For the past few weeks we have been trying to shed a light on the clarity and humanity that travel can bring to foreign cultures, particularly Muslim cultures (in case you are wondering, yes, this is a direct response to the political situation in the United States right now).
We wanted to include as many experiences as possible, and not just from the “banned countries” on Trump’s list. There is so much fear and misinformation that comes from ignorance, and travel is a powerful tool to combat that. So here are an assortment of small stories from traveling in the Muslim world. Hopefully they will inspire you to plan a trip of your own.
Camping in Qatar
I lived in Doha, Qatar for a few months in 2014. It was my first time visiting a predominantly Muslim country, let alone living in one. I was there for work and unable to leave for the three months, so my adventuring was to be confined to the city and its surrounding deserts.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my time there and I certainly didn’t think it would be as fun as it was. Life in Doha was certainly much different from what I’d ever experienced before and there was a lot about the place that I liked. The food was amazing, the people varied and I could and did get lost for hours in the local souq (marketplace).
My favorite experience above all, was venturing into the desert, particularly the final time when I camped there overnight. That was hands down the best way to end my time there. My friends and I went night swimming in the ocean, ate a massive BBQ of meat and veggies, smoked shisha and gossiped on a sand dune under the night’s sky. We jumped back in the ocean minutes before dawn, to watch the sun pop up over the horizon. I didn’t get an inkling of sleep and it’s a night I’ll never forget
LC Haughey, Birdgehls
Opening Up in Jordan
This is the time when I personally experienced that Jordan is really a safe country. For every time a man would come up to me and say, “do you need help?” i would step back, keep my guard up and respond, “no, thank you. I’m okay.” Even if I am really struggling to read the map in Arabic.
“Where you from? Japan? China? Thailand?” Everyone wanted to engage into a small talk.
“They want to help, you know. Jordanians are like this. It may seem like they are bugging you but really, they just want to help. Don’t be scared. They are good people,” said an expat whom I met at the bus station.
It feels ridiculous that I would always respond and lean on to foreigners when lost. But when I am offered help by a ‘stranger’, I always hold back. (Wait, the expat was also a stranger, no?)
I don’t know where this is coming from. Is it from the current mad state of the world? Or the society I grew up in?
The good is good. I promised myself I won’t put any other meaning to the good. It’s okay to be cautious. But the reason why we are continuously divided by race, gender and religion is because we are not open to learn and understand something that is different from ours. I am (again) slowly journeying into a deeper meaning of my values, of my beliefs, on how I look at the world. And this is good.
Trisha Velarmo, PS I’m On My Way
We were walking by the road one evening, trying to get a ride. It was rainy and getting dark; obviously, we would have to camp somewhere that night and risk getting our tent flooded, or get extremely lucky. Somehow, the second option came true! A lady in her fifties on a bicycle passed us by on the street and stopped to talk; she has traveled all around the coast on her bicycle and after five minutes of conversation, she invited us to stay at her home! We were more than happy to accept – we shared food, walked around the town and laughed at our broken attempts at speaking Turkish together. Apparently, she got similarly stranded once in Greece and someone invited her to stay in their empty rental apartment, without paying any money – that is why she was always looking for other travelers who might need help. We introduced her to Couchsurfing and Warm Showers and I am sure she will quickly become the most popular host in Fethiye! We still keep in touch on Facebook – if there is one thing I love about Turkey, it is how easy creating a lasting friendship can be.
Karin, Girl Astray (read her article on why you can’t travel for “free”)
A Kind Stranger in Egypt
We were at the beginning of a 6 month backpacking trip and were jumping right in, with a visit to Egypt. This was our first time in a developing country and our first time in a Muslim country and we were green as could be. After enjoying the pyramids and being overwhelmed by Cairo, we headed off to the Western desert and the small oasis towns sprinkled in the desert. We had tried to organize a tour, but the lack of other tourists was making that difficult. We couldn’t even get a taxi to take us between towns and that is how we ended up at a police checkpoint asking for assistance. They flagged over a passing car and we met Mohsan, our kind stranger in the desert. He not only offered to drive us to the next town, but offered to be our tour guide for the afternoon, all at no cost to us. Slowly our overly-cautious ways relaxed as he presented his business card declaring him an employee of the Western Desert Tourism Office. We spent the afternoon learning about the Desert communities and exploring the history of the region and he continued to help us find accommodation and transportation onward. We were at a point in the trip where we were feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, but Mohsan’s kindness came exactly at the right time.
Dawn Nicholson, 5 Lost Together
Friendship at the Mosque in Oman
I have to admit that until 2014 I had never heard of Oman. However, in May 2015 I set off to the country to visit my boyfriend who was working there as an English teacher. I really didn’t know what to expect but I was greeted with the stunning landscape, friendly locals and some delicious cuisine.
Based in the capital city of Muscat, one of my highlights was visiting Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Now the 11th biggest mosque in the world, it’s an absolutely stunning building, with equally beautiful grounds to walk around. What made the trip extra special for me was the taxi driver who took me. On the way to the mosque, he stopped off and bought me some water (it was about 50 degrees celsius while I was there – a heatwave!). He took photos of me inside and accompanied me on a walk around the grounds of the mosque afterwards. We spoke about Islam and Christianity, the similarities they share and his faith as a Muslim. His kindness has stuck with me and has given me fond memories of both Oman and the stunning mosque.
Helen, Bristolian Backpacker
People of Sudan
While in Sudan we were dealing with 50 degree Celsius heat (122 Fahrenheit) and running low on water. We met a friendly villager that let us use his water tanks to fill our water tank. Using plastic bottles we trekked back and forth to our truck to fill our tank. We caused quite a commotion in the village and many people came out to see us!
Sudan could be described as off the beaten path but the country is rich in culture and history. While Egypt may be known for their pyramids, there are more than 200 pyramids at Meroe, many in ruins in the middle of the desert, and all built in the distinct Nubian design and proportion. Nubian pyramids are different from Egyptian pyramids in that they are tall and narrow. Many have had to be restored because explorers blew the tops off of the pyramids hoping to find gold and other treasures.
Nicole, Travelgal Nicole
A Local Lunch in Jordan
In 2013, I visited Jordan for the first time. Our itinerary included some of the main sights, like Petra and Wadi Rum, as well as lesser-known points of interest like Shobak Castle, a castle dating back to Crusader times. After our visit to Shobak our guides invited us to join them for lunch in the house of a local Bedouin family. We spent an unforgettable afternoon with them – first, we enjoyed a delicious lunch, and our main course was Mansaf, a dish made with lamb and yogurt. I had no idea Jordanian food was so delicious! After lunch we spent some time chatting about the region and how tourism decreased since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. Tourism is a very important sector of economy in Jordan and many local families rely on it – including our lovely hosts. I can’t quite stress enough that Jordan is safe, locals are friendly and food is delicious – if you can, don’t miss the chance to visit!
Reasons to Visit Tunisia
A Syrian Refugee Camp in Iraqi Kurdistan
One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever done while traveling was visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq and being able to help improve the situation of those suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises in our history. The camp I went is named Darashakran, located 40km from Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Darashakran is one of the oldest Syrian refugee camps, as it was set up at the beginning of the Syrian war, holding over 50,000 refugees.
I asked some locals how could I help those refugees and they told me that, if I wanted to do something different, I should bring toys for the children, so I went to Erbil’s main bazaar and bought two bags full of toys.
The camp was fully militarized but, since I came to bring toys for the children, I was more than welcome. I got inside, pulled over the car, got down, went on the side of the street and offered a toy to a Syrian girl who was passing by. Shyly, she took it but, in a matter of 30 seconds everybody started to realize what was happening and a massive bunch of people came to me asking desperately for a toy.
I ran out of toys so quickly and, when everyone left, a couple of moms came to me and showed me their gratitude with a very honest smile. That was one of my best traveling moments ever. You can read the full story here.
Joan Townsend Torres, Against the Compass