Is it safe? That is a question I am constantly asked whenever I talk to people about the places I’ve travelled to, whether it be Cambodia or Japan. My answer is usually “safe, compared to what” because it is such a relative term. How dangerous are our daily routines here at home? I consider driving an automobile every day one of the most dangerous endeavours a human can undertake, yet we think nothing of it. Over 43,000 people were killed on US roads in 2005. And just recently, it was reported that life expectancy here in the US has been falling in relation to that of other developed (and a few developing) countries. About 1/5th of the world’s nations have a higher life expectancy than the US now, including Guam, Jordan, and the Cayman Islands. This drop in the rankings can be attributed to unhealthy lifestyles and a health care system which not everyone has access to. So when travelling we should consider which will more likely kill you: three weeks in a foreign country or 20 years commuting in an automobile 150 miles a week while eating that egg & cheese mcmuffin, that Whopper, and those chicken wings.
The Middle East is constantly in the news, rarely for anything good. Especially since 9/11 and now the Iraq war, images of death and destruction from the Mideast can be seen on our TV screens almost daily. The image of the Arab people in our popular culture is of a race which is wholly resentful and bitter towards America and its people, and prone to acts of violence in the name of religion. While we have Bin Laden and his psychopathic gang to blame for much of the distortion, our various media outlets also must bear some responsibility by playing up their message and deeds, even though people that agree with them are in fact a tiny minority.
But the media can only give us an abstract view of the region. It does not let us smell the stenches and aromas, hear the frantic bargaining of the souks, or the call for prayers of the mosques, and not to mention tasting the food. Arab people are as diverse as we are, belonging to various religions or sects, different dialects, culinary preference, political views, and so on. I do not believe that very many of them hate America, or at least not the American people. I do fully expect many to er, strongly disagree with our government’s foreign policy, and I’ll surely hear many arguments about that. However they surely do not have the time nor the inclination to constantly think about America. They are busy living their own daily lives – raising children, going out to eat, grieving for sick loved ones – just as we do. You will likely see lots of pictures of various ruins on this site in the coming days and weeks – and while the ruins are great they are not the primary reason I travel. I travel to find out how people live.