Positive Experiences Traveling in Muslim Countries

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

Love at First Sight in Morocco

The first time I visited Morocco was in 2004 when I was a bright eyed American-girl, knee deep in political science studies and convinced the Muslim world was as awful as the news had made it out to be. But, it took me just a few hours to realize most everything I “thought” was true, was simply not. Over the next ten days there would be countless times my beliefs were challenged but one day specifically changed my life. Literally.
After meeting a guy in the market my sister asked him to come to our riad later, and bring a friend to keep her friend company. While we were walking down the street, this guy (neither of us knew the connection at the time) started walking in step with me and when I turned to tell him to get away, I knew instantly we’d be married one day. We’ve now been married sicne 2006 and have two children, and call Morocco home. I’ve learned people are people no matter where you are. We all want the same things in life and labels mean absolutely nothing. I’m honored to call Morocco home and share it with the world!
Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki, Maroc Mama

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 Velarmino, PS I’m On My Way

Saved From the Rain in Turkey

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!

 – Margherita Ragg, The Crowded Planet

Reasons to Visit Tunisia

We went to Tunisia for three reasons: the other Roman coliseum in El Jem, the famous ancient city of Carthage (a super-easy half-day trip from Tunis), and an abandoned Star Wars set in the middle of the Tunisian desert. Our visit happened just weeks after one of the terrorist attacks, and while you could feel some tension in the air, the French heritage also kicked in for many.
Tunisia is a more liberal Muslim country, and there’s no need for head scarves or very conservative dress (though you will see both as you meander). We thoroughly enjoyed the blend of French and Muslim food (ahh, the pain!), though I should warn Anglophiles that English is a distant third place when it comes to languages.
We ended up enjoying our week there and will have to go back the next time we’re in that part of the world.
Chris Backe, One Weird Globe

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

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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! She is the co-founder and editor of Why Wait To See the World. Learn more about her here.
  1. This is such an amazing post. It’s always amazing to hear about other people’s kindness and people appreciating each other’s differences and becoming friends. It’s especially important especially with the current political climate to try and smash these stereotypes. This post really helps that. Nice one

  2. Wow, you certainly have had some incredible experiences! Egypt is definitely on the top of my bucket list!

    xx Kelly

  3. SILVIA FRIEDERIKE LEFEVRE says:

    I spent 2 weeks in Iran last May and it was surely one of the best trips I have ever made. People were so welcoming as I had never seen before. I was a perfect stranger, but was invited to share their dinner. The ladies cooked several dishes so that I could taste the Iranian cuisine. For those who like different things, I would highly recommend to visit Ian.

  4. It is beautiful to read other people´s good experiences. We are all people and we should never forget that – thank you for featuring me!

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