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My culture is superior.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- You can find many helpful blogs and articles about essential tips for women traveling alone in the Middle East.

Years ago, a Middle East traveler, explorer and writer known as Freya Stark wrote down some of her personal preferences for a travel companion. These are the qualities Stark thought a person should have who intends to travel.

In my piece "Tips on choosing a travel companion" (Feb. 22, 2015), I shared her recommendations. Here is Stark's list of "seven cardinal virtues for a traveler":

1. To admit standards that are not one's own standards and discriminate the values that are not one's own values.

2. To know how to use stupid men and inadequate tools with equanimity.

3. To be able to dissociate oneself from one's bodily sensations.

4. To be able to take rest and nourishment as and when they come.

5. To love not only nature but human nature also.

6. To have an unoccupied, observant and uncensorious mind -- in other words to be unselfish.

7. To be as calmly good-tempered at the end of the day as at the beginning.

One time or another many of us probably have been on a trip which we did not enjoy because the other person did not see eye-to-eye on how to fill the days or perceive the surroundings in the same way. You never know what kind of a travel companion another person will turn out to be until you have traveled together once!

We can surprise ourselves by how superior we begin to feel when we travel in another culture. In my early years of travel I never knew how patriotic I was until my first trip abroad. It is easy for us to feel our own culture and/or language is far superior to others. Sometimes the feelings of apprehension, loneliness and lack of confidence we experience bring out the overly patriotic trait and stereotyping behavior. Watch out for these because they can hurt and offend easily.

It is easy when we visit other places (be it another town, state, province, country or continent) that we begin to compare and fall into the trap of seeing that which is different as being negative. These points are a great reminder from Stark to all expats tempted to fall into "my culture is superior" mode: "The true wanderer, whose travels are happiness, goes out not to shun but to seek."

If you are not familiar with Stark's books, they explore the life, civilization and historical heritage of the people. Stark systematically provides the reader with route plans that traverse time and space. Stark lived and traveled in the Middle East at a most interesting time when wars were being fought and boundaries redrawn. Stark was born in 1893 and passed away on May 9, 1993. She wrote more than two dozen books on her travels in the Middle East and Afghanistan, as well as several autobiographic works and essays. Stark was one of the first non-Arabs to travel through the southern Arabian Deserts. "Baghdad Sketches," "The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels," "A Winter in Arabia" and "The Lycian Shore" are some of the more well-known titles.

We can learn from Stark, as she was careful not to fall into the opposite trap of being overly sentimental about locals' lives and foreign lands that intrigued her. Often I hear Westerners say that they came to Turkey because, as they put it, "I love Turkey." Of course, you won't go and live somewhere you dislike but there is a danger of living in denial and being so unrealistic about a place that in the end you will be let down. The disappointment will be even worse. Just try to be realistic and balanced! Every place has its pros and cons. Without being condescending, try to admit your frustrations and discomfort and irritation as well as pleasures and affection about a place.

Many a good friendship has been ruined by going on holiday together. Two people who normally get on well back home suddenly find that one is absolutely fascinated by old ruins or countless art galleries, while the either just wants to lie on the beach or visit yet another shop.

"Choose your companions, and then choose your road." -- Arab proverb


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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Apr 17, 2015
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