Last month, my husband, two daughters and I went on a two week Euro-adventure to Berlin and the south of Spain. The trip was better than we ever imagined it could be and since getting back to our temporary home base in Morocco, I have hit the post-vacation slump: the can’t-I-just-go-back everyday kinda feeling. But lucky for me, I’m a writer and I can teleport myself to places we have visited using memory and journalling alone. One point I wanted to suss out more about our trip was just how much was affected by the fact that we are Muslims. Perhaps some of the things I talk about below wouldn’t have been so noticeable if we jet-setted to Europe from our permanent home base in Canada, but because we were coming from a Muslim country, however Euro-influenced it might be, somethings really stood out.

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Rare blog appearance by the husband. On a boat, no less.

Halal food hunting is always an adventure. I mean, for any Muslim who keeps halal with their eating, this is going to be the first challenge. This was more of an issue in Spain than Germany for two noticeable reasons: Germany is very inclusive of its large Muslim population -something we noticed everywhere we went and which is largely to the country’s history of genocide against religious minorities. The overcompensation was nice and welcomed…and frankly how it should be. It’s what one would expect from a country that had repented for its monstrous sins – we even had halal breakfast sausages (a variety to choose from!) at our hostel’s morning spread! Of course, this isn’t to obfuscate Germany’s very real resurgence of far-right, anti-Muslim elements but mainstream society seems pretty welcoming to Canadian-levels. We didn’t notice we were different the entire time we were there.

The second reason why halal food was more of an issue in Spain is because of the long Spanish history of persecuting Muslims. This actually has an effect on the food – believe it or not? Spanish hams and pork products are not a cultural anomaly – they rose in popularity during the post 1492 era and the Inquisition as a way of sussing out who was still practicing Judaism or Islam in private despite be forced to convert to Christianity in public. So yeah, Spanish cuisine is very, very pork heavy and it’s everywhere. There is also a lot of alcohol in both places but we noticed that more family-friendly places didn’t serve it at all so it was relatively easy to avoid altogether.

To get around these issues while still having an authentic experience, we sought out halal restaurants with certified halal products, tried street food that we knew was prepared in a haram-free place (like churros!) or we stuck to the grocery stores and ate veg/pescatarian. I am already inclined to veganism so this wasn’t a stretch for me but my husband was longing for a nice big tagine by the end of the trip, for sure!

 

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Finding places to pray is a challenge. Not only are all the former mosques of Andalusia now churches or cathedrals that Muslims are not allowed to pray inside, the remaining modern mosques for local Muslim populations are forcibly non-descript and tough to find. Unlike Canada, where a mosque is allowed to look like a mosque (with a minaret and everything), the same isn’t true elsewhere. We ended up just having salat where we stayed and left it at that.

Airports aren’t fun. Being Muslim in an airport is a nerve-wracking experience, no matter where you are, especially when you are dragging two little kids along and you tend to be the only visible Muslims in a 100-kilometer radius for some reason. Obviously the extra attention by security agents didn’t happen when leaving Marrakech much but it did get bothersome when entering Germany and Spain. My husband has a permanent resident card for the EU and the level at which it was scrutinized was necessary but irritating. Maybe it’s because the officers just did it in such a harsh manner or I’m overly sensitive to racism against Moroccans to the point of paranoia but I wasn’t pleased and I’m pretty sure that he would have been hassled a lot longer if he hadn’t been travelling with his Canadian-passport-carrying family. Oh, and the hijab pat-downs get old real quick, especially when someone is scanning my baby’s milk at the same time and both kids are hollering. Sigh.

Being the only hijabi makes you a sideshow novelty. I have no idea why but on our entire 2 week trip, we really only saw a handful of hijabi muslimahs. And yeah, we look for each other. I was pretty shocked to constantly be the only hijabi in the room and, as a result, be the constant object of other peoples’ stares. In a walking tour around Sevilla, our group turned to look at me every single time the guide mentioned Islam or the Qur’an. I mean, the association there isn’t so bad but you really start to feel like a circus freakshow when people are looking at you with their mouths hanging open in the grocery line.

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Circus is in town, baby.

Having a Canadian accent and being white changed how people with Islamophobic biases treated me. Despite the extra unwanted attention as a hijabi in tour groups, shops and on the street, I did notice that people changed how they treat me immediately on hearing my Canadian accent. It’s amazing how fast people compartmentalize you as a tourist and not one of “those” Muslims with just the flicker of a knowing glance when you ask for a bag or a receipt.

Our people stick together better as minorities. For all of the issues that Muslims have with each other in Muslim-majority countries (humans gonna human, eh?) we sure seem to get along better and in a more cooperative spirit when we are the minority. We just noticed that everywhere we went, other Muslims would seek us out to ask for directions or assistance and to be honest, we did the same. I’m not sure why but the whole “we’re in this minority deal together so give me a hand” thing is real.

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Not a paid ad.

 

For better or for worse, travelling as a Muslim is definitely a unique experience and not one I exactly have a choice in! Before I was Muslim, I travelled a lot and I have to say that I really notice a difference in terms of acceptance and treatment by fellow travellers and locals. It’s also something other Muslims report noticing (especially if they are visibly Muslim) and honoring those experiences without self-gaslighting about them is important. Sharing raises awareness for everyone – that’s  the beauty of storytelling and bearing witness to someone’s stories. In the end, any different treatment we experience is neither going to define our trip nor the countries we visit.


16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. 

After four long, active days of hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile I am not sorry to spend a few hours listening to podcasts and watching the Patagonian landscape roll by from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus. As we wind our way out of the park towards the Chilean-Argentine border, we are treated to dramatic views of the Paine massif from various angles as well as a photo op with a herd of guanaco and one very distant and lonely flamingo. By the time we reach the border, the mountains have receded into the Patagonian steppe, which is all rolling grey-green and brown scrub under harsh blue sky. After some last-chance Chilean souvenir shopping we cross the border into Argentina and continue for hours more before seeing mountains again on the approach to El Calafate, a pretty tourist town and the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park.

Guanaco

A few years ago, I convinced some friends to take the Greyhound for three days and $130 from Victoria, BC to Austin, Texas so I have not only a great appreciation for the beauty of barren landscapes, but a high tolerance for long distance bus rides. Something about this bus ride, whether it was the previous four days of early mornings, poor sleep and physical activity, or the dehydrating air conditioning and hypnotic landscape of the bus ride itself, I could not handle. About half way through I began to nod off, occasionally waking up groggy and uncomfortable.

The roast lamb

I rallied in time for dinner with the rest of the group and went all in, ordering a plate of precariously stacked roast lamb and vegetables. The meat slides off the bone and is satisfyingly charred on the outside. Sadly, I barely make it halfway through the mountain of meat and root vegetables before exhaustion overcomes me in the form of mild nausea and light-headedness. Rather than pushing through the discomfort for the sake of the night out, I bought a bottle of Powerade and went back to the hotel for a full night’s sleep. I still regret not being able to finish, or fully appreciate, that meal but by missing out on one culinary experience I ensured that I was back in full working order to enjoy the next day’s glacier walk on Perito Moreno Glacier.

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Travel can be exhausting. The best trips tire you out and revive you in equal measure. The pressure to maximize your time in a new place and to experience everything on offer can backfire, though. Even on holiday, it is important to have downtime and listen to your body’s needs or you run the risk of burning out. My recent trip to Patagonia taught me this lesson in a number of ways.

Although I am in adequately good shape, I am not an experienced hiker. The main hikes on Intrepid Travel’s “Patagonia Trekking” tour are challenging, although the tour is designed to be manageable for a range of experience levels. The first hike of the trip gave me confidence. The second was one of two all-day hikes with some difficult uphill sections. I started the day at a steady, confident pace which deteriorated before even reaching the most challenging section of the hike – the last, uphill leg before our destination. By the time I returned to the campsite, far behind most of the group except one of the guides and another member of the group who was pacing himself, I was hobbled by burning toe pain and seriously doubting whether I could keep up with or enjoy the fourth hike which was said to be both longer and steeper.

almost near the summit

Two days later we set out on the fourth hike to Mirador del Torres, the grand finale of the W Hike. Somewhat refreshed, but still cautious, I paced myself from the very start of the walk. Instead of instinctively trying to keep up with the group at all times I focused on staying relaxed, breathing and maintaining an easy, sustainable pace. I soon realized that rather than falling way behind the others, the group ebbed and flowed around me as everyone’s energy and pace fluctuated. Sometimes I was near the front, other times at the back. I was able to make it to the summit of the hike feeling challenged but not frustrated or dispirited. Pinched toes eventually made me fall behind on the very last stage of the return to camp, but this time it did not affect my sense of accomplishment because I had maintained control of my experience throughout.

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Slowing down, resting and taking time to myself when I needed it rather than rushing to keep up, to do everything and never miss out meant that in the end I was able to fully enjoy my trip without getting exhausted, sick or grumpy. When travelling, the tendency to overdo things comes from a desire to make the most of life. In daily life we often overextend ourselves out of a drive for productivity, desire for accomplishment or to be of service to others. Instead, without rest and downtime we become burnt out, anxious and more likely to flake on commitments. Saying yes and taking opportunity as it comes is important, but so is knowing when it’s time to go to bed – whether that bed is a tent in Patagonia or a queen sized mattress at home.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Before the memory of our family vacation fades too fast in the wake of getting back to work and school for my oldest, I wanted to take a moment and talk a little bit about some of the things I have learned about travelling with kids as a result of this Euro trip.

Background: I haven’t taken a vacation in 7.5 years. The last time I truly had a break from work, school and the hustle was my very first trip to Morocco in 2011 to visit my husband, meet his family, and check out the school he was building. I spent six weeks getting to know everyone and seeing some sights around the country including a trip to the Sahara through Marrakech, Ouarzazate and Merzouga, and side trips to Casablanca, Mohammedia and Rabat. Even though we travelled around a bit, it wasn’t a super touristy trip because we didn’t have our marriage license yet and so paying for two hotel rooms everywhere we went wasn’t feasible for extended periods of time. I spent most of the time between his family’s places in Marrakech and a small village 60km north called Attaouia. This was followed by a month in Florence six months later where I spent most of my time buying and devouring dozens of books from a boutique English bookshop just off Piazza Duomo. Shortly thereafter, I actually moved to Morocco to continue building our school and running classes for small children in it.

Since that time, I’ve had two marriage celebrations (one in Canada and one in Morocco, same marriage!), taught for three years, endured a horrific birth trauma with my firstborn, immigrated with my husband and daughter back to Canada, built a business, completed a masters degree, delivered dozens of lectures/workshops on Islam and anti-racism work to literally thousands of people, and had a second baby. Between motherhood, grad school and the pressures of being a veiled Muslim  woman activist in an era of rising Islamophobia and misogyny, it’s safe to say, I have felt burnt out for a long time. So much so that burnt out has been my new normal…for a while.

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Well rested on the last day of our trip.

Fast forward to August 2018 when we decided to use our good ol’ Canadian parental leave to take five months in Morocco and you have me still juggling kids, full time work (business has been busier than ever, thank God) and everything else in between -only now, I’ve had all the uniquely Moroccan stressors added, ones that I won’t get into listing much but which involve weather extremes, bugs and cultural divides, especially in the village where we are staying.

Because Canadian passports only entitle you to three months in Morocco without a residency card, work permit or visitor’s visa extension, November started to loom on the horizon. I had zero intention of going through the hassle of getting my papers for a (relatively and comparatively) short stay so I decided we should do a visa run on a cheap flight to Europe.

I am one of those moms that cannot leave her children for long periods of time. My oldest – who is now a spirited and eternally stubborn five year old – has only ever spent two nights out of my bed: the night her sister was born and the night after. I haven’t been away from my new baby for more than an hour in the ten months since she was born. As a survivor and someone who lives with PTSD, this is what I need to do to feel secure and safe and I am alright with that. What it means though is if I do a visa run, my family is coming with me.

So I started scouring for flights anywhere in Europe from Marrakech and checking out sights and accommodations in each place. As I looked more and more, it suddenly dawned on me: why not take an actual two-week vacation? One where you set an email auto-responder and legitimately don’t check your inbox. One where your phone is set to airplane mode and you only open the Wifi to update your Instagram. Could it really be possible? Do I dare to eat a peach? Do I dare disturb the universe?

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Tile detail in the Real Alcazar de Sevilla

In the end, my love of history and my husband’s indifference won out and I booked us for five days in Berlin followed by ten days in the south of Spain running the Malaga-Cordoba-Sevilla circuit. I only had mild nerves as I gleefully packed our bags, carefully estimating how many diapers and how much formula I could cram into the two smaller checked bags the budget airline allowed. But ultimately the nerves were for nothing: we went on to have one of the best trips of my life and I will savor its memories for the rest of it.

What made it so great?

People we know couldn’t believe we were attempting a Euro-trip with two kids. People called us “heroes”and “troopers”. I honestly didn’t know what all the fuss was about and I still don’t. With enough careful planning and some important things to remember, traveling with super small kids can be fun, rewarding even. Were there meltdown moments for everyone involved? Of course. Did they happen often enough to destroy our enjoyment? No. And in the process we had the time and energy to learn more from our kids about what they need and when they need it.

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Guten Tag, Berlin

Timing is everything. First of all, lap babies fly free so why not take advantage of that fact? Go when your baby is a bit bigger but not too big that they want to walk around all the time. The perfect middle ground for us was almost 10 months.

Also, when you’re checking flights, try to pick ones with good check in/departure times as well as being mindful of when they will land and how long it takes to arrive at your destination. We found that booking early morning flights to destinations worked well because we could rouse our kids to get on the plane but then they would be so groggy as to pass out as soon as the flight took off, waking off somewhat refreshed on arrival. Baby was a bit fussy on the flight to Berlin but still napped most of the way.

Check your booking carefully. We booked holiday apartments and even a hostel instead of pricey hotels. But it wasn’t just a budgetary decision: we also needed access to a small kitchen everywhere we went so we could prepare kid-friendly foods and wash bottles. Two out of four places also had baby cots for us and the other two had furniture arrangements that allowed for safe sleeping regardless. Also, many bookings have specific check-in times and won’t allow entry before then – make sure you time your flight/travel to allow for you to get to accommodations as soon as you arrive. There is little more anxiety-producing scenarios than dragging a stroller, two de-planed kids and suitcases down narrow cobblestone streets. If you have to, request early entry and pay slightly extra if you have to. There was only one occasion where we had to sit around so we found a playground and parked the baby, her stroller and the luggage while our oldest got her pent up energy out.

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View over Malaga

Hit the supermarket. Honestly, as much as I am a closet foodie and wannabe chef, culinary tourism isn’t really my bag. Especially since becoming Muslim when finding halal or even vegetarian options is nearly impossible. We were so touched that the breakfast at our hostel in Berlin actually had certified halal breakfast sausages and we occasionally hit a shawarma shop, but most of the trip involved getting fresh bread, produce, instant coffees and yoghurts at the corner shop. It was infinitely cheaper than attempting restaurant eats with a picky kid who prefers fresh veggies and simple food, and our pocketbooks were happy the whole trip.

Let go of the Euro-trip stereotypes. When a lot of folks think of backpacking across Europe, they think of late nights at pubs and days spent rushing from one sight to the next. Obviously as Muslims we have zero interest in clubs or bars, and ultimately we let our kids set the pace for the day. We booked enough time in each place to do one or two major things a day, interspersed with supermarket runs, playground breaks or outright Legoland visits. Having kids with us also meant hitting the sack when they did at 8pm after clocking 15-18,000 steps a day together.  And that was alright. In fact, it was ideal. We got so much more rest than we were used to and rising early to have a fresh breakfast and plan our route for the day became a beautiful routine for us. There were some days we just didn’t make it to all of our destinations either and instead we wandered around, taking in neighbourhoods outside the center and seeing different things.

Ultimately, you know your own family best. These are just some of the things we found helped us have a much-needed rest and to make the most of it together. Alhamdulilah for that.

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Plaza de Espana, Sevilla

16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. 

 

Host Emily Mattingsley unpacks some of the typical reactions she gets when she says she lives in Morocco and shows why they are problematic with reference to being a white woman. She shows how important it is to recognize privilege and how it constructs the types of choices we are able to make while balancing that with honouring the life someone is then able to build for themselves as something more than chance. She also takes a look at the bigger picture of what really constitutes “bravery” these days and asks you to ask some hard questions of what being a woman is like all over the world.

In this episode, Emily dives into the deeper meaning of Couscous – it is not your typical North African pasta grain! She also introduces this exciting new vlog adventure in which she will explore Moroccan culture, religion, language and so much more every second Friday! Keep your feminist-activist hats on, Drawing Board fans, as Emily will also be diving into and debunking stereotypes about the Muslim world and critiquing areas for social improvement.

A little while ago, we had a blog post about How Travel Makes You a Better Writer and since we are professional writers, you would think we have traveled a fair amount. In this article, we will explore some of the lessons Nakita has learned about writing while going on a tour of all the places she has visited so far.

tumblr_mbxa59Xpfg1r1mmbpo1_500Paris: Always keep your wits about you. Shortly after I turned 18 years old, I booked a flight to Paris on a discount airline and announced to my family that I would be going away for six weeks. Being an overprotective Italian famiglia, they didn’t take this too well, but knowing me, they let me go. It was a bit of a learning curve for me the whole way through from figuring out where my hostel was, to getting lost in the Jardin des Tuileries, from having a dirty old man named Maurice literally French kiss me in the trees. Whether it was admiring the art or the beauty of this world-class city, Paris is all about keeping you on your toes. I went again the following year with a dear friend of mine, Carrie. Between laundry detergent exploding in her luggage the instant we arrived, episodes of urinating in the street, and endless marriage proposals from the Algerians selling wine under La Tour Eiffel, Paris hadn’t changed much. One particular instance that stands out is a young fellow named Taoufek following us back to our hotel, begging for our phone number. I scanned the street and spotted a number on the window of a nearby hairsalon. I’m sure he was surprised the next day. Poor guy.

tumblr_lcuzvgKxeC1qb0bzxo1_1280Krakow: Always leave room for the element of surprise. I have been to this beautiful Polish city three times in my life. The first time was just after I had been in Paris and I was traveling there for historical purposes – to go visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. Little did I know how beautiful and brilliant the city would be – amazing, generous people, brilliant food, classic sights. Krakow has an incredible charm to it that I hadn’t really been expecting. And the deep appreciation that people from Krakow have for good jazz music meant that I was listening to some of the best tunes I had heard in awhile, almost everywhere I went. When I went back to Paris the following year, I also went back to Krakow. I just couldn’t stay away from that place. Kebabs the size of your head, Chopin being played in the streets; it was all too much. I went there again in January 2010 – visiting the winter was very different and I arrived on a whim for the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The ceremony was bizarre and somber, and since I was in a psychologically dark place, the whole experience was quite void of the light and merriment I normally associate with Krakow. I will go back soon to rectify this.

tumblr_lspqeubZA01qaqfbbo1_500Greece: Always go to the doctor. After the second Paris, Krakow trip, I ended up in Greece, visiting Athens and Crete. Unfortunately, I had contracted an infection in Poland that I subsequently ignored and in the small town of Rethymnon on Crete, it caught up with me. Turns out you should always, always get antibiotics for a UTI or else, like it did for me, it will turn into a kidney infection and you will be hospitalized for three days with a doctor who wears flip flops and smokes cigarettes in a nasty wifebeater while he does your ultrasound. Other than nearly dying, Greece was amazing. This was in 2006 before the collapse of everything holy and sacred, where you could still buy tiropita on every street corner and the best meal you’ve ever had was chicken and potatoes in an unmarked, hole-in-the-wall in the port of Athens. Listening to Bouzkouki music outside under the infinite stars – a sight to behold which makes the current crisis and destruction of the country all the more heartbreaking.

folkloricoMexico: Never wear your glasses in the ocean OR when in doubt, add salsa. I’ve been to Mexico twice – Puerto Vallarta and Cancun – and had positive experiences both times. Unfortunately, the first day my family and I had arrived in Puerto Vallarta at our hotel, I decided to go body-surfing in the ocean and (like a dum-dum) left my only pair of glasses on my face. Little do most of you know, I’m nearly blind and I’m also petrified of birds so imagining my fear when a pelican was drifting towards me in-between waves. I was so distracted by it that I missed the giant wave coming at me until it slammed into my face, knocking my glasses into the swirling abyss, never to be found again. I was a screaming hot mess coming out of that ocean, sobbing like a madwoman. Luckily, my father has the same prescription as me and I got the joy of wearing his prescription sunglasses at night and his over-sized dad glasses during the day. Sexy stuff people. Did I mention that I was fourteen and bald because I had recently shaved my head to raise money for cancer? Oh Lord. The best parts of Mexico are its warm people, its beautiful landscapes and its unbelievable food. I would have to say that if someone held a gun to my head and made me pick a favourite world cuisine, Mexican would be it. (Although Lebanese is a close second).

59d5bbb08738877501630e3bd03b15afDominican Republic: Never keep your mouth shut. My dad lives in the Dominican Republic so it was only a matter of time before I made it out to this beautiful island country to visit him and his wife. The DR is a place of paradoxes and disparities. Rich gringos live the life behind walled compounds guarded by locals holding large rifles while illegal Haitians chisel out a meager living while being exploited by their Dominican bosses. The deep blue of the water at the soft-sand beaches is almost enough to make you forget the crippling poverty that envelopes the country and looks like paradise to its Haitian neighbor to the west. There are a lot of things I could write about my experience in the DR but what takes the cake was being invited to a lunch with a group of my dad’s colleagues in an affluent home and meeting a man who earned the title of the most self-righteous, racist, jack@$$ I have ever met. In the course of half a meal, he outed himself as a pompous Brit, hell-bent on proving to me that Dominicans are allergic to work and that something is wrong with their “blood”. Most people might smile and nod, not wanting to rock the boat with their dad’s business partner, but I’m not most people. Obviously, I outed him for the khemar (Arabic for donkey) that he is and promptly left the dining table to sit in the car. I couldn’t even stand the sight of this guy and regret nothing in leaving our host’s home to get away from him. Gringos! Bah!

Christmas-Lights-Temple-Square-Salt-Lake-City-Utah-3Salt Lake City, Utah: Trust yourself and take the time to feel your spirit. I went to Utah to be trained for my work in the nutrition field on a special medical device that measures inflammation in the body’s meridians. I certainly didn’t expect to have something verging on a religious experience. In case you didn’t know it, Salt Lake City is the Mecca of ‘Muricas Mormons (or Latter Day Saints as they prefer to be called). Walking around Temple Square talking to missionaries about their religion all day was deeply interesting to me. They were so open to my posing challenging (but respectful) questions (constantly), I could hardly believe it. It’s easily the cleanest city I have ever visited and I have yet to feel a sense of peace and stillness anywhere else as I did there. My cousin was living there at the time and when I asked her why everything was so calm and peaceful all the time, she replied that it was “Spirit”. There are a number of ways that one can quantify what I felt there- biologically, psychologically, socially, etc. However, I prefer to think of that journey as part of my personal evolution when I started to trust myself more and feel that stillness. As a convert to Islam, a lot of people are surprised to find that Latter Day Saints had a hand in my conversion to being a Muslim, but they did and I’m forever grateful for that.

tumblr_ml5g5zJ84R1s2u8uuo1_500_largeLondon: Don’t order the Chinese food. I’ve been to London twice for very short periods both times. The second time was after the Rethymnon hospitalization incident so London is a bit of a blur for me. All I really remember is that my hostel had about 4 inches of room around the perimeter of the bed for “walking” around and that I ordered chicken fried rice at a small Chinese joint and it cost £18. That is 36 dollars, people. For rice, oil and a couple scraps of chicken. I couldn’t wait to leave the UK.

tumblr_lzurp1SiRv1qb0bzxo1_500Italy: Fall in love and relish your family’s history. It is impossible for me to encapsulate Italy in a tiny paragraph on a blog full of other places to talk about. My experiences there have been so rich and life-changing that doing it justice is an impossibility. The first time I went to Italy, I explored the boot with my cousin Michele, visiting every city we could and hunting Carravaggios and Berninis in the chapels and museums of our beloved homeland. It was also the trip where I met my husband Bassam who had been living and working in Firenze for ten years. A year after the moon hit my eye like a big pizza pie at the sight of his nose, I lived there with him for a month. It was easily one of the best months of my life as it was Ramadan and I had unfettered access to an English language bookstore where I could read to my heart’s content (when I wasn’t sketching or jogging!). Later, I was also able to visit the land my family came from in Calabria, staying in the house my grandmother grew up in and waking up to the orchards of the Maione hills every morning. La dolce vita.

tumblr_lwmnvmR14f1r8ggsqo4_1280Morocco: The number of lessons I have learned from living a cumulative three years in Morocco as far too many to list here, let alone sum up in one cutesy subheading. I lived, loved and almost died in this country. Its people have entered my heart; its food has moistened my veins; its sounds have long echoed in my ears. My daughter was born there and, I have had some brilliant memories as well as the darkest moments of my life in the Maghreb. I built a primary school in a rural village there with my husband and now, my academic research is devoted to pedagogy of the Holocaust among Moroccan Muslims. For this, it will always be part of my history and likely my future as well. I learned independence and a strength I didn’t know I had – overcoming the most overwhelming of obstacles to rise and thrive another day.

Where have you been and what have you learned?