TW: Mention of rape
Travel and prejudice. Alone on a bus to Amman, to catch a flight out of Jordan that would end four months backpacking in the Middle East, I was thinking about my experiences with local people here. I was thinking about travel and prejudice.
In this area of the world, that seems to only be represented in the media through bombings and violence and racial tensions, I was relating differently to people. Often in a more negative way.
The reason I love solo travel isn’t to party with other Europeans on rooftops in developing countries, or looking at temples.
It’s about people.
Spending 3 months living with a Ugandan reverend. A month of camping with a bunch of Israelis. Being the only European for month long internship on Panay Island in the Philippines. Eating lunch with Syrian families in their homes talking over Google translate… I never turn down an opportunity to hang out with local people. I deliberately seek these experiences out.
The world opens up so much when you don’t live in fear of strangers. So I really surprised myself as I recognised my own prejudice in the Middle East and fear surrounding some communities as I travelled in Egypt and Jordan.
It was so unusual for me.
I was incredibly comfortable the past year. In Asia, Australia, Uganda, and the last few months in Israel and the Golan. Hitch hiking across its entirety, getting loose at parties in the middle of nowhere when I didn’t really know anyone, or how the hell to get back.
But what happened?
I was working at a festival in the Negev desert of Israel. We had a night guard against the Bedouins (a nomadic Arabic people).
Constantly in Israel I was told, “It’s fine to hitchhike, you’re totally safe just don’t get into the car with any Arabs”.
I, naively, didn’t realise how much hearing negative language associated with a whole group of people would actually affect me and create an unconscious prejudice of the Middle East.
Alongside the three months in Israel, I guess I only had what I’d seen on the news to form an opinion of Egypt, for example,
I crossed into Egypt, hitched through Sinai. Watching the sun rise over Saudi Arabia, suddenly I was suspicious of the random acts of kindness I’d come to take for granted.
Sunbathing, an Egyptian guy asked if I wanted a quick spin on his boat for free before he starts working.
While I accepted, I was instantly thinking. Oh god he’s going to drive the boat to the middle of the ocean and drown us in isn’t he!
It really was just an innocent boat ride. But why was I worried? I haven’t had any of these thoughts the past year. Even when I probably should have.
Later that day a young Egyptian wanted to welcome us with some local food at his friends restaurant.
Despite accepting, constantly we were looking over our shoulders. We were only eating things after he had eaten from the dish too. When he went to the loo we came up with the wildest plots that he could have to kidnap us.
I have blindly accepted so many offers like this from other people.
People that I wasn’t repeatedly told to be afraid of.
Sadly, it’s a fact of solo travelling as a female, that you can be having the most incredible experiences with nothing but good intentions flowing your way. But always in the back of your mind is how could this turn into a rape situation.
It’s something we have to consider walking home from work in the dark. It’s fair to not beat ourselves up over being fearful when abroad.
But we can all be victims of ignorance. I never realised how much I’d been affected by the language I’d repeatedly heard surrounding Arabic people and how dangerous they are.
We can’t be perfect. But it’s important to recognise your own ignorance to start being able to work on breaking them down!
All I know is, I’ve experienced much more sexual harassment from middle aged white men as a bartender at home in London than anywhere else. This is my experience with travel and prejudice in the Middle East.