I don’t know about you, but I find myself reminiscing all the time! Not because I’m not happy or content with my current life, but because I’m still in awe of the experiences I’ve gotten to have in my 26 years on this planet. I’m constantly hoping that another experience will be so magical, so unbelievable, that I will look back longingly on it in 5 years. Well, the other day, I did it again…
I started reliving my amazing semester in Mystic, CT with the Williams Mystic program. One person always sands out from the others in my class: a quiet Indian girl named Charu. Charu is an impressive person; so kind and sweet, literally up for anything, and fearless. She was always willing to try something, anything, because it was a new experience worth having. (An inspiration too, having been to all 7 continents!) After we graduated from the program, not much effort was put into keeping in touch, but her stories were always popping up in my Facebook feed. I remember seeing one such post about her organizing a TEDx event. I got curious, so I searched for her talk, but another title ultimately caught my eye.
Aziz Abu Sarah is described as “a Palestinian activist with an unusual approach to peace-keeping”. What is this approach? Tourism.
As a boy, Sarah was raised within the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. After the unfortunate imprisonment and death of his older brother, Sarah turned bitter and sought revenge. He was like many others, caught in the cycle of misinformation and hatred. It wasn’t until later, when he finally met Jews that weren’t soldiers, that his hope for a tolerant world finally blossomed.
Aziz was inspired and went on to co-create MEJDI Tours. His story may not be unique, but his idea certainly was. The company offers tours specifically to culturally divided countries or regions. The truly outstanding aspect, is that these tours are guided by two guides: one person from each side of the conflict, offering differing experiences and opinions. The purpose is to create informed tourists, to leave a lasting experience of understanding, and to forge deep connections. The travelers are encouraged to engage with real people and to not just take “pictures from the windows of their buses” as he puts it. Sarah believes that tourism is “the best sustainable way to bring down [cultural] walls” and that, through an understanding of culture, tourism can create friendships…and I tend to agree.
Tourism is a multi-billion dollar, world-wide, economic engine. You and I are just one of 1 billion tourists that travel the world every year. How many times have you gotten directions from a friendly local, or asked for a recommendation for a good place to eat? These simple engagements may not seem like much, but they are an immediate representation of your culture. To people who have never left their own country, a quick two minute conversation on the street could be the only physical interpretation that that person ever has of your culture. I love that Aziz is taking the “first impression” and pushing it a step further, representing the tourist and the local, especially when the “local” is two halves of one whole. Interpretation is not education and ignorance cannot breed tolerance.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” It’s a nice sentiment, but we’re all guilty of it. I find it exceedingly difficult to humble myself and admit that I don’t know everything…hahaha shocker, right?! But it’s true! How can I begin to understand something that I’ve never seen, never experienced? I can’t, you can’t, and the average tourist certainly can’t. Books, news stories, and movies all shape our world-view, but the landscape is skewed. It isn’t until we have an opportunity to be among the people, to hear, feel, and see all sides, that we will actually KNOW what life is like outside our own front door.
Here is Aziz Abu Sarah’s TED Talk in it’s entirety. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
Heather ~ The Bargain Bin Traveler