“They painted the stone foundation orange,” reported Lincoln with a bemused smile during our ongoing house renovations. As we ventured into the task of supervising the transformation of our new bungalow in this isolated city, we quickly realized that cultural differences in colour preferences could be as vivid as the hues themselves. While Emily and I had envisioned a pristine white, the landlord, expressing his own artistic taste, preferred a bold canary yellow.
Interrupting the painter’s progress, we asserted our preference for white walls, successfully negotiating with the landlord. However, the compromise emerged in the form of a colorful surprise – the painter inscribed “mash-Allah” on one of the foundation stones. This Arabic phrase, loosely translating to ‘God allows it,’ not only acknowledged divine blessings but also served as a potent talisman against envy.
The city, though isolated, unfolded a tapestry of cultural encounters. Each layer of paint on the house seemed to peel back to reveal stories of the past and aspirations for the future. Despite initial struggles with color choices, we found a universal thread connecting us through the painter’s unexpected inscription.
In our Western context, bargaining for a good deal often serves as our version of expressing gratitude or deflecting judgment. The act of revealing the price we paid becomes a subtle acknowledgment of fortune, a secular ‘mash-Allah.’ This realization underscored that, beneath the thin veneer of surface differences, shared human experiences and motivations await discovery.
Engaging with local housemates highlighted another facet of cultural contrast. Every purchase, regardless of its nature, triggered a predictable dialogue about cost. “That’s too much; you’re a foreigner. Let me buy it for you next time,” became a common refrain. Yet, as we explored these interactions, we found parallels in our culture – the competitive spirit manifested differently, perhaps, but fundamentally rooted in the same human inclination to assert value.
Shifting gears, I found myself in a high school classroom, discussing career aspirations with a group of eager boys. The conversation, initially revolving around the societal need for more engineers, unfolded into a nuanced reflection on development. The term ‘backward,’ often used to describe the city, prompted me to redirect the focus toward the rich history, cultural heritage, and the awe-inspiring natural beauty surrounding us.
Initiating a discussion on ‘potential’ opened a gateway to exploring untapped possibilities within these bright-eyed students. Their responses resonated with dreams of innovation, growth, and contributing to their community’s progress. The classroom became a microcosm of the city’s potential, challenging stereotypes and fostering a sense of collective purpose.
On the journey home, I encountered a curious 8th-grade boy eager to practice English. His aspirations to travel abroad echoed the dreams expressed in the classroom earlier that day. The exchange served as a poignant reminder that, irrespective of geographical distances, shared aspirations unite us all.
As we parted ways, his confident declaration, “I will see you again,” lingered in the air. A silent thought echoed within me, “If God allows.”