I began traveling in my early twenties and I’m now 28 years old. The adventure has been filled with laughter, beauty, farewells and growth. Was it not Ibn Battuta that said that traveling leaves you speechless and turns you into a storyteller? As I look back to my travels almost a decade after, I realize that much of these stories are alive inside of me and often manifest themselves in day dreams, nostalgia, fragmented poems and Viber calls to my overseas friends and companions. The very first country I visited alone was Peru. I travelled to Mancora, a small village located seventeen hours north of Lima and taught English to local children. After Peru, I had the audacity to stop by Jamaica on my way back. I say audacity because I had not told my parents I’d be stopping by ‘Yard’ so you can imagine their reaction upon my return. I remember the conversation with my father vividly, we sat on the front porch and I simply said ‘I’m sorry dad. I was listening to Reggae music while booking my ticket and I just got carried away and thought it would be good to visit Jamaica on my way back. I got hype.’ He forgave.
The following summer, I travelled to Cairo with my best friend. We joined a New York based group and studied Arabic and Quran at Al-Azhar University. We spent hours roaming Old Cairo’s alleyways and came across some of the most beautiful mosques in the Muslim world. After having visited various Muslim countries, I can say with confidence that there are no mosques like Cairo’s mosques, the infamous city of the Thousand Minarets. There are also no hustlers like that of Cairo’s hustlers; luckily my Algerian tenacity and strength came into handy and fought whenever necessary.
We spent much of our time in Cairo sipping tea on the Nile with friends than we did homework. We met kind, hospitable and interesting merchants that introduced us to their families; invited us to their homes and cooked the most delicious and elaborate meals. We ate platters of spicy, seasoned meats, okra, rice, fresh bread, shrimps, vegetable dishes and delicious deserts. I lived every single minute of that journey so vividly and each time I close my eyes and think back, all I can think of is alleyways, traffic jams, hustlers and breathtaking sunsets at Al-Azhar Park. Oh yes and laughter. At the end of our Arabic program, we backpacked through Palestine and Israel and met benevolent and hospitable Palestinian families. We slept in their homes, prayed by their side at the Al-Aqsa mosque and ate fresh vegetables from their garden. We laughed, sighed at the occupation and prayed for it to end. We visited Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho and Nazareth.
Allow me to pause and reminisce on Nazareth’s beauty as it was by far the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited. Our hostel was located at the heart of the Old City, at the top of a hill between a church and mosque. Gaby, the hostel manager, welcomed and greeted us; he offered us fresh mint water and juicy watermelon slices. That night, he drove us through Nazareth and showed us around; we sang traditional Palestinian songs and attended a wedding we were not invited to. Luckily, the sparkles on my Hijab were charming enough and diverted the attention away from my Ali Baba pants. We ate delicious food again and again, went to the Galilee Sea and continued singing Palestinian folk songs. We were stopped at checkpoints and flirted our way of them; we sat with Palestinian locals and heard them wail for the Dome of the Rock. I spent the night at a friend’s house in Ramallah and I’ll never forget their hospitality. His mother and sister spent the entire day cooking for me, after dinner, his sister insisted that I sleep in her room. When I walked into the room, there was a double bed and a baby’s crib. I asked where her and her husband would sleep and she told me not to worry. When I woke up the next morning, the clothes I wore on the previous day were washed, dried, ironed and folded. I smiled and prayed for them. I still do…. (This is the first part of Wafa’s essay, Read Part 2 Next Week)