The Responsibility of the Traveler

Ashley Simmons
April 28, 2016

 The hardest part about keeping a blog always seems to be figuring out where to start the blog posts. Reconfiguring and redirecting my experience in Morocco is something that feels so impossible I'm surprised I'm still writing now. 

I stood on the ferry from Europe to Africa, feeling an emotion I couldn't quite put my finger on. Upon asking my friends, "Do you feel this too? What is this feeling? What do you call not quite euphoria and not quite transcendence?" I was met with "ecstatic" and "weightless" and "ethereal", yet none of these felt like the correct words to depict my emotions. 

On the ferry ride, watching one continent fade off into the blue horizon amidst the white foam of the sea and another appear on the other side, I realized that the feeling was the opposite of any emptiness that may have previously plagued me on my rougher nights. Instead it was one of completion: I felt full

My time in Morocco was eye-opening in ways I both did and did not anticipate. Oftentimes, throughout the trip we were asked what our stereotypes/prejudices about visiting an Islamic country may have been. These questions were then appropriately reversed in our liberal-arts-college-student-ways to: "What did you think our prejudices would have been?" (I'm quoting you, Tre). 

Through turning the questions inside-out on themselves and perceiving things from others' points-of-view, Morocco became exactly the learning experience we all needed it to be.

Aside from engaging in conversation about politics, race in America, and dating culture, my favorite part of the Morocco trip had to be experiencing yet another culture of people so fully immersed in beautiful humanity. One positive attribute (of many) that should be broadcasted worldwide -- conveniently this is the worldwide web -- is that Moroccans are extremely hospitable. They welcomed my program members and I into their homes and kitchens, families and conversations without a second thought. 

The discourse in Morocco enriched my mind in ways I couldn't have foreseen. For starters, I gained a better understanding of the lives of both genders in Islam and even bore witness to the ways in which generational changes are active in a different country.

Normally when we think of change or betterment, we feel that immediate results have to be the only results and that through these immediate results we can come face to face with immediate success. However, no success is immediate and not all results are either. Morocco was demonstrative of change permeating generational boundaries as it pertained to the needs of Morocco.

From my travels, I've learned that the "American way" can seem to be the only way best for everyone, yet this doesn't always ring true.

Just because something works for one person, place, or culture doesn't automatically mean it will work for another person, place, or culture. Yes, we are all undoubtedly different, all walking different paths and learning different things with different people, but it is our humanity that united us. 

Across cultures and invisible country borders, laughter is the same, happiness, joy, euphoria, serenity are all the same. Tears and pain are the same and the ability to feel and feel wholly is too.

This all brings me to the point of this blog post, encompassed in its title: The Responsibility of the Traveler.

Traveling isn't just bopping miscellaneously from place to place, drinking and partying and living it up in a bikini on a sunny beach. Traveling isn't invading someone's culture and turning your nose up at cultural differences or nuances. After the experiences I've had, I feel that traveling is about the connections that can be made with different people in different places.

It's in the girl I passed twice in the streets of Rabat, Morocco who then mustered up the courage to come and say hello because she always wanted American friends. It's in the hour long conversation we had there as the air filled with the slightly sweet/slightly salty smell of freshly roasted peanuts. It's in understanding that not everything -- mostly nothing -- portrayed on television is 100% truth. It's in understanding that yes, go out, travel, learn, explore and create yourself, but also go, travel, learn, explore, and create for yourself. Many parts of life need to be experienced first-hand, and it is through these first-hand experiences that we are able to grow, mature, and unite as humans, despite our differences in color, size, race, and/or background. 

When asked how important religion is in his daily life, a what was presumed to be extremely conservative Muslim father responded, "We are all human first. Religion comes second."

This response was by far the most shocking part of my Morocco trip but it rings very true, because I too believe the same. 

We are all human first, and therein lies the responsibility of the traveler. It is our duty as privileged travelers to 1. Recognize our privilege (for some people can't even leave their own country) and 2. Share the beauty of the experiences we are granted with, with those back home. It is our responsibility to report humanity and the reality of the places we go, wherever those places may be, whoever it may be that we stumble upon. To document, covet, and cherish memories and moments. 

Travel and report: there is humanity and life and love here. I found it, I was blessed to see it. There is hope and happiness and there is home. It found me, I was blessed to see it. We are all human first, no more, no less. Always just enough. 

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Ashley Simmons

Ashley is the 2015-16 IES Abroad Blogger of the Year! A Junior at Brandeis University, Ashley studies English, Creative Writing, Film, Television, and Interactive Media, as well as Creativity, The Arts and Social Transformation. On campus Ashley is an English Undergraduate Departmental Representative. Originally from Washington D.C., she enjoys cooking, reading, playing the piano, playing video games, and being with her family and friends.

2016 Spring
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