Travel to New Locations (Middle East/North Africa)

Travel to New Locations

by Adam Goodwin | 2014 | Last Updated: February 5, 2014

Travel

Travel – one of the true wonders of the world.  Humanity’s diversity just a walk/drive/ship/plane trip away.  One door to self-awareness, developing a stronger self-concept and understanding of dreams, values, and others, in order to foster a strong sense of self.

Traveling to news worldly locales

Recently, a few students were traveling to North Africa.  They were asking for suggestions, ideas, and to-dos and not-to-dos as they had never traveled to this area of the world.  I decided to make this a blog post to share this information more widely and freely.

It is very difficult to write a guide for travel to the Middle East/North Africa.  This is one of the most diverse areas of the world.  On the superficial, beginner level, many countries in the region look just like any ‘other’ Arab or Muslim country.  Perhaps this comes from many sharing Islam as a prominent religion.  After travel to six countries in the region, it is one of the most diverse areas of the world to travel.  A fantastic opportunity, if it should ever rise to you.

Another note.  I have written some ideas/thoughts that could be and are applicable to any city you travel to, even outside the Middle East/North Africa.

Religion

I will start off with what may be expected.  The major religion of the region, Islam.  I strongly suggest not to confuse the religion of Islam with the culture of many Muslim socieities and communities. For instance, do not confuse social norms in Islamic countries with teachings of the Islam religion.

Allah is the Arabic word for the One God and translates to the Almight.  There is nothing or no one else like God.  The Prophet, Muhammad, was the Messenger and communicate with Gabriel 23 years.  The communications between Muhammad and Gabriel make up the Holy Qu’ran (for Christians, similar to the Holy Bible).

Above, I mentioned I believe this is one of the most diverse regions of the world.  There are many factors as to why, if true, is the case.  One related to Islam, is the lack of a ‘Vatican City’ (i.e., a central, overarching institution).  Unlike Catholics who have a Pope at the centre of their religion, Islam does not have a central body.  Each mosque is led by a Imam.

Muslims

Islam is the major religion in most Middle Eastern/North Africa countries.    A Muslim is one who submits himself/herself to God.  He/She submits himself/herself to the commands of God.  They understand the commands of God not necessarily to be laws God made, but understanding and having knowledge of the laws that are already deemed to exist in the world.

Friday Afternoons

Unlike many Christians, Muslims do not worship God on one special day (e.g., Sundays).  Instead, they try to be mindful of God every day, all the time.  They try to carry out God’s commands as thought God is always watching.  This being said, Friday would be the rough equivalent of a Christian’s Sunday.  Many go to a nearby mosque on Fridays to pray as a large community.

Antinques

Don’t try to steal or take antiquities… we likely won’t hear from you for months as authorities can hold you without charge for as long as you like, in many areas of this region.   Many antiques have a very important religious connection for Muslims.

Clothing

To a Muslim, shorts is like being naked – will see likely no male Muslim wearing shorts.  For males, wear pants and collared shirts.    For females, the veil is a cultural thing and not necessarily a religious practice.   For some sites, especially religious, you may not be allowed to enter if you do not have approrpiate clothing (e.g., showing too much skin).  Remember, to suggest this is only a Islamic idea, would be ignorant (e.g., Vatican City requests the same from visitors).

Demonstrations

There is the possibility of demonstrations/protests (similar to most areas of North Africa/Middle East).  If you want to take a photo of one (will leave this up to you), do NOT take photos of the army/police.  A big no, no.  Will likely get your camera smashed and questioned (it is seen as an act of terrorism in many Middle Eastern countries).  This has nothing to do with religion – it is the law/policy of many countries.    Some countries have anti-protest laws (e.g., need a permit currently in Egypt to have public meetings of 10+ individuals).  Be careful if large groups of individuals begin to gather.

Money/Currency

For money, don’t rely on a credit card.  If you do have one, bring it.  However, likely may not be widely accepted.  Hard to say as this varies widely from country-to-country, city-to-city, and even different parts of a city.  There’s likely ATMs in the airport upon arrival.  Just a note, if there’s several ATMs next to each other, usually only one works.

Personal Safety

Muggins and petty theft. Do happen but most say Paris is far worse.  Be smart.  Don’t show your cash in public.  Don’t carry around large amounts.  Stay out of parts where you could get mugged – e.g., if a shady guy tells you to follow him down an alley way…. perhaps not a good idea.  This isn’t a Middle East/Muslim ‘thing’ – give this advice to any traveling anywhere (even to Vancouver, BC, Canada).

Politics

Many Muslims wants to get Westerner’s thoughts and opinions about Middle Eastern/African/local politics/laws/religious beliefs/etc.  I, personally, don’t talk about this when traveling.  However, I definitely ask questions of the locals; I just keep my opinions and thoughts to myself.  I don’t know who I am speaking to (could be undercover or a very traditionalist) so don’t want to say something that could be mus-interpreted or mis-understood.

Homes

If possible, try to visit a ‘real’ persons home.  On the outside, many homes may look the same.  On the inside, many are absolutely stunning and beautiful.  The art work, furniture, and work that goes into building and maintainig a home is mesmerizing.  What one many notice in some homes, is a large, empty room that seems to be the most special place in the home.  This is likely the prayer room in the home.  Please be respectful and ask before entering.

Emergency Info (for Canadians)

If you have any issues at all, or feel unsafe, or need helps, etc, don’t hesitate to go to the Canadian Embassy (if you are Canadian and reading this).  They are there to help.  If you can’t locate them and there’s an emergency, the golden number to call is: 613-996-8885.  This is the Government of Canada’s emergency response number (for people traveling).  They will be able to help you if you were to suddenly need to leave/etc. Unlikely, but why they call these emergencies.

Islam

The English translation of the word Islam, means peace.  I think if going to this region of the world for the first time, and being mindful of this, one can see the actions, behaviours, and norms of Islamic socieities and communities much differently than the, all too typical, ‘weird’, ‘wrong’, or ‘bad’.

The Experience

I think everyone should travel to this region of the world at least once in their life.  As stated earlier, this is one of the most diverse regions of the world.  I think traveling to the Middle East/North Africa, and seeing first-hand, the culture, people, food, day-to-day, and ways of life, provide an invaluable opportunity to learn about others, how Arab countries and peoples are portrayed in Western media and culture.  Hopefully, a trip to this region of the world will free you of any fear you may have of the religion of Islam or Muslim people (if applicable), and see the Western way of life as superior, but rather as one way of life in a world where diversity, learning, and fellow human beings are the most beautiful parts of planet Earth.

A Call To Action

Traveling to a Middle Eastern/North African country/community for the first time, and have questions?  Have any additional insights to add?  Comment below!

Further Reading

Based on your reading of this blog post, you may also be interested in:  Western Society in Arabic Society (click here).

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These are one person’s thoughts and opinions.  I welcome and strive to get your feedback and own thoughts. Feel free to comment below or connect with me via social media.

Adam Goodwin is a Canadian working in the United Kingdom, and is a proud shameless idealist. His parents currently work in Cairo, Egypt. He has siblings and distant family in Canada and around the rainbow nation’s only home. Follow his year+ overseas on Twitter (@adam13goodwin) and on this blog.

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