"I want to go Morocco!"
This was an idea that formed in my mind many months ago, almost without my fulling knowing it. The combination of Arabic, African and European cultures in one place; the inspiring lines and colors of its architecture; the proximity of mountains, ocean and desert; plus, incredible food. Heck, yes! Morocco!
What could possibly go wrong?
As I prepare to leave the comforts and familiarity of home (again), I'm revisited (again) by natural doubts. What if it's dangerous? What if I get lonely? What if it's more expensive than I planned for? What if I end up wandering pointlessly, not really learning or contributing anything, another Western dilettante at loose ends in the world? What if I can't pick up the language? Am I making the right choice? (As if there is only one "right choice" to make.)
I have been here before. I cannot think of a trip that I have taken in my entire life that didn't begin with this phase of anxiety at some level. And once my feet are on the ground, the fears are not realized and often seem laughable in retrospect. The momentum of the trip takes over and what was one amorphous uncertainty is replaced by the smells, sounds, sights and textures of being alive in the world.
This is hard to remember when you are an American in America. We are cosseted by oceans on both sides, and we huddle under a skeptical cloud that fears foreign places. We like to think this isn't true, but I assure you it is. Americans I have met have generally two emotional reactions to the idea of long-term international travel: 1) how exotic! or 2) oh my god, is that safe? Both of these are grounded in the idea that traveling in foreign countries is not normal, for better or worse. That throwing yourself into a unknown culture or language is risky, or weird at best. There is almost a physical embodiment of the idea, an extended arm pointing to and pushing away an unknown place that is far, far away.
Spend an hour in a hostel in any city in the world, and you will see the United Nations sitting around the coffee table, casually trading stories and advice on the scores of places they've traveled through and might go to next. The entire world is moving and interacting, and Americans are staying home.
And so for the last six weeks that I've spent at home in San Diego and on the West Coast, I have reflexively fended off queries of safety and doubt from well intentioned people. I knew that my restless brain would find a way to manufacture its own worries, and I didn't need to take on the concerns of others, too. But after just a few weeks back in the US, I could feel myself surrendering to the prevailing attitude. The world is unsafe. Women shouldn't travel in Muslim countries. Are you sure this is a good idea?
To totally dismiss any concerns isn't reality-based. And I'm heading to West Africa with a clear head about respecting and comporting with local customs. But I can't help but cast a hard judgement on the reason behind these cautions: there is a sinister stereotype that dark-skinned people and Muslim people are dangerous. And I'm heading into a region that serves up a two-fer of supposed threats.
Intellectually, personally, I cannot allow myself to believe this mythology. I can't let it crowd my thoughts and insinuate itself into the more rational, casual worries of meeting the unfamiliar. And once this pre-departure spasm of emotion passes I know I'll remember what travel has always taught me: people everywhere are kind, and we have so much to learn from each other.
By quirk of timing, I am flying out of San Diego bound for Casablanca six months to the day that I got in my car and drove away from Vermont. That decision was a risk that has paid off with incredible experiences in the months since. But I'm letting myself have this moment of sentimental uncertainty, because it's underscored by what I know in my rational brain:
Heck yes, travel!
PS: Thank you to my mom for hosting me at "home" for the last several weeks. It's hard place to leave, and great place to come back to.