I’m traveling the Middle East at a very strange time and everyone’s freaking out

“It’s so uncivilised.”

“It’s not safe.”

“It’s a death wish.”

These are just some of the few remarks I got from the day I announced I am going to travel the Middle East. People are thinking I am crazy but this is what feels right at the moment. It’s where the Universe is leading me to because maybe, just maybe, I can make a difference.

The dream of traveling the Middle East and Central Asia started last year. While I was still in South America, enjoying all the visa-free countries for Philippine passport holders for three years, I asked myself: “where will I go next?” What is that one area that I can explore and learn from without being given pressure in terms of ‘length of stay?’ Western Africa came to mind but I heard about the horrible Internet connection and decided not to go. At present, my work is very Internet dependent and I really needed to be some place where Wi-Fi is reliable. (Don’t raise your eyebrows. They have internet here. Even in Lebanon or Tajikistan.)

I am going to be really honest with you — traveling the Middle East scared me. When I was still back home, I said, “I will give it 6 months then I will go to the Caribbean.” I said this because I was scared. While I was in a press trip in Indonesia 3 weeks ago, I realised something: I am not the fearless girl I thought I was.

I remembered my titas and friends saying that if there are too many Muslims around, I should memorise the emergency exits and watch my bag carefully. I ignored them because I don’t believe in this. I don’t believe in judging people by their religion. Boarding from Jakarta to Makassar, there were too many Muslims in the airport. Just when I thought I was okay with everything, I felt a little tingle of fear and judgment. I wasn’t sure what happened at that moment but I looked left and right, searched for the emergency exits just in case something happens. I didn’t smile back to the Indonesian personnels checking our passports. I avoided to greet them and that is very unusual of me as I make sure to always say “hello” to everyone I encounter while traveling.

I felt bad about myself. Reality vs expectations: I considered myself as the compassionate world citizen but when I was in the situation, I feared.

But fear is okay. Fear is the broth of our life experiences. Fear is a sign that I am still able to feel. I don’t know where life would have brought me if I didn’t fear.

Dubai: the change of heart


Before coming here, I was in Hong Kong. It took me three tries to get in Dubai. In one week, I applied for a visa three times. I was already on the verge of accepting that maybe the Universe wanted me to stay in Hong Kong. I was almost ready to accept my fate of not fulfilling the dream of traveling the Middle East but one day before my flight, my visa got approved. They gave me two months and I was happy.

Dubai is home to people from different walks of life. As soon as I arrived the airport, I already had a very meaningful and decision-changing conversation with my hotel driver who happened to be Pakistani. Since I am a media guest, he already knows about my blog and background.

“You’ve traveled a lot, Madam. Do you plan to go to Pakistan?” (In Dubai, they love calling guests “Madam”)

“I really want to but I don’t think my mother will approve.”

“Has she been? She thinks it’s ugly?”

It’s funny that the Pakistani driver was thinking my mother disagrees because Pakistan is not a beautiful country. I was expecting for him to utter the words dangerous, unsafe, uncivilised but he didn’t. He thinks people don’t choose to go to Pakistan because they don’t fancy it’s beauty. But in reality, people avoid it because it is “unsafe.” (Quote and quote because I don’t know that. You don’t know that. Nobody knows that but the Pakistanis.) And no, my mother has never been. Neither any of my relatives nor close friends.

“There was a bombing yesterday in Pakistan. Have you heard about it?”

“Yes, that was in the very chaotic area of Pakistan. So far away from my home. You see, the media is always publishing the bad news. No one can ever write a good story about Pakistan because no one dared to travel my country. Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi — these are good places. The landscape in Pakistan is better than Europe. You should go, Madam. Tell a good story.”

I kept quiet. Mainly because I was changing my mind.

******************

I am staying at Time Hotels in Dubai and while I was checking in, a young Lebanese lad welcomed me and offered me some drinks.

“How was your flight, Madam?”

“Very tiring. I came from Hong Kong, briefly stopped in New Delhi just to come here. I’m sorry, where are you from?”

“Lebanon. Don’t be sorry, please.”

“I didn’t mean it that way! Sorry. Wow, I’d love to go! Is it safe there?”

“It has always been safe, Madam. The Lebanese are very peaceful people. You said sorry again.”

Just like that, I changed my route and included Lebanon in the list. I think it’s smart to believe those who have been there than take advice from people whose lives are lived depending on what the media says. (TBH, I don’t watch TV. I prefer to read)

Why you shouldn’t let terrorism stop you from traveling

You know what’s wrong with us? Us, people from outside the Middle East have so much entitlement. We think we are different, we are above. But what I want to tell you is that, all of the human race, no matter what our beliefs are, have the same problems and ask the same questions.

Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something. 

— H. Jackson Brown Jr.

I have always lived life over the edge and in this moment, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the way I’ve approached life. Bad things happen everywhere – you can be mugged in your own street or run over while walking to your car in the supermarket parking lot – the list goes on. I am avoiding to write bad things because I am not wishing for you to be harmed. What I’ve been thinking about a lot is why is traveling the Middle East is so inferior from traveling Europe of the US? Come on, bombing in France and Belgium, endless shooting cases in the USA — and yet people choose to travel to these countries.

I need to know. I want to understand why the Middle East is being looked at with so much fear and pity. With this, I decided not to live my life watching my back. It’s ugly. It will eat me alive. I ask you to do the same. If you are curious, if you really want to know, then go see it for yourself.

I always want to justify my so called “poor” travel decisions and when I am asked to explain this, I say: “Now is a good time as any.” Seriously, if not now, when?

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

― J.K. Rowling

I choose my fellow humans. I choose not to look at people by their political, social, racial, gender & religious background. I choose to be in this part of the world to write something good. I choose to believe my fellow humans will not let harm come my way. I choose to see the good in people and embrace it.

Traveling the Middle East this year will be crazy exciting, exhilarating, breath taking, annoying, all at the same time. Today, I am flying to Israel and I know that the good force is always with me. I am still that Trisha who has so much love for the world; who chooses to see/tell/write the good.

@PSIMONMYWAY


Have you traveled to the Middle East? Which countries have you visited? I want to hear from you! Share your experiences on the comment box below!

Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.

Comments

  • August 12, 2016

    First of all, I really love the photos! I would like to say that it takes so much time and experience to see all the good side of everything. You go, girl! I am so excited for your adventure. <3

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  • August 12, 2016

    Hello Trisha. Thanks for this post – it’s good to know some people are really honest and frank about their opinions. I am most of the time and people still get so surprised about it. This is why I am going to be honest with you here. And I hope you take my words seriously. When travelling to what you call ‘Israel’, remember you are skipping a very important word: Palestine. This is the first comment of this sort: you will get plenty in the next few days. Palestine is a beautiful land that has been, in many ways, devastated by the Israeli government. If you want to make really brave actions while travelling as you said, go to Palestine. Just like the Pakistani driver, I would advise that Gaza tends to be more dangerous, however not for this reason you should avoid seeing it. But Bethlehem and Jerusalem East, both my hometown from a side of the family, are amazing and peaceful places, where people will invite you for coffee at home and try and show you the best side of their country – the one that hasn’t yet been plagiarised by the Israelis, who claim that a kefia is their own scarf and hummous their own food. I challenge you, and hope that my words can get to your heart so that you take action. But most of all, I hope that you can see yourself what people can do with love and hate. Try to cross the checkpoint from Bethelehem to Jerusalem. Or go see a refugee camp. Or maybe just simply walk around the cities and see how beautiful and ancient they are. Then blog about it and wake the world up. Ahlen, welcome to Palestine!

    Assia http://www.assiashahin.com

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  • Norrilyn Monzones
    August 12, 2016

    Hi Trisha!Im only reading your stories but I felt that I’ve known for you so long,I love reading your blogs,I’m so proud of you!You are inspiring me to travel more,looking forward for your next adventure,take care always ?

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  • August 12, 2016

    Such a moving post Ate Trisha, I’ll be waiting for your future blog post about your Middle East travel. Go change the way we perceive things pls. 🙂

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  • August 12, 2016

    Won’t an Israeli stamp thwart your efforts to visit most middle eastern countries, or are they stamping a piece of paper instead?

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  • August 12, 2016

    You never fail to amaze me and you never fail to remind me to believe that the world has a whole lot of things to offer other than chaos. Have a safe travel, Trisha, and I am looking forward to more of your stories soon! 🙂

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  • August 12, 2016

    Sometimes, fear comes from ignorance and I think that’s what some of is are suffering from. People are ready to believe whatever it is that they see on media like it’s the only source disregarding the possibility that it can be manipulated. I do want to travel in the middle east also but of course I still have some traces of ignorance that I have to deal with so I wouldn’t be so scared. At least this post gives light to the fact that not all parts of Pakistan for example, are risky. And maybe little by little, with the help of people like you, those who braved the unknown, the world will come to know the beauty of countries perceived to be dangerous.

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  • August 12, 2016

    I have been living in Dubai for almost 3 years now. Just like you, I was so afraid at first because we have been brainwashed of the reputation that is Islam. But everything changed when I had a first hand experience of really knowing, experiencing, and learning what it’s like having real relationships with the Muslim people.

    In the span of 3 years, I have developed meaningful relationships with people from Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Lebanon, and more.

    A friend from Syria shared to me a photo of his war-torn home, and the story of how his family have no other choice but to evacuate. A friend from Pakistan shared to me some of the GOOD, world breaking news from his country in a local news, and asked me, hopelessly, WHY the Western world never reports them, only the negative and destructive things about Pakistan? Another Pakistani who I’d accidentally chatted up with, shared to me briefly his story, and before he left, bought me a can of Pepsi. I asked, “What for?” He said, “Thanks for a good chat, my friend.”

    I have many more encounters but what I learned is that, you cannot judge a certain race or religion, and generalise them into doing a certain thing. Every human is different, and at the end of the day, the way a person will treat you depends on how you treat them, no matter what religion or race they are. Every soul is beautiful. Every soul has a story.

    Keep doing what you do Trisha, find the good in every soul!

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  • August 12, 2016

    “To be a good writer, you have to open your eyes to both sides -not only on what agrees to your ideals.” I was once told.

    I’m excited in reading your future articles about the Middle East. Safe travels!

    Xoxo..

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  • Emily
    August 12, 2016

    I agree with everything you are saying and I’m so happy to see a travel blogger taking on the Middle East! I travelled to Turkey last summer (I am from the USA) and everyone told me not to go, it was too dangerous, etc. I loved it, everyone was so nice, and I made new friends. I never felt unsafe while travelling, whereas at home in the USA I feel scared and unsafe all of the time. I am currently a student studying Arabic and learning more about the Middle East, and I am definitely considering moving there when I finish my studies to continue to change people’s perceptions about the Middle East. I look forward to the rest of your posts, thank you for sharing!

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  • Benedict bufi
    August 13, 2016

    Great! although one thing. You mentioned youre travelling to Israel first? I think theres this thing with the middle east at least some of them where they don’t grant you Visa entry if they see that you’ve been to Israel. Better look into that might put prove to be a bane in your travel plans in the m.e.

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  • Amethya
    August 13, 2016

    I will see you in Pakistan and Lebanon! My next wandering/wondering stops! Keep safe! ❤️

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  • Karen Zerna
    August 13, 2016

    Welcome to the Middle East! I want to thank you because your South America entries were my lifesaver while I was preparing for my 3-week touristy stint to Peru and Bolivia. And I’m now so excited to read all about your experiences here in the Middle East.

    Just wanted to share though that I was in Karachi, Pakistan 4 days ago to attend a wedding and it was an awesome experience albeit a short one. Just exercise caution when you are there, same as when you travel to all those other countries you’ve been to. It helps also if you travel with a local.

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  • August 13, 2016

    This post got me – so relate. Everybody I know were telling me its not safe to travel around middle east or any arab countries. Im not that t‪‬raveller as the same as people I look up to like you but I’ve been in Middle East for awhile. After I travelled to Kuwait, UAE and Egypt last month, everyone who knew where I went were interested to hear my stories and planning to go to these countries. These middle east countries have special way to welcome you as long as you know how to respect their beliefs and culture, you’re good!! Haven’t write anything yet in cyberspace but i’ll be posting soon.

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  • August 14, 2016

    Gosh I’m excited for you. I’m seeing your Instagram stories. 🙂 I’m sure you will make it a great trip, one that you will enjoy and share with the rest of us. Thank you for all these insights!!

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  • August 16, 2016

    I wish I have 25% of your guts. You write so well too. Love reading your travel narratives.

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  • August 17, 2016

    I am really happy you are going with your gut to the middle east! One of the reasons why I have not been to Middle East is because of the fact that it is not LGBT friendly I hear apparently. That to me is already something that doesn’t make me want to go because no protection for that. But I do hear though that Israel is becoming more friendly when it comes to LGBT. I am sorry to hear as well about your hassle trip to Israel, but I’m glad you finally made it! My parents like to believe everything they see on TV and media. They were afraid to let me go to Europe last year, but I’m glad I did because I got a taste of how beautiful it is there. And even Japan believe it or not because of radiation and earthquake. But I’m glad I went with my gut and just went for it because those trips were so memorable and I learned a lot from it as well as meeting the nicest people! Hoping you will experience the same and break barriers!

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  • Jeremy Goh
    August 17, 2016

    I had my moment of fear when I was on a bus in Xinjiang, China. The Uigurs have been subjected to Chinese occupation and religious repression, so that was one reason why they’d wanna go boom on a long distance public bus. So I sat next to a Uigur, and suddenly (quite like a Filipino), he burst into song! It wasn’t a happy pop song, it wasn’t prayer time. It was a song song recitation of the quranic verses, like a muezzin would. I couldn’t shake visions of the bus flying through the air in a ball of flames, or my spirit looking down at my minced meat remains.

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  • Obert
    August 18, 2016

    There’s always a feeling of fear anywhere, but the good thing is, you never let it overpower your will to see and discover a place and share it with us. May the force be with you, Trish!

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  • Lori
    August 19, 2016

    I lived in UAE for 2 years and half. Gonna move to Oman this month. And planning to travel Israel. Hope to hear some of your experience and visa process. Thanks.

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  • October 18, 2016

    I actually read the whole post word by word! I am so astonished by your strength and your braveness to travel to the Middle East alone. Truth to be told, I’m not scared of traveling to Middle East because of the news. I don’t watch tv as well; but it is more of because they look down on feminism. I wish you could post something about how huge is the differene between men and women in the countries that you’ll visit. I am quite ecstatic about your other posts and will definitely check out the rest. Subscribed with love! 😉

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  • November 10, 2016

    Lovely post as always! Hope you’ll reach Pakistan one day! It is one of my most memorable traveling journeys! Didn’t expect people to be so smiley and friendly even when I visited the market 🙂 And I also experience first-hand the irony of media image vs reality.

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  • November 11, 2016

    Trisha, you are doing something which many people want to do but don’t end up doing. Cheers!

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  • December 1, 2016

    1st time reading yours.
    loved it.

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