It was a dull Monday Morning and I was off to work when my manager informed me I had a new recruit in my team. He had just arrived from Tunisia yesterday and my boss was wondering if I would be kind enough to introduce him and give him a ride to our client? I said yes of course, why not? I know how it feels being lost in a country that you don’t call home. So I gave him a call and introduced myself, he at first seemed clueless, very quiet and soft-spoken. When I met him to give him a ride to our client, his appearance worried me a bit; he seemed to look like a staunch Muslim with his long kept beard and his glasses and grim like exterior. Since I figured he would never strike a conversation with me, I decided to not do the same. So I asked him, do you like music? He replied no. I said, oh well do you watch movies? He said no. I said, well how do you pass your time? and he said, I read books. I said oh that’s great, I read a lot too. What type of books do you read? He looked at me as if I had asked him the dumbest question in the world and said, I read only religious books. Oh I said, now I got more worried. I mean don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself religious at all. My ABC in religion is along the lines of Honest Abe’s saying,” I do good, I feel good, I do bad, I feel bad, that is my religion”. But nevertheless, trying to push the extremist view I had immediately formed of his nature, I decided to probe further. I asked him, why don’t you watch movies or listen to music? He said because it isn’t permitted in Islam and because we are not supposed to look at strange women in television. Strange I thought, for him to make that comment to me, a woman he met for the first time 20 minutes ago which should satisfy the definition of a stranger. After a few minutes, he asked me something unimaginable, to please turn off the music because he wasn’t permitted to listen to it; I knew deep down I should have objected. I mean, excuse me this is my car! (I call her Zoey btw) and I am giving you a ride in Zoey and doing YOU a favor? And now I have to bear the intolerable silence for an hour with you without a so much so as a do re me in the background? Uh uh not Happening! But funnily enough, I just agreed and turned the music off.
After we parked Zo and got off, I started getting strange looks everywhere; we got stopped at the gates and then again at the security guard in the building. Unfortunately, my Tunisian stranger didn’t have his ID and that made things all the more difficult. With all the delays happening, my manager wasn’t pleased and to be honest neither was I. In my head, I started to blame him for all the inconveniences caused; I called up my friend Kathy and bitched to the core. I started ranting and raving about how late I was and about how inconvenient it was to pick him up and how he wouldn’t let me listen to music in my car and how I felt he was constantly judging me and how could our firm even hire such people, I mean don’t they do background checks?! Kathy was teasingly concerned and as usual managed to heighten my fears by making all sorts of jokes such as omg Dee, I hope he doesn’t bomb the building or pull out a trigger on you. Haha I said, very funny, although in my head I had already started picturing my mother weeping at my funeral filled with lilies.
As I watched him remove his laptop and start to work, I started to wonder why is it that people always assume the worst when they meet someone who they find is very different from themselves? I guess it’s a natural feeling; you automatically get defensive when you don’t know what or who you are dealing with. Feelings are subjective because for yourself you are the benchmark and the centre point of how a normal person should be and anyone considered an outlier is immediately frowned upon or looked admirably at. Ironically, I always considered myself open-minded but here I am picturing the flower decorations at my funeral at the first sight of someone who I perceive of as highly narrow-minded. But am I not narrow-minded myself if I meet someone who fits a certain stereotype and then instantly pounce on to assumptions made about him? That perhaps this man is connected to Al Qaeda and is probably related to Osama Bin Laden somehow? Maybe he just generally is someone who isn’t brought up to watch movies, maybe he doesn’t own a TV or a radio, maybe he can’t afford one? Who knows right?
He was constantly working, he barely talked except when he informed me he was going down for his namaz (daily prayers); he didn’t even take his lunch break. I felt terrible and went and got him two cookies, he seemed pleased but didn’t offer to pay. I didn’t bother asking. After we left, I dropped him off at a bus station where he could catch a bus and go home. When I reached home, I got a sms from him and it said “Thank you for dropping me at the right place. I am on my way home” I was relieved he was able to find his way home and when I started to look back, I remembered how politely he thanked me when I did turn off the radio for him and how he was kind enough to apologize for the delays he was causing in the morning and how he without a fuss and without any complaints got through the day just working without even taking a lunch break. I wondered about his lifestyle and perhaps admired it. I cannot imagine a life without my iPod or without my usual you tube breaks. I cannot imagine a life without my precious possessions of fictions books and I cannot imagine a life walking to places and having constantly being badgered and checked at security points. But people do live like that, that doesn’t make them terrorists or bad people, it just makes them misunderstood people. Being open-minded means not to judge people, yet we judge certain people because they aren’t open-minded like us! Can we then by definition be called open-minded at all? Or are we all just completely oblivious and trapped in the hypocritical infinite loop along with other open-minded people?