Mention the Middle East and immediately assumptions stream into our minds. Maybe it's images of women covered from head to toe, wealthy sheiks, a whole lot of sand, and camels wandering on every corner. Or maybe it's fearful illusions of radical executions, terrorists, strict rules, and powerless women. Whatever it may be, here is the real truth of what the Middle East is really like [through my eyes].
Although I can't speak for every country in the region yet, I've been fortunate enough to spend quite some time in the United Arab Emirates, Jordania, and Oman. And let me tell you that my experiences there have been far different than what I ever initially imagined.
To be honest, I was nervous those few days leading up to my first time entering the region. Media can fill our minds with all sorts of ideas but really, you'll never truly know until you experience things for yourself. Otherwise, you'll simply make up your mind according to others perceptions, which are not always accurate. Each time I've visited one of these countries, at least one message has come in from a friend asking me questions about what it's actually like.
So, here are just a few answers to the things I've been asked most often:
How safe is it?
Of course no country can be guaranteed 100% safe but that goes well beyond the Middle East. With all the other things happening around the world, are we really truly safe anywhere? You can be walking down the street in one of the safest known neighbourhoods yet something can still happen. In my opinion, it's better to live life without the "what ifs" and fear-based projections. With that being said, it's still important to be aware of the state of the country prior to visiting.
Making the assumption that all of the Middle East is the same is really just like saying all of Europe or the United States is the same.The UAE might be close in proximity to Saudi Arabia and Iraq yet is completely different. Many are surprised when I say this but after travels across the world, I've actually felt the safest when living in Dubai. Arabic people really hold a unique friendly and hospitable culture that makes them especially pleasant to be around. They really take a special pride in making guests feel welcome that I've never experienced elsewhere. One thing that particularly surprised me was how women were treated - never in my life have I seen men give up their seats for women on public transport as much as I did when living in the UAE. Take note guys. ;)
As a woman, are you going to have to cover yourself up completely?
This also depends from country to country as well as the area within a country. For instance, Dubai in the UAE is highly western-influenced so you can dress the same as in your home countries while Oman is more conservative. In the more wealthy areas of Jordania, I've found that women tend to show more skin in comparison to the more poor areas. All in all though, you never have to wear the traditional dress as some may think. Sometimes you will just have to cover up more than usual. Wearing the dress can definitely save you a ton of time in the mornings though, when choosing what to wear so it's also not a bad option!
But across every country, it's important to dress appropriately (covering as much skin as possible with a light scarf to cover your head) in any religious area such as a mosque to be respectful.
Can you speak English there?
Mostly, Arabic people speak English. The level depends from region to region but I've never had a problem in communicating. The one word you will hear constantly though is "Habibi", meaning honey or babe. It is not only used for people you care about but also in casual conversation so it's a must know ( & also just a really fun word). Did you know writing in arabic is done from right to left? It's quite neat to see!
I'll be adding my individual country experiences in the upcoming weeks so stay tuned! For now though, discover what Wadi Rum in Jordania is all about. Have other questions about the Middle East? Ask away in the comments below. :)