We enjoyed learning about Saudi Arabian culture from our intern Jude. She blessed us with her cooking skills and were privileged to enjoy some great food she prepared for us, including homemade hummus, a wonderful lemony okra recipe and shakshouka, a delicious egg and tomato dish.
Learning about the culture in her country was also fascinating. There are some terrible injustices there. There is religious discrimination, not only against non-Muslims but also against the minority Shia Muslims, such as Jude’s family. There is also serious mistreatment of women. Women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive cars, for example. So when Jude had a job there she had to spend half her salary to hire a driver to take her to work and back. Women can go nowhere publicly without a male guardian/escort. In our 21st Century American culture these things just seem bizarre.
But lest we jump to the conclusion that American society is in all respects superior to theirs, we learned that there are ways in which Saudi society seems much better than ours. The disintegration of the family that we’ve seen in our culture has not occured in Saudi Arabia. Families are knit tightly together. They share meals at a common table. The idea of putting elderly family members in nursing homes is unheard of and if done would bring great disgrace to a family. Elderly people in Saudi Arabian families are honored and treated with great respect. There is a saying there that old people must be treated as prophets. Certainly our society would benefit from this kind of attitude and treatment of our elderly family members.
I imagine there are good and bad characteristics of all societies. Jude told us that in Saudi Arabia (as likely in most of the world), there is the sense that America is a fairy tale place, where everything is beautiful and everyone is happy and wealthy. Jude was shocked to learn that there are homeless and hungry people in our country, especially after she saw our grocery stores and the mind-numbing abundance and variety of food we have. She was also shocked to discover how bland our abundant food usually tastes and how little our culture seems to value fresh and delicious produce. But these realities are generally unknown to the rest of the world, who see America through the lens of Hollywood and our pop culture. Much of the world wants to imitate America and be like Americans. And in some respects that is good, of course. But in many respects we would be well-served to borrow from the best of their cultures, and to discourage them from borrowing from the worst of ours.
We loved having Jude here. She is a generous, compassionate and beautiful person. And likewise Jude loved her internship here and is inspired to continue to pursue farming and sustainablility. The experience helped inspire us to keep doing what we do and to keep trying to inspire others, while eagerly looking for inspiration from them.