Travel Isn't Always Pretty

Gaza Palestinian refugee camp, Jerash, Jordan. September, 2018.

Gaza Palestinian refugee camp, Jerash, Jordan. September, 2018.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” ~Anthony Bourdain

For this blog post, I honestly just wanted to drop a bunch of Anthony Bourdain quotes and leave it at that. The anniversary of his death was a few weeks ago and he has come up in conversation with friends and complete strangers several times this month. All of us still devastated at the tremendous loss of him to the world. 

Anthony Bourdain was important to me. I know that sounds foolish. But, for me, he made travel accessible, he made it real, he made it about people. Something as simple as sitting down for a meal and experiencing all the culture that food represents and what that means to the people sharing the meal. And bringing it to an American audience. An audience, I believe, so starved for something different and something real. 

Especially endearing to me were his episodes on the Middle East because let’s face it, I’m utterly in love with the place and people. He did three episodes in Beirut. He did my beloved city justice because it seemed he was just as infatuated with it as I am. He did an episode in Jerusalem and went to Gaza in 2014. He won an award from the Muslim Public Affairs Council. This was his speech.

“I was enormously grateful for the response from Palestinians, in particular, for doing what seemed to me an ordinary thing, something we do all the time: show regular people doing everyday things.… The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity. People are not statistics. That is all we attempted to show.”


He brought others into our living rooms that maybe we had stereotypes or fear about. He brought me to places that I never thought I wanted to visit and made me want to go just to sit with another and eat a meal together. 

For me, my heart is with the people of the Middle East, particularly the Palestinians. The clip from above is how I have always experienced them, as families serving me mass quantities of delicious food and showering so much love and hospitality on me. It makes any sort of help or care I give pale in comparison. 

Though the commitment I have to them isn’t based on how they treat me, rather it is based on how they are treated. We have this weird thing surrounding charity in the US, that the marginalized group must be worthy of our help. They must be pristine. Yet, I found a lot of grey in the Middle East. Fighting for and with others that you might possibly think are below you in some way (economically, socially, financially) might not be about making them worthy but be about making you worthy. 

Fifteen years and I’m still committed to do what I can to assist them in creating opportunities for their communities. I’m still committed to building bridges in the US to help Americans understand Palestinian narrative. I’m still committed to fight for their basic human rights. I’m still committed to help you see them as I do and for them to see you as I do. 

I know it’s an uphill battle. I know I won’t be successful. And yet, I would rather continue on this path – fight with taxi drivers, cry over Arabic, feel inadequate, sit on buses for hours in 100+ degree weather rethinking my life choices, and basically fail miserably because in the end, it is worth it, they are worth it. I want to be able to look myself in the mirror every morning knowing I am trying to use whatever rights, talents, and privilege I have to improve the lives of others. For me, there is no greater meaning in life. 

That’s why I go back. 

That’s why it’s important for me to take you with me. Which is why I am so active on social media while I am there. I want to show you the truth of the Middle East through the bias of love. I want you to see and hear from people you might never have the opportunity to meet. We have an opportunity to build bridges and understanding. Let’s take it. 

So, follow me while I am in the Middle East. Ask questions. Tell me what is important for you to see and know. But, most importantly, let the pictures, videos, and new information about the Middle East sink deep into your heart. As it has mine. 

Suzann MollnerComment