Date of Award
Dr. Elise Edwards
Old men were everywhere. The Nizwa Souq was crawling with them as they wandered through the labyrinth of shops to converse, eat dates, and drink coffee. Instantly, scenes from Wilfred Thesiger's "Arabian Sands" came to mind as the old men of the souq went about their daily business. This was the first time I had truly been on my own in Oman-away from my school and the Americans there, away from the modern conveniences of Muscat-yet as my initial sense of bewilderment subsided, I began to realize this research was going to change the course of my life. The men I met in Nizwa would show me life in the Middle East from a perspective I had never before considered; I was allowed an intimate glimpse of daily life for these old men. They welcomed me into their group, their "qawha brotherhood" as I would later term it, and permitted me to experience their daily activities in a way few are allowed to. Now, nearly two years later, those precious days I spent in Nizwa, along with time spent on a 2011 return trip, have remained the epicenter of my academic pursuits. Understanding life in this part of the world has become a central pillar of my research interests as I have honed the focus of my studies throughout my undergraduate career. Perceptions of these men and the vanishing lifestyle they represent have filled countless hours of thought and discussion as I have attempted to better understand what I experienced in Nizwa and share it with the others.
My love affair with the Middle East was cemented during my first visit to the region as a tourist in Egypt after graduating high school. Faces passed me everywhere I went, daily life surrounded me, yet I felt as though all of this was beyond my grasp to understand from my position at the time. The person I was then wanted to experience the "real" Middle East, but looking back now I must ask what I considered to be life the "real" Middle East? Certainly, I had a perception of what it was, but that is all it was: a perception. Now, as I am finishing my undergraduate studies, I am still attempting to understand the "real" Middle East, but coming to a definition of it is an impossible task.
My intrigue with uncovering the "real" Middle East led me to study abroad in the Sultanate of Oman during my sophomore year. I spent the semester living with an Omani family and planning for the month of research and writing that would conclude my time in the country. Before arriving in Oman, I had a very general sense of what I wanted to accomplish-upon leaving the country I had found an angle for my research work in the study of male social interactions. My work there focused on the interactions of old men who socialize in the souq of Nizwa, Oman. The time I spent working with the old men of Nizwa Souq provided me with a body of research from which I have been able to dramatically expand my research interests. My work has helped me to answer some of the basic questions I originally had, yet in the process has brought up more in-depth and intellectually stimulating questions that, through proper examination, will help me to better understand what the "real" Middle East encompasses. How has perception influenced the construction of Middle Eastern stereotypes? Further, what role do the people and governments represented by this image have in creating it? Do social interactions in the Middle East influence how this part of the world is viewed? In the time since my first encounter with Oman, I have developed these interests well beyond the level of a typical undergraduate student in an attempt to understand more complex facets of life in the Middle East, from not only a western point of view, but an Arab perspective as well. My work now encompasses discourses of identity and perception, though this by no means exhausts my possible angles of inquiry. The men of Nizwa have provided me with a specialized area of study within the Middle East that can be used to better understand social interactions and identity in Oman and throughout the Arab world.
Thevenow, Patrick Edward, "Coffee and Dates: Perceptions of Life in the Modern Middle East" (2012). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 158.