I was intigued by Darcy Munson Meijer’s tale of living in Abu Dhabi. She paints a good picture of what life is like there. It made me reflect on two topics.

THE NEW ABU DHABI

Darcy’s story first made me think about my close friend who is a priest in the Church of England. Not your usual English cleric, since he is an Italian from Rome. I kid him that he must be the only Italian Church of England priest in the world.

I mention my priest friend in the context of Darcy’s story since, as a participant in the Muslim-Christian dialogue that tries hard to find common ground between the two religions, he has spent time in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, appearing on television there and doing research for his work in London.

My priest friend once remarked in one of his writings that he laments the steel and glass towers that are replacing the mud walled mosques and other buildings of the not too distant past. I replied that surely there were those who once lamented the mud walls replacing the beauty of tents pitched on pristine desert sands.

One could ask why are they building all these new high rise palaces in these desert lands? Well for me it is not hard to see - Abu Dhabi and Dubai are becoming the newest tax haven for the rich. Ads for buying one of these new million dollar cliff homes stress that owners will, “never have to pay taxes again.”

AMERICANS ABROAD

One comment Darcy made confused me. She noted that there were good places to eat in her new home, as well as a Starbuck’s and Ben and Jerry’s. However, she and her family do not patronize these two icons of American culture, “out of loyalty to our new Middle East home and our taste buds…” Taste buds I understand, but out of “loyalty” to our new Middle East home eludes me. If the residents of your new home embrace such eateries why would one eschew them “out of loyalty” to them?

Pondering the comment I turned to the common bond between me and Darcy, we are both RPCVs. It hit me that maybe that is what many RPCVs carry with them to their Peace Corps experience and away from it, the feeling that they are “different” Americans. I remember the pains my group went through distancing ourselves from American military personnel stationed in the same African town where we were both assigned.

What is it that makes PCVs and RPCVs try to present themselves as “different?” I am sure many would reply that they want to overcome bad stereotypes of Americans. They want to show the world that not all Americans are cross-cultural bufoons or savage killers or worshippers of mammon.

I have never tried to be a “different” American living in some 16 countries over the years beginning with my Peace Corps experience. I guess not all PCVs and RPCVs try to disguise their red, white and blue paint and are happy living in their national skin. I don’t patronize Starbuck’s and Ben and Jerry’s because I think they are overpriced, not because they are “American as apple pie.”

No, PCVs and RPCVs are not “different,” from other Americans. We are just different from each other and as such represent the totality.

Leo Cecchini
May 2009