The Middle East: parting thoughts
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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It is true that the Middle East comprises numerous tribes, although it seems many would prefer peace and focusing on problems at home these days. From travelling here though I've learned that the countries (generally) representing these peoples far more diverse than I could have ever imagined. I only visited four but comparing each to the others was like comparing chalk and cheese - despite them being neighbours separated by less than 1,000 kilometres in most cases. You walk through a border crossing and you can almost tell by looking at the place that you are somewhere else. And I expect if I travelled further in the region every other country I visited would be quite different to those already seen. A very unusual concept for Europeans who regularly cross borders into very similar countries or an Aussie who sees little if any difference even after travelling thousands of kilometres at home!
Despite these grave differences the warmth and friendliness of the vast majority was obvious everywhere I went. Considering the flack everyone in the region cops from the Western media nowadays I was very surprised by the continued tolerance and forgiveness I received. Australia 'Good!' the whole way through. Sure there was a hint of mockery in the occasional discourse by an individual who may have been a little uncomfortable with my presence, but on the whole young and old alike treated me like royalty and I would have no hesitation going back to any of the countries I visited, or probably most others nearby if I had the opportunity.
However this friendliness was a little odd when you constantly see that there is no thoughtfulness or consideration shown by anyone to others if they are not interacting directly with them. Everyone has to be first. Everywhere I went the traffic was reminiscent of a Mad Max movie, people blow smoke all over others, no-one waits for those leaving a carriage before they barge on, queues only exist to be pushed in front of and in general there is little thought on behalf of third parties in any aspect of life.
I've come to believe that consideration for others is an important indicator of the maturity of a civilisation and where Asia has respect for their elders, the Russians highly evolved queuing etiquette or most of the western world stops for those walking on a pedestrian crossing, it's disappointing that something in the Middle East seem to preclude even the basics. Jordan was about the only place I noticed even elementary consideration for third parties. Turkey, by far the most sophisticated society and who is being considered for inclusion in the EU shortly, is absolutely deplorable in this department. Very strange indeed.
Saying that probably makes me sound like a sanctimonious prick but it's these little differences that you notice and are part of why you travel. And there are things we in the west could possibly learn from - the customary welcoming of strangers, consumption of alcohol being frowned upon and subtle separation of sexes until appropriate courting age are some that come to mind. Other aspects of their form of civilisation can only be considered diabolical. Still, considering the differing problems facing societies in both East and West we all have a lot to learn and long way to go.
Now that I've probably offended everyone it's best to conclude. I expect this leg of my trip will be the most rewarding of all. It was an extreme assault on the senses - a wonderful, difficult and eye-opening explosion of new people and environments; architecture, cuisine and beliefs; sights, sounds, smells and experience. And I can now understand why people fall in love with the region, some devoting their lives to finding solutions to the intractable problems that plague it. Because it is the birthplace of civilisation and three major guiding religions of our age - to dismiss or let it descend into anarchy would be a rejection of our roots, and ultimately, a failure of humankind.