I consider myself an adventurous and open-minded person. My travels have taken me from Bolivia to Honduras and from Spain to Wales. I lived in Costa Rica for six months and spent a month-and-a-half volunteering at a nonprofit in Guatemala.
While there were times during these experiences that I thought "what the fuck am I thinking" (like when I found myself with no money, sleeping on a fruit barge floating through Lake Nicaragua, or when I was forced to find my way through a random, dusty town in Peru after protesters blocked the streets and threw rocks at my bus). But, I never had any real worries about my decisions.
This time it's different. I am leaving on Monday for a four-week trip to Israel and Jordan. I realized just how different this experience is going to be when I looked at photos from the Ammarin Bedouin Camp near Petra, Jordan that I plan to spend four nights at. Something about seeing the men, dressed in full Muslim-style, desert regalia, sitting on colorful mats under a tent in the middle of the desert made me feel some kind of way--maybe a pang of fear?
Whatever I felt made me come face-to-face with the fact that despite my open mind and free spirit, I am not above fearing people who are different than me and places that are unfamiliar.
When I traveled around Latin America, I had just spent six months living in Costa Rica, where I had been once before. I spoke fluent Spanish and had Hispanic friends.
I now realize how little I know about Muslim people. I have a friend in Philly who studies the Qur'an, and I have a couple of Muslim co-workers, but other than that I have no experience with people of this faith. I am not afraid of Muslims like so many people in the U.S. seem to be. What I am afraid of is my own ignorance. The fact that I felt any kind of hesitation about my upcoming trip made me feel horrible. My biggest fear is to become a brain-washed, over-consuming, intolerant "typical American."
It takes active work to keep an open mind and a free spirit. I vow that my exploration and desire to understand more about Islamic culture will not end when I return home at the end of March.