It was a hot, sunny July day in Phoenix, Arizona. It was amazing seeing the long green cacti on my way to visit ASU, Arizona State University, with a group of eight Birzeit University students. I remember wearing light blue jeans, a beige top, a scarf and, of course, my light sneakers. We were excited to meet other college students and exchange information with them about peace, leadership and conflict resolution. On that day, we were escorted by around seven ASU students to see the university. The students who escorted us asked us questions and seemed very excited to meet Arabs. An ASU student was curious about our clothes and asked if we bought them in Phoenix. He frowned when we informed him that our clothes were from our home country. He was amazed that we had stores that sold jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers and that this is what we normally wear in our country. It’s funny how many people are misled about the actual realities in Arab countries.
One of the ASU students wanted to teach us about this magical tool used to search for information, and he explained that this system would help us a lot. It turned out that he was speaking about the internet. I told him I have an email and I have a Facebook account. I am not sure why, but this information was so confusing to him. He tried to understand how and when I was able to use the internet. I was more concerned about why, why it was so difficult for him to accept the idea that I had a Facebook account or even the fact that the internet existed in an Arab country such as Palestine. I don’t understand why he imagined the entire place to be a sand desert where we ride camels to and from school.
One of the students, whose question I will never forget, was a young man of average height. He seemed to be around my age and had bronze skin and blonde hair, but I forgot his name. Nonetheless, he told me, “I am curious to know why you Arabs are riding donkeys backwards.” I could not speak for a minute, I almost wanted to cry. I told him that I had never seen a person riding a donkey backwards and that this was an act used to humiliate someone for a criminal act he or she had committed. I informed him that this act was performed for many centuries and was merely a punishment. It was not a common thing to do and it does not happen nowadays, at least where I live. His face turned red and he apologized, but I told him not to apologize as it was not his fault for having the wrong idea about Arabs. We continued to speak about the negative Arabic stereotype he had in mind, which he had acquired from the media and Hollywood movies.
This short trip affected my life deeply and I learned a lot from it. I especially learned a lot from the experiences I had travelling to six US states: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Georgia, and Arizona. It’s sad how the wrong image of Arabs prevail over the truth. This is just a mirror of the orientalism that exists in their fantasies! The media and entertainment industry create common misconceptions and stereotypes about who resides in the Middle East.