By Jacqueline Roberts
Travel- everyone’s definition is different! For some travel means an adventure, for others relaxation. The good news is there are 195 countries and seven continents so there will always be something for everyone. To me, travel is more than just an adventure or some fun, it’s an educational experience. It’s a way to learn about a culture and somebody else’s way of life. This idea is especially important in today’s world as we hear reports about places we’ve never visited, yet we tend to build images based on their views. But in order to really know a place, you have to visit for yourself.
Of all the places I have had the privilege to visit, the Middle East remains one of my more eye-opening trips. In the United States, most people, unfortunately, picture a warzone when they think of the Middle East. But how could we not? The news has advertised the Middle East as exactly that. Yet, when I visited this exact idea was challenged. I learned that the Middle East has so much to offer if we take the chance to extend ourselves towards it.
During my trip, I became extremely fascinated with their religion. Never before had I witnessed such a commitment feel like an effortless practice. It’s effortless because it’s built into daily life, but that’s what also makes it a complete commitment. I don’t practice Islam, yet hearing the early morning call to prayer through the city’s speakerphone provided me with a calm for which I didn’t even know I was looking. There is something about watching the sunrise and knowing everyone in the town is doing it with you that is truly peaceful. There are so many ways to start a morning; the people of Oman taught me that it is possible to wake up with the intention to cultivate peace.
But it’s not just the religion that helped instill peace within me. It’s their land. For all the photographs of dry, broken, and beaten ground I have witnessed on the news, my image of the Middle East doesn’t look like that anymore. Now that I have seen their land for myself, I picture the stillness and remarkably beautiful sand that they have the privilege of calling home. When I visited the United Arab Emirates I visited the city, and it was great, don’t get me wrong, but I was more amazed by the land outside the city. Quite literally, I have never seen Mother Nature make something look so perfect. When I first looked out the window I was floored. It was an endless pit of sand, yet so perfectly edged. It didn’t look real. It looked like the land’s version of the ocean. Now, the ocean has an amazing way of making you feel small, but in a good way; it helps you feel not alone and at peace with yourself. All you can see is endless amounts of water and the horizon. Well, this was exactly like that. I was staring out into the horizon and it was just me and the sand.
Finally, I will never forget my conversations with people. After taking a sunrise camel ride, I was speaking with one of the camel leaders. I told him how much I was enjoying my trip and how beautiful his home was. What he replied with next summarizes everything I took away from my trip: “ Thank you, it’s nice to see an American visit, we don’t get many. Unfortunately, a couple bad people in our country have ruined our entire region’s image. Yet, when people come and visit they see that we are just like you.”
Yes, we are just like you, we are looking for everything you are looking for too: peace, love, and happiness. The world looks large, but when one starts to travel it actually feels very, very small.