Common Ground

Alumnus Peter Twele aids understanding between Middle Eastern, western cultures

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The serpentine dirt road was carved into the side of a remote Yemeni mountain, connecting village to village. Peter Twele ’88 traveled it the way the locals did, making his way through the rubble, steadily navigating treacherous curves.

While Yemen is mostly desert, the mountain regions are more temperate. Still, the people who live there were in survival mode. “It was like I was traveling back in time,” he says. “Life was difficult when I was there, but things are even more difficult today.”

This eye-opening experience was formative for Twele as he conducted research and immersed himself in the cultures and languages of the Middle East. A sociolinguistics course on language use in multilingual societies inspired his research.

Many people in the world have to deal with various languages on a daily basis,” he says. “The language situation in the Middle East, in particular, is fascinating and extremely complex.”

After 11 years of living in the Middle East, Twele amassed abundant research and a deeper understanding of the cultures. The experiences informed his profound appreciation for Yemen and its people and fueled his memoir, Rubbing Shoulders in Yemen, available on amazon​.com.

In light of the Arab Spring, I wanted people to know how well I was treated by Arab Muslims in situations where they could have easily taken advantage of me. They did the opposite and unfailingly treated me with honor and respect, often going out of their way to help and encourage me.”

Twele, who in the 1980s served as a linguistics teaching assistant at UT Arlington, is working on a new book, Iraq on Their Doorstep, about his and his wife’s experiences living in Jordan before, during, and after the Gulf War.

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