure to other places. He said the media reporting plays a large part in creating these images and influencing minds. Due to this discussion, Mekkar coined his own term “Beirut Syndrome”. The definition is the belief that people do not leave or move away from violent situations or environments because they believe everywhere is the same like where they already are. So, why bother as it might be worse somewhere else. Mekkar says that local news sources tend to reinforce these biases to control inhabitants.

Later on that day, they all saw a squadron of foreign jets zip past them in the sky. Even though the aircraft went by very quickly, they were close enough to identify them as a type of fighter-bomber. Decals and insignias were easily readable also. Some of them mentioned out loud that the planes were headed toward Beirut or some other city near the capital. The prediction was gathered from the direction of the flight paths of the aircraft overhead. It appeared to Mekkar that everyone there was not surprised regarding this type of activity, as this was a common occurrence. Then, he remembered similar activity back in his childhood on the reindeer trek. Mekkar quipped, “Maybe, we are all more alike than we believe because, as people, we encounter the same things?”