Always keep your wits about you and learn how to function in an ever changing environment. This was one of my life lessons from diving as discussed in my previous post, although a recent experience tells me I still have a lot to learn.
While boarding a flight to Doha, Qatar, I felt a sense of unease. Given this was my first travel experience in the Middle East, I experienced my American lens in a new way. I found myself looking down in an effort to shield my face to somehow blend with the women around me wearing burqua head coverings. This experience was eye opening as I caught a shrouded glance from a woman across the way.
How can society widely accept one woman as "naked" as me yet expect head to toe coverage for another woman on the same plane? I felt a sense of both freedom and guilt as I took my seat.
While contemplating our cultural differences, a man quickly stowed his bag in the overhead compartment and sat down next to me. I felt my heartbeat quicken as he fidgeted to plug in his phone, put on his sunglasses, and began texting in Arabic while pulling nervously at his beard. In this moment, CNN media clips began infiltrating my mind and gripping me with fear.
Deep breath, I thought. "You are in his environment, his culture...you have no right to judge," I kept telling myself. As the flight prepared for take off, he continued to text and receive texts. Wasn't his phone supposed to be on airplane mode? I questioned suspiciously. My legs began to tremble as the plane lifted into flight.
Shortly after reaching altitude, he began to chant a prayer while moving his body in a subtle but noticeable forward sway. My heart dropped in my chest as I considered the "What if." I began watching videos of my son (who is staying with his grandma in Colorado while we are on this globetrotting adventure) and thought to myself, "How could I leave my son?" "How could I be such an irresponsible mother"
"How could I..."
Wait. Hold that thought. How could I think the worst of this stranger just because his cultural norms were different than mine? How could I...
It's amazing how strong fear is when paired with imagination. I felt lead to share this "strange behavior" with the flight attendant as my due diligence and was pleasantly and shamefully surprised to find the only strange behavior was my own. The flight attendant tactfully made me aware of muslim prayer practices and assured me this man was acting normal. I can only imagine what he thought of me, the ignorant American frightened for no rational reason.
Once I gained further understanding and composure, I sat down and found myself praying as well. In hindsight, we were one in the same, representing two different cultures praying side by side, living out our creative habit of prayer in unison. I am truly grateful for this learning experience and a creative habit that can unite what society seeks to divide.