With so much in the news lately about the Middle East and with what’s happening in that part of the world these days, I find myself continuously drawn back to my memories of growing up there. If you’re new here, I’ve written a lot about my birthplace and subsequent childhood in Saudi Arabia. I’ve also talked a lot about being a third culture kid and what that meant for me when I finally moved back to the States as a pre-teen girl, not sure of where I belonged, not sure of where my life would go while trying to balance my life in Saudi and my citizenship in the US.
When you hear about the Middle East, you might feel horrible about what’s happening in Syria. You might wonder how loved ones are doing while being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight against terrorists, or you might not understand what’s going on in that part of the world and immediately assume all Muslims are out to get us. When I hear about the Middle East, I think of home. I think of the place that accepted me, that taught me about acceptance, that showed me no matter who we pray to, no matter the color of our skin or the head covering we might wear, we are all the same.
A lot of people in my own country and around the world don’t know anything about the religion of Islam other than what is spread falsely. Many people couldn’t even pinpoint on a map where Saudi Arabia or Jordan or Syria even are. So with that mindset, how can we even begin to help heal the divides? How can we even begin to start to change the view? When we think of these places as geographical countries that we just hear about on the news instead of home of millions of human beings, how can we even possibly all move forward together in understanding?
After we moved back to the States, I spent the next handful of years really struggling. I didn’t feel like I fit, I didn’t feel like my peers understood me or where I came from, I didn’t feel like myself. It took me a long time to come to terms with who I was and what my background meant for me going forward and it was because of how the Middle East changed my life that I fully realized who I am. I might be fair skinned with blue eyes and born to American parents, but the Middle East will always be a part of me, it will always be my compass. When I process world issues, I think about the first 12 years of my life as a little blond girl at home among the mosques. When I hear someone say something completely ignorant about the Middle East, I remember back to all the amazing Muslims I call friends. When I see world leaders making comments about how hurtful Islam is as a religion, I know they must have not ever stood in the middle of an Arab city and heard the chanting from the magical call to prayer.
My childhood in Saudi Arabia might not have been conventional but it’s the single most important part of me. It’s my guide. It irrevocably changed my life and I am profoundly grateful for the lessons I learned there and the guidance that my experience there still gives my heart every single day.