Last night was one of the best nights I've had on my trip thus far. I got back to my room after a frustrating day of trying to get my cell phone to work, playing catch-up with my school work, and realizing that Seton Hall only sent me books for one of my classes....ugh. I walk into my room annoyed and hungry and Mei says "You have plans for dinner?" Nope. So I decide to go with her to meet a guy from New Zealand and Iranian girl she knows from her Japanese class to eat at a near by restaurant.
It was absolutely amazing. In one night my world expanded tenfold because of this indescribable connection between 3 completely different women. (Tim, the Kiwi guy had to leave early cause he's a broker and gets up at the crack of dawn) So it was Mei, Mahnaz, and I--Singapore, Iran and America.
Mei and I had built an immediate friendship--you know those people that you feel like you've known forever and it is effortless? That's how its been with Mei (pronounced May). Mahnaz, the Iranian girl, is unlike anyone I have ever met. First of all she is drop dead gorgeous and seemingly oblivious to it. She's just 21, but is well beyond that in terms of understanding life and people. She is an actress in Iran, and is in Japan studying Japanese. She seems to almost be a savant of sorts when it comes to languages as she speaks English very well and has learned it simply from listening to music and watching TV. Her native language is Persian, but her Japanese is very good after only being here a month.
After getting to know each other a bit, the conversation turned to Japanese culture. Mahnaz was hilarious when describing it, because she is so animated and very good at doing exact imitations. The culture is difficult for her, because she is a very, very passionate person, and the blank faces and surface level smiles she receives on the subway are beginning to get to her. The talk eventually evolved to discussing Buddhism...then Christianity and Islam.
I learned so much last night (or maybe just confirmed what I knew deep down). Mahnaz's religious practices are beautiful. Her beliefs are completely peaceful and loving. She is a devout Muslim, but open-minded to all religions and has studied Christianity extensively. Her boyfriend is Japanese and a Buddhist. Her deep love for her mother and sister, her passion for life, her genuine interests in others was contagious. She talked candidly about her religion. When we asked her about terrorism or suicide bombers she said that her beliefs are that anyone who kills themselves or others cannot go to Paradise.
I was fascinated. How quickly all of my preconceived notions were thrown out the window when it was brought down to the human level. Yes, she must be covered when she walks the streets in her country. But no, she does not hate Americans or Christians. She cracks jokes, has boyfriend problems, and is sad about her lack of relationship with her father. She is me and you. If only everyone could meet a Mahnaz. There would be a lot less to fear. And isn't fear what drives all of this anyway?
I've been reading the book Conversations with God (great book if anyone is interested) and the author describes two fundamental human feelings/emotions. The first being love. The second being the opposite...and it's not hate. It's fear. The reason we are at war is not because they are wrong or we are wrong. It is because ultimately we (humans) are terrified of what we don't know or understand. Fear culminates hate. If we could all do what I did last night--bring it down to the human level and understand that we really are all the same...we are all made up of the same matter, we are all born the same way and we all live and we all die. Then the fear would disseminate, acceptance would build, and we'd all live happily ever after.
Yeah, yeah, I know. A little idealistic. But you get my point. We cannot judge the people of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan based on what we are seeing on TV. It would be like judging the US based on Ted Kaczynski and Jeffery Dahmer. I think the term "Terrorists" is a perfect description for the sad, horrible people that hurt so many-- not because they inflict terror, but because they themselves are terrified. And the only way they can handle their fear of what they don't know and don't understand is to try to suppress it or get rid of it altogether.
These 2 woman, who have experienced more in their short lives than I probably ever will, taught me more in one night than any psychology or sociology class ever could. I also realized what a charmed life I have lived. Although my problems sometimes seem overwhelming, having a night like last night gives me the perspective I need. We are lucky in America. We do not realize how easy we really do have it. But it doesn't make us better, it doesn't make us the best. In fact, maybe it makes us less capable of handling real difficult situations when they arise. Our lives are easy. Even when we think they're not.
This is why I love traveling...