If you talk to someone for long enough, their prejudices come out.
Last night, some of us went out to dinner with some local friends. Although it’s enjoyable, conversations with them are complicated. This is because:
1) They’re mostly men. I have to be very careful what I talk about. I’m young, single, American, and female. Which means I get hit on a lot. But, the standards for male/female behavior here are quite confusing. If I were Kurdish, I wouldn’t really be allowed to talk to men. But as an American, I’m not expected to adhere to those standards. My friend explained it to me this way: I’m a single American woman, so many Kurds here assume my morals are sub-standard. So if I talk to men, drink, go out alone at night, there’s no respect lost – but only because there was little to begin with.
People here in Suli grant Westerners much more leniency than locals. And since most women stay at home here, when I go into town it’s unavoidable that I’m going to interact with men. Still, most men I meet here either stare at me strangely or try to hit on me. Or both.
2) I have an American perspective, they have Kurdish perspectives. I’ve stepped into a society with a whole lot of us vs. them vs. them conflict. Growing up in Oregon, I’ve never really experienced this partisanship. The closest I’ve come to it is Democrats vs. Republicans, but Kurdistan puts American political divides to shame.
My stomach turns when I meet someone who is pleasant and friendly, but who, a day or two (or 10 minutes) into the conversation suddenly and vehemently insists that they hate Arabs, or Turks, or Jews. And strangely enough, these assertions usually begin with, “I don’t generalize, but…” I’d heard a lot of prejudice against Arabs and Turks, but until last night I hadn’t heard any hatred directed toward Jews.
A man with whom I was talking last night began spewing out these vile stereotypes about Jews. Seriously, I’d never met anyone who actually believed that Jews are wily, money-controlling, evil-intentioned people. This guy began saying that behind every rich organization is a Jew, because they’re crafty, greedy, etc – I quickly cut him off and said that’s just not true, citing examples of Christian billionaires. I then excused myself.
It’s difficult to look past these ubiquitous prejudices and form friendships. Because I haven’t met a Kurd without these internalized hatreds. Most Arabs I’ve met are a bit more reasonable – I think because they’ve made the conscious decision to move to Suli, they’re not in the same environment in which they grew up and they feel an affinity with both Kurdish and Arab culture.
3) I still don’t have a solid friend base, so I can’t afford not to reach out to people. At home, if I met someone at a party and didn’t like them right away, I wouldn’t feel any pressure to talk with them. Here, I feel like I need to persist.