Because I do not have cable at home I tend to discover shows on television much later than everyone else. Last week I watched the first three episodes of 30 Days. I liked Super Size Me a lot, and the idea of 30 Days appealed to me because the creator, Morgan Spurlock, tries to push people out of their comfort zones by making them walk (literally) in other people’s shoes.
The third episode placed a Christian in a Muslim community to learn their language, religion, customs, and culture. David Stacey, a devoted Caucasian Christian from West Virginia served his thirty days with some reluctance. As part of the experiment, David was required to wear traditional Muslim attire. At an airport, he was checked thoroughly by police when passing through security. David notes that he had never previously been pulled aside in an airport in his life.
David was visibly uncomfortable and sweating profusely throughout the show. The first half of the month looked like a difficult adjustment period and David’s feelings of isolation and anxiety ran deep. But things improved due to his own initiatives. David did not connect with his first cultural coach, but found another with whom he felt comfortable talking. David also signed up for Arabic lessons and gained a familiarity with the language, which gradually helped ease his anxiety.
The show ended with David a changed man. At the beginning of his journey he openly exhibited the distrust and biases against Muslims shared by many Americans, which have intensified due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of his thirty days, David had connected with his host family, as well as with many of the people who opened their homes to him. He had made friendships and the Muslim community was no longer a stranger to him.
A follow-up article reports that four years later David was still in touch with his host family and had made connections with Muslims in West Virginia. My favorite scene in the show was when David proudly shelved his copy of the Qur’an prominently in his living room bookcase. Cultural exchanges like this are important. If we ever want to achieve racial harmony, situations have to be created in which these cultural transformations can take place for all of us to see.
Note: Our book Sharing Our Homeland depicts a cultural exchange between Palestinian and Jewish children in Israel—a good book to use to illustrate cultural transformations.