After meeting many wonderful local people in Laos and Indonesia I was inspired to make a concious effort to surround myself with as many locals as possible. I did this by couchsurfing, hitchhiking, taking local transport and interacting with locals in bars and resturants.
The months of May and June took me to new parts of the world. Sri Lanka, Jordan and Israel.
Before arriving I had very little idea about what to expect in each of these countries. However, each country surprised me not only in natural beauty but in the beauty & genuinness of all the people I came across. I believe that many people do not venture to these parts of the world as they wrongly percieve the country and its people. Their judegment is based on the overarching religon and each of these countries recent brutal history. Although holding some truth, the majority of things the media portrays about these countries is baised and I urge people to look past extremists and a countries previous civil disputes.
Sri Lanka has only recently come out of civil war and the country is often ravaged by natural disasters. Two days before I arrived the centre of the country recieved it´s heaviest flooding since the 2004 tsunami. I decided to lend a hand with the flood relief packing boxes. I spent two days in Colombo with a small non-profit, LEEDS, and over 300 other volunteers! I got to interact with many kind, intelligent locals who showed me what a community-orintated country Sri Lanka is. The support the flood relief efforts received was heart warming.
After Colombo I travelled to Kandy, Ella and Arugum Bay utilising Couchsurfing. Each time I showed up at strangers door, ready to sleep on their couch, I was filled with apprehension. Each time these feeling were instantly washed away with the kindness of the people who were opening their homes to me.
I stayed Sheenan who opens his home to many surfers and was never put out by our late and untimely arrivals. Sitting on his balcony with fellow travelers sharing real conversations was a great start to my time in the country.
I then was hosted by a family in the hills outside Kandy. Ma, patiently, spent two days with me in the kitchen showing me how to cook local delicaies.
In Ella a simple hello during a hike led to the dorming of a travel family and along the way we met a 20 year old man who dreams of opening a small B&B. He cooked for us, gave us tea, coffee, water and three hours of good coversation.
On the East Coast I was greeted by Sheik, a successful engineer who returned home from a lucractive job in Dubai in order to live a simpler life. He treated me to my own room in a guesthouse only a 50m walk from the beach! He also introduced me to the men who run the Aragum Bay develpment forum. A group of social workers who give their own time to develop the local area. The east coast is majority Tamil, however, their warm demenour indicated no harbouring of negative feelings towards the rest of the country. I was saddened to hear that their tourism industry suffers as people believe the area to be unsafe due to their practicing of Islam and fears of civil disputes. I must comment that the people in Sri Lanka are amongst the most genuine I have ever met. Unlike many other Asian countries I have been to no one here was out to get my money or business. They simply wanted me to enjoy my time in their country and were happy to go to great lengths to ensure I was comfortable.
A cheap flight found me in Jordan for a week. I arrived on the first day of Ramadan. Amman was a gohst town and I was unsure what to think as I had never been in such a religiously strict country.
The first person I couchsurfed with was Craig and English expat who works in the humanitarian aid sector. His passion for helping all people was inspiring and urged me to look deeper into working for the non-profit sector. I was bound for Petra and fate had it that a local contacted me on couchsurfing who was also heading their the same day with some of his surfers. At 6am I was picked up a car and met with three big smiles. The day that followed was awe-inspiring. We parted ways that evening as I met up with my couchsurfing host. As he was taking part in Ramadan he did not want to inflict his cafine-deprived mood upon me. Therefore I was hosted by his friend Abdullah. We pulled in the lobby of a mid-range hotel and I was surprised to be taken to my own private room. Yep, Abdullah hosts people in his hotel! For the next two days I was treated like a Queen, eating all the delicious middle-eatern cusines and was taken touring around the desert in a 4×4. My last host treated me to a day of scuba-diving in the Red Sea and a night of tequila drining with his friends. Jordan is a country whose tourism idustry been hit hard by the western-worlds view of Islam and the current crisis going on in Syria. Despite these factors not once did I feel unsafe or in danger during my stay. The Jordanians were excited to have a visitor from so far away I was treated by everyone with courtesy and respect.
Crossing the border into Israel I was nervous and intrigued. I had heard about the strict security measures. Moreover, during my time in Central America I had met my fair share of arrogant, unfriendly Israeli groups (although I do have many amazing Israeli friends). Therefore I was interested to see the country through my own eyes. WOW this country is home to the worlds best hosts! Firstly, my friend Shahar and her entire family went above and beyond to make our time outstanding. We were lucky enough to take part in a Kiddush which was a special experience. Then, everytime my friend Laura, from Holland, and I went out we were met with such excitment. People were so happy that we had decided to come to Israel and explore their country. We also used Couchsurfing around Israel. We stayed in two Kibbutz one in the South and one in the North. The community ideals behind the Kibbutz were incredible to be a part of. Everyone accepted us into their little families for the few days that we were there and shared with us everything that they could. Hitchhiking was incredibly easy and the people who picked us up were thrilled to share stories and knowledge about their homeland. What really amazed me about Israel was the immense sense of pride most people felt for their country.
I know that many people would class the things I do as dangerous. Showing up at someones doorstep after only exchanging a few messages, standing on the side of the road and hoping to be taken to the right location by people who do not speak the same language. But I have belief that people in this world are inheriantly good and in order to experience this goodness you have to drop your apprehensivness and open your heart. If you treat others how you want to be treated and put good energy out to the world you will be granted good experiences in return. My experiences in these past six months have 110% re-affirmed my beliefs. The kindess and genuiness of strangers in these ‘unsafe’ ‘unstable’ countries has been overwhelming.
Don’t let the media be your sole informant. Go and experience places, cultures and people yourself to make an informed decision. Have faith in humanity and good things will come.