Some of you may have seen a video that’s been circulating recently on the Internet featuring an Egyptian woman protesting the ousted President, Muhammed Morsi and addressing President Obama in broken English. The clip itself isn’t so special but someone took the sound bite and remixed it into a dub step song, which has since gone viral.
At least, it’s gone viral in Oman. I have no idea whether or not it has spread to the U.S. or other non-Arab countries but everyone in my world has been singing it for the past few weeks. To see the original clip, click here and to see the remix, click here.
I was especially amused this evening when I got home to see my three year old host brother and seven year old host sister running around the house chanting a line from the video: “Sisi yes, Sisi yes! Morsi no, Morsi no!” which refers to Muhammed Morsi and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the Egyptian Defense Minister. I was surprised because even coming from a fairly political family, I don’t think I can recall any occasion where I or my siblings in the U.S. would have even know political slogans from another country, let alone been compelled to yell them in the house. It is quite possible that my siblings didn’t actually understand what they were saying but I think it is exemplary of something I have noticed often since coming to Oman.
One of the biggest yet less immediately obvious differences about living in Oman is the wide variety of cultural influences I encounter on a daily basis. This is partly because almost everything I do is a mixing of my own culture and background with a culture that is foreign to me but it is also just a fixture of the society here. Unlike in America where I listen to American music, read the American news, speak with American people and eat American food, in Oman I can in one day listen to Arabic music, read newspapers with sections exclusively on Indian news, speak with Omani, Jordanian and Egyptian people and eat African food.
This is also partly a result of my host family whose strong roots in Tanzania provide their own kind of cultural mix – They speak Swahili and Arabic literally interchangeably (it took me weeks to even figure out which language was which) and it is not uncommon for the soundtrack in the car to go from Arabic love ballads to American hip hop to traditional Swahili and then to the latest Bollywood hit.
However I don’t think it is just my host family. Growing up in the United States is great for many reasons however living in a superpower does have its drawbacks. Despite the diversity that already exists and the countless international communities in the U.S. there are fewer widespread foreign cultural influences and most of the culture that I consume is 100% American, whatever you take that term to mean. Since America produces so much on its own there is less of an interest or need to import things from elsewhere. Who needs Bollywood when you have Hollywood and when there are so many news stories breaking in the U.S. the foreign stories can end up pushed below the fold.
By contrast Oman, possibly as a result of being a small country surrounded by many other small countries, seems to be much more aware of the cultural influences from other places. America is often referred to as a “melting pot” or “salad bowl” but all of the mixing that takes place is very internal – it occurs among people already in the country and there are fewer influences coming from outside. In the Gulf, the Middle East and probably many other places in the world, influences are more obviously external and create more of a “marketplace” where distinct cultural aspects mingle with each other yet still retain their national identity.
In the Middle East many people also have an identity as Arab that goes beyond borders. Although they may have a strong national identity, the connection among Arabs, especially in terms of language, can transcend borders and give people a more vested interest in what is going on in neighboring countries, both culturally and politically.
Living in Oman I have not only been exposed to a culture that is specifically Omani but also become more aware of the many different cultural influences that can make up a place. Things can never be boring when you hear three languages in the same conversation and small children are passionately chanting Egyptian political slogans.