Hanouf shares her love for American media, and how it influenced her expectations of American culture. She discusses the cultural differences between her home country of Saudi Arabia, dispels stereotypes relating to Muslim women, and was surprised at how truly accepting people are of Islam in the United States. Hanouf wishes for a Middle East that is more open and tolerant in regards to the rights of women, especially in her home country. This story was recorded with the 2016 Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative students with Benedictine University and StoryCorps.
“Before coming here, well, I love actually watching American T.V. series and movies. I’m so obsessed, but I told myself it’s not going to be anything like the movies, it’s going to be something really different so I kind of lowered my standard, but then when I came here, it was like everything was like the movies. Everything, like people were like so nice, welcoming, they talked to you and when you ask them for help, they help you and everything, so I thought that I’ll be talking to different kinds of people. There are some good people and there are some bad people, but I didn’t come across bad people, thank God, for as long as I stayed here.
Also, I expected that people won’t treat me in a very good way because people weren’t really – or maybe the media shows that people aren’t really accepting Islam as they should be here in the States and there is lots of racism and that people would actually discriminate me for being a hijabi, that’s what I thought and I was afraid of. Even my mom was like you can take your hijab off if you don’t feel safe, but then when I came here, people were very friendly and they asked questions like ‘You’re Muslim?’ and stuff and Assalamu Alaikum and where are you from and they started conversations from the point that I’m Muslim and it was really amazing.
Even the lifestyle is very different from when I was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia because don’t get to go out like whenever we want; just dress up and go out. We don’t get to do that in my country, but here, I can do that, so it’s amazing because I’ve always told my mom like why can’t I go out as much as I can? If I’m able to go out, why can’t I go out? She’s like you don’t have to go out a lot because it’s against tradition and stuff. But then when I came here, it’s normal if you go out, why couldn’t you go out?
Also the experience of being around guys because in Saudi Arabia it’s mainly segregated, I’ve been around women my whole life and then when I came here, there are ten MEPIs here and I thought it would be something bad because we’ve been taught when we were young that the guys are the wolves and we are the sheep so, I thought that it would be like a bit scary being around guys and living with them and stuff but then when I came here, the guys were so nice to me and they were nothing like I imagined even though they are Arab.
Yeah and we actually don’t live in deserts, and we don’t ride camels going to work and we don’t only eat dates, we eat normal food. I’m actually disappointed in the food in America. Arabs have the best food, now I can say that, because I’ve tried Asian food now here being in the States. I mean the food here is okay, but it’s more seasoned in our countries because you don’t have strong flavors here in the U.S. I don’t think so.
I really have hope that one day Saudi Arabia is not going to be the way it is and one day our voices will be heard and everything will change and the youth in Saudi Arabia will be shining and everyone will know what we are capable of. As long as we get over these obstacles, we can do whatever we want, and we are as smart and intelligent and independent as any other youth in any other country.”