We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
Culture is one of the most obvious representations of a society and is manifested throughout daily life. Although in many impoverished countries, people may not always have books, movies, laptops and MP3 players, they still tell stories, make their own music and their own cultural entertainment. The stories, music and other cultural elements of a society are often the most fun and interesting way to absorb another way of life. This is one of the best parts of volunteering abroad is seeing how people live their lives and what they do for entertainment.
In this rapidly globalizing world though, culture converges, especially where people have access to technology. Here is a video of an Indonesian student named Azam, singing Mariah Carey:
It’s funny and fascinating to see that American pop singers have found their way into Indonesian schools.
My personal favorite part of other cultures is food. Who doesn’t love tasting new dishes the way they’re supposed to be made, not in a watered down, Americanized way? Many Muslim majority countries, specifically in the Middle East have great dishes consisting of lamb and goat with interesting spices and flavors. Skye, one of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors who is interning in Jordan and is keeping a blog, was lucky enough to have a dinner with some Sheikhs. At the dinner, he was serenaded and then ate some delicious Jordanian cuisine. Here writes:
After talking and taking pictures for awhile Sheikh Yusef pulled out the Arabic version of a guitar and began serenading us for the next hour. A number of the songs were quite interesting, especially since we didn’t understand anything except for when he said our names. It was an awesome time, and he even sang a song about my fiancee missing me in America which was hilariously awesome to say the least. After he finished singing and before we ate dinner I asked if I could sing them a song from my homeland in gratitude and I sang them the song “Shenandoah”, which I think they enjoyed.
After I sang we all sat done to an amazing platter of the Jordanian National Dish, mansef, with lamb’s meat. The traditional way to eat the mansef is to roll the rice into a ball along with the meat and the bread and eat it all in one big bite. Apparently the bigger the ball you make the cooler you are and the Sheikhs thoroughly enjoyed watching us try to make the balls. I actually made an instructional video for everyone to see but since my internet is so slow I don’t know when I’ll be able to upload it along with my pictures. The mansef was absolutely amazing and just as wonderful as it sounds. I was completely full by the end of the evening and had such an awesome experience it is hard for me to realize it actually happened.
This is just one example of the amazing things which Muslim majority countries have to offer culturally. It is because of this that I recommend that anyone who volunteers abroad should try to take in some of the local culture. This could mean food, dance, paintings, sculpture, music, anything really, just see what the local people do. Culture is a common language which all human beings can bond over no matter this religion or nationality. If you’re interested in volunteering in a Muslim majority country, look into our directory. Research the many programs we partner with in countries all over the Muslim world. Pick a program you like or a country that seems like it may be culturally appealing. Please apply for the Mosaic Scholarship if you want to receive funding for your trip.