I live in the Middle East

 

I live in the Middle East. I would not be exaggerating if I was to say there is a mosque at my back door, because, well, there’s a mosque at my back door.

I was born and raised in a small town called Renmark, it sits alongside the Murray River in the Riverland, South Australia. I believe it to be the most beautiful place on earth. Friends from other parts of the world who visited Renmark on the day my husband and I were married were welcomed with a hot north wind and 47 degree heat. They were not as enamoured with my hometown. When I’d described it as God’s country they were left to wonder exactly who my God was.

My little piece of Australia - Renmark. Where people get to look at this every day.

My friend Michael gets to wake up to this every day. Renmark.

There was no mosque at the back door in Renmark. Instead there was an afghan hound who lived in the house behind us with the local dress shop owner Mrs Summerfield. That hound was the most exotic looking thing I’d ever seen as a kid. With its long blonde mane that hung to the ground, it made our stray labrador cross look very ordinary. When the afghan disappeared one day I was told it had gone to live in the snow, (my parents obviously decided to switch up the old gone to the farm story). I’d never seen snow but I imagined Mrs Summerville’s afghan hound would have been the best looking dog there.

Living in the Middle East means that I am surrounded by religious and cultural symbols that tie in with the Islam faith. It’s not just the mosque, it’s the men in Thobes, the women in Abayas, the minarets that stand out above the rooftops as you drive across the overpass. It’s the conversations about who is doing Hajj this year and what people’s plans for the Eid Holidays are. And although Islam frames the landscape of my life, the brush strokes and the detail are pretty much the same picture I had in Australia. I go to swimming lessons and sign up for pilates. I volunteer at school. I walk the aisles of the grocery store. I unpack lunch boxes from backpacks. I pick up scrunched up pyjamas from the floor and stuff washing baskets with odd socks. I dine in restaurants with friends, barbecue in the backyard, look for cheap sauvignon blanc at the booze store, and download movies on my apple tv.

Each day I log in, click, search and read. Sometimes, recently more than ever, I hear people from my home country saying things about Islam and wonder how they became so fearful, so ignorant, so freaking embarrassing.

We’ve all experienced a cultural dress code; no shoes no entry, no denim in the casino, a jacket and tie required for a friends wedding. It’s the same here in Qatar, I cover my shoulders if I’m out and about but if I choose to visit a pool in a hotel I wear bathers while chatting to women who may choose to wear a burkini.

“How does it make you feel?” I asked a Qatari girlfriend when we first moved here.

We were standing poolside, me in bathers, her in an Abaya. She raised an eyebrow.

“How does it make you feel being surrounded by women in bathing suits?”

She smiled “You should be allowed to wear as much or as little as you like. I chose this, you chose that.” There was no hint of judgement.

My Mum always thought that Afghan hound would have been hot in our Renmark climate, I think that’s why they told me it went to the snow. Or maybe it really did? I’m not sure I’ve ever asked for the truth. I’d like to think it got to travel, to look out at something other than our backyard, if only for short time.

A different landscape, with the same brushstrokes.

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