Explosions in Brussels, attack on Paris, bombs in Beirut, terror in Pakistan, death by the thousands in Iraq, Syria in ruins, fear in Turkey, is just some of the headlines that are making the front pages of everyone’s paper & mind these past couple of months. I woke up to the news of what had happened in Brussels devastated. What made it more gut wrenching is that it happened at an airport, my one true happy place and I’m sure your happy place as well. Airports are what connects us to the outside world, to other people, and to other cultures. So when I heard the news of the attacks, I couldn’t stop but think, that could’ve been me or that could’ve been someone I know. I couldn’t stop but think that someone’s world turned upside down in an instant, someone imagining & dreaming of their next destination, suddenly turn black. The saddest part is that this is exactly what the enemy wants. FEAR
Having traveled to the Middle East numerous times, I’m often given a confused or a disgusted look. People tilt their heads when I tell them of my travels to the Middle East and ask “Why risk your life?” or “Are you &^%*@* crazy?”. And just as confused as the look that they’ve given me, I give them a second head tilt and respond “Why not” or “Don’t believe everything that the media tells you”. Why am I going to let terrorism win? Why am I just going to sit in my little corner, pretend I’m safe, and not see the world? It’s interesting when people ask me if I’ve lost my mind when traveling to the Middle East or anywhere else because what they don’t know is that I’m more likely to get shot at here in New Orleans with how our crime rate’s been lately. What shocks people even more is when I begin to tell them my stories of chugging local beers at a run down bar in Beirut, or tanning on the beaches of Bahrain, or dancing the night away in Cairo. Their expectations of the Middle East suddenly changes because for so long they’re being told “Terrorism IS the Middle East”.
News flash : Terrorism can happen anywhere. Violence can happen anywhere. There are bad people everywhere.
It makes me sad that businesses, locals, and economies are suffering. Visiting Egypt this past summer, you could see the negative impact that fear has created. The Pyramids of Giza are empty, tourism is down 90%, boats that once glistened on the Nile full of tourists are now sitting like ghost ships, waiting to fill to capacity. And while I probably couldn’t have gone at a better time considering I didn’t have to fight through crowds of tourists to get a good look at Ramses II, it’s heartbreaking that a once thriving touristic economy is slowly deteriorating by the actions of heartless individuals. A religion so beautiful is being hijacked by individuals who don’t believe in religion or humanity at that.
I get it, people are scared. Believe me, I was scared too. I was in Beirut during the trash strikes and I barely dodged a bullet when the protests started becoming intense a couple of weeks after I left. It’s a bit uneasy at first knowing that Lebanon shares a border with Syria or Israel, or that bombings have occurred months prior, but when I started to speak to the locals, see them not phased by terror, it made me feel a bit more at ease. These people aren’t letting terror win so why should I? There’s a saying that a fellow Lebanese told me “You bomb us in the North, we party in the South, you bomb us in the South, we party in the West, you bomb us in the West, we party in the East, you bomb us in the East, we party on the rooftops.” It’s not just about partying, but the way I took it was that the spirit of the Lebanese isn’t going to be tarnished by terror. They were having fun so I was having fun as well. Not once did I think about “terrorism” for the entire trip. I’ve actually felt more safe in the Middle East than walking down the streets of Bourbon back home in New Orleans. Sometimes the dangers we recognize aren’t real or are quite exaggerated by the media. I was indulging at the local restaurants, visiting the nearby towns, making friends with the locals, without worrying about bombs & kidnappings. Sure, kidnappings happen anywhere in the world, but my common sense prevents that from happening because I’m not going to drive to the border of Syria or walk unaccompanied down an empty, dark, scary alley.
As citizens of the world, we cannot let fear get in the way of our travels. Travel makes us see a different culture, exposes us to their way of life, lets us savor the different flavors of their cuisine, makes us tolerant towards different religions & customs. When we return, we embrace those differences and see the world in a different light. If we let terror win we will never get to understand a different culture than our own. Traveling helps us break down those racial & cultural stereotypes that we have so long been wrongfully taught. By immersing our self in a different environment than our own, then we can slowly begin to understand one another. This is exactly what the terrorists want, to divide us, to keep us from knowing each other. Terrorism only works when people become scared. We can’t let them win.
Now, I’m not saying to head into any war zones any time soon, but I do urge you to travel to Europe, travel to the Middle East or wherever. Travel where you are able to go. Keep the travel warnings in mind but don’t let it rule your life and where you want to go. Do as much research as you can and book that ticket. Your common sense is your security blanket. These events happening around the world should remind you to always think smart and be aware of your surroundings. I’ll keep on going back to the Middle East and other places around the world because fear usually loses, and my wanderlust always wins.