The last story I’d like to tell you about is, I had a rare opportunity to chat with Prince Abdul Aziz. And he asked me, “Neha, what is it that the media has taught you about our culture that you find to be true? And what is it that you find not to be true?”
“Well what I find to be true is that the separation of men and women, both at the conference and at the society, is real. What I find not to be true is that I don’t — that you and everyone I’ve met this week have treated me with so much honor and respect, I didn’t expect that.
My parents were raised in India amongst a lot of Hindu-Muslim conflict and they feared for my safety. They also worried that I might not assimilate very well in a culture that was so different from the one I had been raised in. My colleagues told me, that I would feel like a second class citizen. Because I was a woman. I have not had that experience.
The second thing that I find not to be completely true — I’m sure there’s some truth — is that the women they told me — Okay, let me tell you again. The second thing that I find that the media says that might not be totally true, the women that I spoke with actually told me, that they love their abayas, and burqas. They say, “Dr Neha, it’s our fashion, we get rhinestones on it, we get Chanel abayas, we love our abayas, and you know what else it does? We feel like precious jewels, because we don’t have to deal with that unwanted attention from the men”. Ughh.
I thought, well, that certainly could be true, because it’s how they have been raised. Many of them felt very comfortable there. So that I definitely didn’t expect to hear.”
“Now it’s my turn, I get to ask you some questions. Why is it, that when I have violated rules that you, your moral police could send a woman to jail for, why is it, that you honor and respect me so much?”
“Okay, I cheated. When I heard that you were coming I actually didn’t know what to do, but when I got the word, that you got off the plane, you were in black, and you had covered your head with a scarf. I knew that your intention in coming here was to honor our culture. In that moment I knew my job was not to make you part of our culture, it was to honor the culture from which you come.”
And a simple act of covering my head with a scarf, to honor the Saudi culture, had made it possible for them to open their hearts to me, and be more authentic than I could have ever imagined.
That night at the airport I got an email as I was leaving, from my parents. “How is our daughter, is she home safely in California?”
“Mom, dad, I had the most amazing adventure of my life. I can’t wait to tell you. These are generous, loving, honest and open people. They treated your daughter with the utmost of honor and respect. And I can’t wait to show you my rhinestone studded abaya.”
It wasn’t until the wheels of the plane landed in JFK that I saw their response. “Thank you for helping heal us so that we could see them through a new set of eyes, we are so proud of you for listening to yourself.”
So, I’d like to leave you with one thought. What if communication is the cure that we are missing? What if, how we talk to ourselves and do or don’t receive messages and then in turn whether we choose to lean into that discomfort shows up in how we communicate with the people we love? And in turn all of us collectively choose to show up in the world, is actually the prescription for health, long before I need to write you a prescription?