GRANADA, the last kingdom of the Moors in southern Spain, is a treasure trove of historic architecture. The apex of any visit to the city are the marvelously detailed palaces of the Alhambra, which were built on a hill overlooking the city center. While I personally didn’t find the buildings comprising the Alhambra to be any more beautiful than those of the Alcazar in Seville, the Alhambra’s setting in a magical forest high above the city is what makes it truly special.
Even as a rabid student of geography, I must admit I had very little knowledge about the cycle of daily life in the Middle East prior to beginning my first teaching job there. I thought of the region as the ultimate exotic location–the land of Aladdin, Sinbad the sailor and genies who magically appeared from shiny lamps. So, before I can begin to share my overall impressions about Arabian Gulf culture through the eyes of my Omani friends and students, let me explain a bit about my own first impressions.
While I was studying at the University of Edinburgh in 2003, I met and became friends with student teachers from Oman and Syria who forever changed my view of people from this region. I found the Syrians to be very Western in both appearance and outlook as they mixed easily with the Europeans in the program. My Syrian friends were from wealthier families in Damascus and were quick to proclaim they were not religious. In contrast, my Omani friend, Abdul, openly bristled in social situations outside class and appeared to be generally ill at ease.