‘Yes,’ I lie, ‘but I don’t have children.’
Naima frowns: ‘Leesh?’ Why?
That’s always hard to explain. I want to create something positive, and I love children. I simply never felt the desire to have my own.
I’m sitting on a family porch in Amman, Jordan. I’ve just had dinner but Naima and her family bring out bowls of olives, nuts, and dates. They ask about my life and work. Unfortunately my Arabic is not good enough to answer in depth. I promise to be better prepared next time.
It was a special encounter with this family. I saw care and curiosity. I felt welcome, even though our background and life choices are so different.
Social climate change
Brexit, the US elections, and the daily news all point to more division in our society. We see an enormous human toll in Syria. At the same time, we talk about refugees as ‘illegal border crossers’ and terrorists who need be kept out. There are real dangers that make it impossible to dismiss the latter point entirely, but I struggle with our intolerance towards people who are different from us.
We develop our own truths, depending on our environments, friends, and whether we read the New York Times or the conservative National Review. We seem to live in different universes, while actually, there are still so many things that we share.
Several thinkers draw parallels with the period leading up to WWII. It puts my stomach in a knot.
Some blogs and news articles convey a feeling of helplessness; the conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere appear unsolvable, and the refugee crisis simply too big to address. The divide between ‘western’ and ‘foreign’ culture too large to overcome.
My birthday wish: share a cup of tea
I’m missing the humane perspective in much of our public discourse: our ability to see our similarities and not opt for the simplest, black-and-white world view where groups of people are vilified. I’m missing our ability to reach out despite our differences.
We can do small things to put that right. They do add up over time. We have seen it with our ‘young academies’ workshop on the refugee crisis a year ago. One result is that the Young Academy of Scotland now reserves seats in their membership for refugee scientists, changing the academy’s conversations and perspectives. Foreigners become valued colleagues and friends.
It’s my birthday today and here’s my wish: invite someone for tea*. Someone from an entirely different background. They could be a parent at your kids’ school. Or a neighbour who is from another culture, ‘class’, or political party. It’s only for a cup of tea, at home or in a café, wherever is most comfortable. There is no need to talk about contentious topics; it’s just to get to know each other.
And what I would like to give: books 🙂
Several books have greatly impressed me this year, in particular The New Odyssey and Headscarves and Hymens. The New Odyssey gives a much needed overview and critique of the European ‘refugee crisis’, with stories from refugees, humanitarians, and people smugglers. Headscarves and Hymens is a gripping read about women’s rights and experiences in the Middle East.
When you share a cup of tea in the next month and briefly describe your experience in the comments below, I will send you a copy of one of them. Just send me an email (eva. alisic at monash .edu) with a) which book you’d like, b) whether you prefer kindle or paperback and c) your address, and I’ll send you the book early February.
All the best for 2017: may it be peaceful, compassionate, and playful.
* I know, I’m biased towards tea 🙂 Coffee would work too!