Travelling Taught Me Love: A Black Muslim’s Story

I was 10-years-old when it happened. I remember every little detail, from what I was wearing to the feeling of the hot African sun beating down on me. I remember feeling excited to see my friends, excited to get to Mr. Williams’ class (we were studying the solar system – Pluto was still a planet back then). Most of all I remember simply feeling happy. Happy to be me, happy to be alive. I also remember the unmistakable feeling of unrest wash over me…that preemptive, universe-channelling feeling one gets right before something bad happens. 

I entered my classroom and headed to my desk. I unpacked my notebook and a ziplock bag of Oreos. Mr. Williams rushed in frantically with a TV. The static screen flickered a little too long before revealing the channel. The aggressive red banner on the screen read “BREAKING NEWS.” I stared intently at it as the news anchor told the world what had happened. I was in disbelief, utterly shocked. As I was processing the news, one of my classmates walked towards me. With a mix of anger and sadness he said, “You did this… you killed my brother.”  

I had never been conscious of my identity as a Muslim until September 11, 2001. After that, it seemed like being Muslim was all I ever was and would be. Everything else that made me who I was, was suddenly stripped away by a group of extremists from a far away place. One day I was the talkative class clown, the next, I was a pariah…an enemy of the state. Everything changed.  I remember my entrance being met with silent disdain. I remember being sad. I remember the people I had known since I was six suddenly forgetting my name.

samakenyachildhood

Pictured above: I’m in the pink, thoughtfully considering this new world landscape.

It’s easy to let our differences define us. It’s easy to let differences that are skin deep divide us. Especially in times like these, it’s easy to forget the common bond we share. Allowing xenophobia to dictate how we interact with others can sometimes feel easier than accepting what makes us unique. If you’re like me, feeling dogged down by the hateful rhetoric that seems to be the focus of every news story lately, you may be in need of a helping dose of travel. Why? Well because if my international upbringing has taught me anything it’s that travel trumps hate. Here’s why:

Travel Teaches You Humility

The very act of travelling is humbling. Whether you’re exploring a famous European city with friends, or wandering off the beaten track alone, travel allows you to accept your limitations and make mistakes. You might miss that ever so crucial bus, or maybe you’ll lose your bag, but trust me when I say you’ll be better for it. You may not feel it in the moment as you slowly come to terms with the fact that you’re stranded and penniless, but one day down the line you’ll be grateful for all your experiences, good and bad and you’ll stop feeling the urge to take out or blame your misfortunes on the easy scapegoats around you.

Travel Teaches You How To Appreciate Other Cultures

Reading about other cultures in class is one thing, but actually immersing yourself in said cultures is another. Travel exposes you to lifestyles and people that may not be anything like you. Experiencing the sights, sounds and foods of far-off places not only teaches you more about yourself (turns out you do like crab brains after all!), but also allows you to appreciate (and love) the beauty of diversity and the adventures that come with it.

Travel Teaches You That We Aren’t So Different

We tend to use things like culture, religion, skin colour, language and geographical location as barriers, often thinking in terms of ‘us vs. them.’ In this day and age it’s easy to forget that we are all people searching for the same things in life. Travelling helps you realize that despite our surfaces differences, we aren’t so different after all.

Travel Teaches You That The World Isn’t As Scary As It Seems

If you’re anything like me, you constantly find yourself watching the news. Graphic images of dangerous places have become the norm, and seeing the world as a frightening place is understandable. Travel teaches you that despite how the media portrays a given country, it likely is not as scary a place as you were led to believe it is. Of course, you should always be cautious of your surroundings, but the average country is just as safe (if not, safer) than the one you live in. 

Travel Teaches You Just How Kind Your Fellow Man (and Woman) Is    

We are quick to think that everyone is ‘bad’ and that people are both innately evil and always out to get us. In reality, you will find that people no matter their race, religious affiliation or country are generally good, helpful and always willing to extend a helping hand. Because nine times out of ten, travel trumps fear.

samakenya