You can’t take the Sharqa Al-Ouset out of the girls

I spent the last 10 days on my SIT program’s excursion to Geneva, Switzerland, and it was blissful. I’ll be writing two blogs about the trip, one that is more a personal reflection in addition to this one.

As soon as we landed in the cloudy, cold city we knew we were not in the Sharqa Al-Ouset (the Middle East) anymore.

I’ll be honest, Geneva felt a heck of a lot more like home. The trees and the smell of the cool breeze reminded me of fall at Wofford, and my homesick heart was soothed. My friends felt the same way. We all giggled with excitement that we could walk around as a group (all girls) late at night, and that my apparently European looks would actually blend in here rather than stand out.

“We’re not in the Sharqua Al-Ouset anymore!” we exclaimed as we skipped down sidewalks towards the Pier, looking for a shop to buy cheap bottles of wine. We walked into shop #1 and immediately were transported back to Amman. The distinct smell of a typical Jordanian grocery store greeted us along with cans of hummus and boxes of summak.

We left shop #1 in a hurry, feeling even more disoriented when we passed two shwarma places and an “Oriental” (Arab) restaurant on the way to shop #2, where Umm Kulthum was playing in the background while we picked out our wine. Stepping outside again, we realized that majority of our first day “of escape” in this European city had been spent in the Arab quarter. Arm-in-arm, we briskly walked to the pier, whispering to each other in broken Arabglish.

Because, you can take the girls out of the Sharqa Al-Ouset, but apparently you can’t take the Sharqa Al-Ouset out of the girls.

In front of our fav local sandwich spot…the owner loved us and all his customers knew us.

In Geneva, our days were spent in sessions about migration, refugee statuses and care, NGOs, and iNGOs. We spent most of our nights in the Arab quarter/area, after sampling all the non-European fare the city had to offer. Ethiopian, Thai, Indian, Portuguese, Lebanese; we ate the food of immigrants to Geneva and washed it down with Swiss chocolate. I saw the prettier side of our globalized society in that city.

One of our readings for a paper on refugee integration (which we all pretended to write in the hotel lobby) claimed integration is a two-way street. The host community must accept the refugees and the refugees must accept the host community’s culture and norms, to a certain extent. Both adapt to each other; in order to be fully integrated, immigrants must change the makeup of their host country while simultaneously adapting to the host culture.

I couldn’t help but hum the old School House Rock “All-American Melting Pot” tune in my head after a day on our favorite diverse street in Geneva, despite the hate the concept of America being a “melting pot” receives. I felt like Geneva was a pretty nice “melting pot,” and wondered what it looked like before such diversity came together on its streets. It was probably half the fun, if you ask us girls from the Sharqa Al-Ouset.

You change the spaces you enter into and dwell in, while they change you. How lovely is that? Now for one more story…

Our last night in Geneva, our group plus two of the guys on our program set out to find a few good local spots to drink and (hopefully) dance. After tequila at a very Euro-college-town pub, we found ourselves in a grunge/techno dance club that was having a theme night and a “pay what you can” donation cover fee. The theme of the night was refugees…and the cover donation went to a nonprofit (SOS Mediterranee) which rescues asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean. Of course this would be the club we ended up at.

We paid our covers and danced our little future-humanitarian hearts out to Indian and Arab beats dropped by a DJ from Kurdistan, who himself was a refugee.

Our man DJ Jean from Kurdistan @ La Zoo

Honestly, although Geneva was a break from the Sharqa Al-Ouset, I missed Amman. I was grateful for the moments when we would pass the Lebanese falafel truck, or when I could say “Afwan” (out of habit) to a woman on the train and have her look of surprise soften into a smile. “Peace be upon you,” she would answer back.

May peace be upon us all, especially asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants, and all the potential, complicated “statuses” in between.

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ” Leviticus 19:33–34

Take care Wofford,