Thanksgiving is a time where we express gratitude. Gratitude for family, safety, love, financial stability, and a never ending list of items that we cherish in this country. Travel has given me many things, but most of all, it has provided me with a lens of gratitude for the experiences that have brought me closer to understanding how different life is for most people in this world.

The first time I traveled to Morocco, it hit me like a rush of warm and inviting wind.  I had never visited a country whose standard of living was so different from my own, or a Muslim nation. At the age of 11, I saw the planes collide with the twin towers and along with it, I saw the difficulty that comes with battling an ideology with so much ambiguity. Fear had caused me to come up with my own prejudices. Prejudices that I would have never in million years admit to, but when you see something like 9/11 at such a young age, it causes a lot of confusion and even hate. Fear became hate and hate became prejudice, which I believe happens to us all too often. It wasn’t an outward prejudice. It was one that looked at women in Hijabs with uncertainty and confusion.

At the age of 21, fresh out of college, I arrived at the Casablanca airport, exhausted from from three legs of air travel and completely out of my element. As I stood in the customs line, I noted the wide variety of cultures that surrounded me. In that moment, I was frightened and to be frank, a bit ashamed for feeling so afraid.Hassan II Mosque Casablanca

Later that evening, I met up with my group and my cousin Shelley to photograph the Hassan Mosque II at sunset. No longer alone, the others calmed my nerves and as we wandered and dispersed around the monumental, religious edifice, I saw mothers playing with children. I saw families taking their evening stroll along the waterfront beside the mosque. I saw children chasing each other and dancing. I heard the enchanting and beautiful call to prayer. I watched as women exchanged laughter and gossip. I saw love. I saw human beings. All of that uncertainty and fear seemed to melt away completely, and I could no longer view everything as black and white.

 

This experience of traveling to a wonderful, vibrant country has taught me that issues like Syrian refugees in the US are not so cut and dry. We cannot look at an entire country through one skewed lens and expect that we know what the answer is. Unfortunately, there is radicalism that clouds our view of such a large population of the world. All we can do is strive to understand the issues at hand and the people that are wrapped up in a crisis that is not just our own. I don’t want to get political here, because it’s not my place. My point is: it’s just not that simple.

On an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, he said, “I wish everyone in America could have a passport”. I couldn’t agree more. It sure has changed my life.I am so thankful for the growth in perspective that travel has given me, and I plan to continue that growth with gratitude and an open mind.

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