“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.
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!