What I Learned After a “Terrifying” Month in a Muslim Country
A lesson on stereotypes and other things.
** Republished from 2017 **
I’m not as susceptible to other cultures as I thought
I had a unique experience to dive deep into a culture that was so much different from the one I grew up in. It was my first time traveling in a Muslim country and was also the most poverty-stricken country I’d ever been to. I had thirty-three days to explore those differences and put myself in shoes similar to the ones Algerians wear. However, I don’t believe I was capable of doing that.
I took part in traditions and religion without asking enough questions. I didn’t learn what I now think I should have. I was just enthused enough to be participating without knowing the true meaning of everything I was doing. I need to be more curious about learning.
Don’t come into a place tossing judgments
One of the first things I realized in Algeria was the amount of litter that was scattered across the entire country. I even made a Facebook post about it that received fairly negative feedback from several people who are close to me. I came in tossing judgments that Algerians needed to care more about their environment, however, it never occurred to me that maybe they didn’t have the means to make a difference.
Perhaps, their priorities are set on even more important things such as coming up with the means to feed their families. Perhaps, they don’t have the income to splurge on such things that I’ve grown up seeing as necessities such as trash bags. I’m thankful that I was able to see the other side of such judgments and hopefully didn’t come off as a privileged American while visiting.
Not all non-native English speakers know English as well as they do in Europe
I knew that not everyone would know English. Living in Malta and traveling to such countries as Germany and Sweden, I easily forget that not everyone speaks fluent English. There are different levels of English fluency. I have been fortunate enough to be able to communicate with a majority of the people I have met while traveling. However, in some areas of the world, knowledge of the English language is rare. Algeria was one of those places.
Never had I been to a country in which I wasn’t able to at least communicate in enough words to get my brief question or statement across. It became a hassle more so than I’d ever experienced in Algeria. It opened my eyes to how difficult solo travel can be.
I’m not ready for long-term solo travel in such a new world
In general, solo travel around Europe becomes a breeze. Sure, it may be intimidating at first, but with a little experience, you see that countries in Europe make it very simple for the international traveler. Menus are translated, maps are given to you, and processes such as booking a bed to sleep in are as easy as tapping your phone screen a few times.
However, I had different experiences in Algeria — where the international traveler isn’t as common. For example, staying in a hostel was a hustle. Just to check into the hostel and stay overnight, required a complicated process that took me to the city’s police station and the region’s ranger station. I spent my entire evening answering questions and providing information in the waiting room of the ranger’s station. This sort of inconvenience would be literally impossible to overcome without translation and being with people who knew their way around. I couldn’t have done it alone. I would have been sleeping on the street in an area the rangers warned was “unstable for foreign people”.
People are the same — no matter where you go
More and more, I’ve realized this no matter where I go. However, being that this was my first time in a new continent, I was intrigued by the kind of people I would meet. What I found was that people just like me live in Algeria and go about life in similar ways. There are nice, welcoming people to be found everywhere. Sure, our cultures may differ, but inside we’re all the same — as cliché as that is. . .
Corruption can make the strongest people fearful
I saw fear widespread throughout the nation — particularly in the eyes of generations older than me. Through several people, I learned there were reasons for this.
The Algerian government is corrupt. Politicians steal money regularly and the people have little say in what the rest of the money is used for. It’s believed by a majority of Algerians that their country is on a continual downward spiral because of corruption.
Most of the older generation has already lived through a civil war, and they see that the only way to fix the corruption this time is through another revolution. Another civil war haunts them, so they choose to live with the corruption in fear of what is to come.
STEREOTYPES AREN’T TRUE
Okay, so, I didn’t just learn this one on my most recent trip. I’ve known this all along and one of my biggest pet peeves is stereotypes connecting Muslim religion to terrorism. This is a stereotype that has worked its way to the front office of the United States and actually put a ban on Muslims from entering America. What an absolute travesty!
My number one goal in Algeria was to prove that this is the most undeserving stereotype. I met nothing but pleasant individuals while I was in Algeria. A true testament to the saying, “Don’t let one bad apple spoil the bunch!”
There is a simpler lifestyle to be found
What I saw in some parts of Algeria is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Only in movies that took place decades ago have I seen the type of lifestyle I witnessed. It wasn’t boring; it was simple. People were satisfied with life how it was and they didn’t need anything more.
People brought tea from home — they didn’t need a fancy café. I saw groups and groups of grown men playing dominoes on park benches — no smartphones needed. People in small villages sitting on their doorstep just conversing with their neighbors seemed to be their past-time. And roadside vegetable stands reminded me that you don’t need to own property to start a business.
I appreciated the simplicity in many Algerian’s lifestyles and it was a welcome change to my own lifestyle — even if it was only temporary.
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** This article was originally published at www.adamcheshier.com **