SHAFAQNA – Taha, a young-handsome man from Tunisia got stuck in an elevator in Jordan with a beautiful stranger. She asked him where he was from. When he told her, she replied, “Omg, I love Tunisia! I am from Israel.” So what did the two so-called “enemies” do stuck in a small-enclosed space? They embraced each other in a warm hug and took a selfie of course. A new friendship emerged.
This is not fiction; this is a story about real life.
Taha and Ofri are real-life examples of what life is actually like in the Middle East.
Watching mainstream Western media, you’d think the Middle East is nothing but a war-ravaged, anti-Western, anti-women region filled with Islamic fundamentalists trying to arm themselves with nukes in a new age of the arms race.
The truth, however, is stranger than fiction.
A new social media page is trying to show the world what everyday, normal life is like in a coveted region of the world that receives so much negative attention. The social media page, SANDBOX, developed in Israel by Ronny Edry tells the stories of real Middle Easterners, written and edited by none other than the users themselves who are living in the Middle East.
“We wanted to try something bigger than just Facebook. We started with the good news of the Middle East and then the deeper we got we realized the good news is the people of the Middle East.”
Edry says the purpose is to create a community for people to connect in a positive way, one that involves peace, acceptance and tolerance. He’s hoping it will foster new friendships, break stereotypes, and help raise awareness that peace-lovers do exist in a region with its fair share of turmoil and politics.
“That’s how it started to show the stories of the people. We have so much the story of the bad news of the Middle East and we are all the time focusing on what ISIS is doing, politicians and elections but nothing about the people. The main message is what about knowing 99% of the people of the Middle East.”
“Of all the Muslim men in the world I fall for a Jewish guy,” writes Mahjabeen from Pakistan. She met Ben at a Muslim-Jewish conference and they haven’t seen each other since. Her love is innocent and pure, one that involved nothing more than a handshake, but love is metaphysical. Mahjabeen, who wears a traditional hijab, writes that she prays for Ben and hopes that he does the same. “He did a Shabbat service for us and that was the moment I fell in love with him.”
The results, so far, show how similar people are all over the world and it’s the simplicity that binds us together. Add the intense – virtuosic and powerful tunes of heavy metal music to the list. Take Anushiravan for example. He’s another featured person on the website who comes from Tehran and he plays heavy metal music.
“It’s kind of cool. Anyone of my friends I am showing this to is like what, nobody would believe it,” says Edry smiling over Skype.
At the end of each page, you can click another person’s story to learn about them. Each storyteller fills their page like a collage describing themselves and their lives through words, photos and other forms of multimedia.
“The main issue is that it’s nothing out of the ordinary, that’s what’s funny. You get to see how people live in Tehran, you get to see how people live in Cairo..in Tel Aviv and then you get to the understanding that they are just like you,” says Edry.
And with each human story is a mosaic of people of different colors, cultures and religions, but with it comes an understanding that they too are human just like you and me. An image of Taha and Ofri, two strangers from opposing nations embrace in a hug, a gesture of peace, a symbol of love. Then there’s Mahjabeen who shows us Muslims and Jews do love each other. Or if you’re rocking out to a heavy metal tune, remember some Iranians might be doing the same thing too.
By Negar Mojtahedi