During my stay here in Oman, I have become more familiar with interfaith dialogue, cross-cultural interaction, peacebuilding and getting to know new cultures. It has absolutely been a life changing experience and a learning process which will hopefully continue in the future. My time at the centre is limited, but I’m sure, and I hope, that the things that I have learned here, the conversations, and new experiences that I have gained will stay with me and continue bearing fruit in the future.
Oman itself is a beautiful country. One of its best sides is that it’s possible to find almost every adventurous aspect of nature here; the mountains, the sea, the desert, and even some green areas from some parts of the country lend themselves to excitement and adventure. It is also a very safe country that has both traditions and strong cultural identity that encourage tolerance for people from different backgrounds, faiths and cultures. It has truly been a wonderful experience to get to know this country better and enjoy all its benefits while focusing on important topics. And it was surprising how fast it started to feel like home to me. I believe that the hospitality that I have experienced here has a lot to do with that.
What comes to the topic of peace building and interfaith dialogue I have had many eye-opening conversations and encounters with people from Oman, Bangladesh, India, USA, Nigeria, Finland and other nationalities. I have been fortunate to hear many stories and make new friends and it has been refreshing to hear about different life views and ways of thinking. I have been challenged to process my own faith and my western way of thinking. Part of it has been about unlearning things, letting go of thoughts and operating models that don’t serve any valuable or meaningful purposes anymore, and receiving and learning new ideas and thoughts instead. But It has also been about realizing and accepting and holding on to those values and beliefs that really are important to me and allowing others to do the same with their thoughts, beliefs and values.
One turning point for me with this topic was definitely the experience of the desert. There was something very liberating and refreshing to quiet everything, even my own thoughts down for a while, and just admire the natural beauty of that view of endless sand dunes and clear sky full of stars. For me it was an experience of stopping and staying still for a while, accepting your past, embracing the present and looking to the future with hope, new ideas, dreams, goals and thoughts.
I have also had the chance to observe and experience the way how people who I have encountered have genuinely shown respect and caring for others and for me. It has moved me deeply and that has given a deeper meaning and value for dialogue and connecting to other people as I have been able to see people applying those principles into action. Based on my experience and observation, it is not necessary to share similarities or even speak fluently same language to feel connected to one another and be inspired by others. It is a lot about our attitude and the choices that we make and small acts of kindness. I have also heard stories and narratives that have broken my heart and given me new perspectives, gratitude and willingness to serve in a whole different level.
I think that one of the most important things for me has been to observe how people express compassion, patience and respect towards each other. I think it really matters how people feel around you. And of course, we humans are not perfect with this and we don’t even have to be but I believe these are important aspects when we want to solve conflicts and build connections with others. At least, it can be a good basis when it comes to peace-building a learning to understand different perspectives better. And that has been one of the most unique experiences with this concept in Al Amana Centre. I have been fortunate to spend time and share common adventure together with a group of people who then become and important part of my story and background and I will carry them when moving forward to new adventures and encounters with brave steps.
Written and photographed by Anita Ruokolainen, Volunteer at Al Amana Centre