The Summer Arabic Language and Media Program was a great opportunity to learn more about Oman and the Middle East in a more broad sense, but because it was a program, a lot of the information and experiences we got were rehearsed. Previous programs had done similar things and one of the purposes of the program was to show us the good things about Oman. Traveling on my own allowed me a lot more freedom of movement to explore. In contrast to Oman, I was also less isolated from the population and I had to buy food and groceries for myself while I was traveling, so there was much more contact on a day to day basis with the local population. While I was traveling, I was responsible for myself financially, which meant that I spent more time hitchhiking or couchsurfing to keep costs down when I could which also put me in contact more often with locals.
I chose the countries that I traveled to for different reasons, but many of them were related to academic interests. I traveled to south of Spain largely because of its Islamic heritage and to Malta because of the linguistic ties to Arabic. Morocco was an easy choice because of its proximity to Spain, and I have been interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict for years. In each of these cases, I got some real world context to things that I had mostly just read about. Linguistically, my spanish is passable and so is my arabic, so more chance to practice those was helpful. Where it wasn’t helpful, for instance in darija-speaking Morocco was illuminating in its own light.
Morocco, Oman, and Palestine are three largely Arab countries that share some similarities, but their differences are interesting too. The difference between Omani and Palestinian bedouins was stark and kind of interesting to see. The similarities in food were much less than I would have guessed, but the differences were interesting too. Even the differences in Ramadan were interesting.
Malta turned out to be kind of disappointing from a cultural aspect, but I can’t blame the Maltese for capitalising on European tourism.
Probably, the best part of my trip was to Israel and Palestine. I took a class with Professor al-Tikriti on the history of the conflict, but seeing the effects of is quite different. The casualness of armed military in Israeli cities, the sirens, or even talking to Israelis is puts things into their context. There were definitely Israelis sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but I also met some who believed that all of the land was theirs and would brook no opposition to that.
Dealing with security checkpoints and mobility was certainly easier for me than the average Palestinian in West Bank, but a gave me a better idea of what they go through everyday if they have to go elsewhere for work or have family elsewhere in the territories. There was a surprising amount of diversity in Palestinian dialects as well. Only a short drive from Ramallah in Taybeh, qofs disappear and become glottal stops (actually the same thing that happens in Maltese), from person to person where can be weyn or feyn, but certainly not aina.
I think that traveling is important if you are interested in something and able, because there are small details and sensory experiences that can’t really be described in a text. The similar usage of inshallah and mañana for a half serious hope of something as me and Spanish-Moroccan Jew discussed or the feeling of being caged in at Qalandiya checkpoint between the occupied territories and Jerusalem. I was fortunate to be given an opportunity to travel by the Sultanate of Oman and having a decent amount in savings to continue on after that, and hope to have the opportunity again. As of now, I was awarded a Gilman Scholarship to study in Beijing, I’m awaiting hearing on Fullbright Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan, and getting ready to start the paperwork for the Peace Corps, so who knows where I’ll be or what I’ll see in the future.