Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Proverb gone right

On the first day before leaving the United States some time a couple of weeks ago, my mum sent me a message saying, “Jauh perjalanan, luas pemandangan,” (roughly translated to “Travel far, wider view.”) I smiled thinking how cute my mum is but gave no further thought on the topic. Over the years, I never had a solid record on Bahasa Malaysia – I seldom got an A for BM; SPM was a total surprise. So, I did not truly understand what kind of “pemandangan” (view) that I’m supposed to have a better understanding of with travels. View of buildings, mountains, or cats? It turned out that my recent travel helps broaden my view on human nature.

It was our fourth day in Turkey. We hadn’t had a shower for two nights. No proper sleep too. And so when we arrived in beautiful Cappadocia, all I wanted to do was to take a shower, rest, and then figure out what to do for the rest of the day. By the time we had decided to rent a bicycle, Zaim was already on a tour bus heading to his first destination. At noon, with our rented bikes, we decided to take it easy and follow the guide of a “walking path” map. If it is walk-able, it sure has to be cycle-able, I thought. Two hours later we were lost. With no compass, I had no idea where exactly we were heading. Then, of all place and time, we saw a car parked between the “Fairy Chimneys” and we were relieved! A man appeared, smiling, calling us over. I was instantly scared and nervous. Why does this man look eager to see us? But we were lost, and we had no other choices. We went over and figured that we will ask for directions and immediately leave. But this man insisted that we parked our bicycles and joined him for the traditional Turkish tea we’ve come to love. He couldn’t speak much English, but he tried. And we tried. With a smile he told us he owns the area. With our map, he showed us how to reach the nearest asphalt road. I was relieved. He is a nice man. After talking about his family, his farm, and Turkish (and European) politics, we thought it was time to go. But we thought wrong. He pulled us over to show us his cute little winery and peanut farm. He showed us, and taught us, about the volcanic remains creating the “chimneys”. By then I have a suspicion he is going to ask for money later. Why else would he do such nice things for free? After about 20 minutes, he stopped at a table full with souvenir necklaces and chose two, one for each of us. He said, “Gift from me. I love Malaysian people. People always ask for a tour of my farm but I always say no. Except for brothers and sisters from Malaysia.” I was touched. Mr. Bekir was a true example of why we should always try our best to have faith in people – sometimes even with strangers.

About a week later, we found ourselves in Milan. We had no plan to stay the night, only 18 hours before our next scheduled train leave for Venice. It was a busy day in Milan because of some bicycle race in support of something in Pink. I couldn’t read Italian. We were walking, enjoying the beautiful summer day, until we arrived at a fountain in front of an old palace. We stopped to take some pictures. Moments later, a man approached us with a Salam. We replied. He told us that he is a Muslim and wanted to give us a string wristlet. We declined, fearing a total scam. He told us, “No problem.” Zaim repeated over and over and over that  we are not going to give him a single Euro for something a 5-year-old could make in nursery class. He said, “For Muslim, free.” We relented, thinking if Mr. Bekir could be so nice in the presence of no one, this man might just be an honest Muslim too at this spot of many tourists. While he tied those wristlets around our wrists, he talked about reciting the Quran. But once he was done, his persona turned 180 degrees and he asked us for money. I wasn’t too shocked, but I was frustrated. We gave him 3 Euros just to make him go. When we said, “No!” loud and clear, he used religion to win us over. When we were suspicious of him, he talked to us in friendly Arabic. How low can a person be to use the sanctity of religion for a few Euros? He saw I wore the headscarf and took advantage of that. Our prayer to him is for God to judge him fairly.

At the end of our trip, while Zaim was standing in line with us at the Venice bus stop, waiting to send us off, we came to the conclusion that people could not, and should not, be trusted. Especially a certain “type” of people. We were so angry at how our day in Milan was ruined by a crook. How unashamedly deceptive a person could be, even when we were no less persistent. Humans are cruel. Survival is more important than honesty. It came as no surprise that these people are still at the bottom end of the feeding chain because they lack integrity in their dealings. I, a person who prides herself for trying her best from uttering racist comments, am so disgusted that unconsciously I began to make general assumptions about people of a certain kind. This is the new wider view I am supposed to have, perhaps.

And then we landed in New York. After a four hour flight delay, and wasted cheap Megabus seats to Pittsburgh, we headed to Port Authority to find the next bus out of New York. While there, still fatigued by our more-than-30-hour journey from Venice, we decided to grab a bite. We came upon a relatively huge cafeteria and figured there must be at least something we could eat there that has no meat. While making payment, the man behind the counter gave me a look and then asked, “Are you Muslim?” I replied, “Yes.” He gave praise to God and smiled. Since we still have our bottled water from the flight earlier, I did not order any drink. With a surprise look, this man said to me, “You can have any of the soda, it’s on me.” After having experienced what I experienced, my head was telling me to not accept anything from him, even if he is a Muslim. But the man insisted, and knowing myself, my instant gut instinct to trust people, I smiled and accepted his offer. He did not ask us to pay extra.

After nearly 16 days, my journey did not end when I landed in JFK, but continued until I finally arrived home in Pittsburgh. God is teaching me a lesson: Do not come down so harshly on others. Each individual is different and unique in their behavior and back stories. Just because one (or two) person did something wrong, we should still try to refrain from making generalizations. I know this sounds straightforward, but honestly, how many of us make wide generalizations day in and day out? I was ashamed, embarrassed of my behavior in Milan. If I was prepared to have prejudices because of a silly wristlet, I should not be mad when half of the world population hates us Muslims. Nineteen Muslims caused 2000+ deaths 10 years ago, and we are still screaming for the public to acknowledge the presence of moderate Muslims.

Yes, my view on humanity is definitely broader now compared to when we left. I learned so much that it humbled me now whenever someone is nice to me. They should not be. My fellow Muslims are murderers. But if these kind-hearted neighbors are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, I should always, always, remember to hold myself from making judgments about others too. I may not have a good record on Bahasa Malaysia, but I know that I am ready to fight against the mentality of “Sebab nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga” (Because of a drop of indigo, a pot of milk is ruined.)



Rassyid said...

It's better to be positive and optimistic. I learned a lot from you :)

Syar said...

I learn a lot from you too Syaza! God knows how I longed for an update from, you!

SYAZA said...

You're too kind Syar.. :)

mummy said...

Jauh perjalanan luas pemandangan... is to menikmati and mensyukuri every god's creations on earth....all of it!! my dear