I Love Traveling! (Without Being Detained)

Ramadhiani Afina Zamara (INA YES to USA YP 16–17)

(I am a Muslim exchange student currently residing in Alaska, USA, and the Extreme Vetting order came up when I was on a trip to Belize. I did not get detained because I am from Indonesia. Still terrified though. Here’s everything that happened before and after.)

This past couple of months have been colorful. December was cold and we endured snowstorms after snowstorms, but boy is it beautiful. Hoarfrosts are probably my favorite things, besides the white sky. A counselor in my school said most people say roses have thorns, but in Alaska, thorns have roses. For it to be beautiful, first it has to be cold.

For winter break I did a lot of mushing, skiing, hanging out with friends, and I watched a 6-day marathon of 6 years worth of Game of Thrones. And for Christmas I got a lot of thoughtful presents, from my friends, family, and even from the extended family of my host family that I haven’t even met before. But the one that really stuck out to me was the Christmas/birthday present that my host family got me: a concert ticket to my favorite band.

I also had school choir concert and community choir concert in December. Both are really good concerts and had more audiences than I’d expected. There’s a line to one of the songs called Variations of Jingle Bells, and it goes like “Jingle bells are great, but a sleigh ride just won’t do. Wouldn’t you rather sail away… on a Caribbean cruise?” and so we did.

We went to places where it’s warm. Partly because it was January and we wanted to escape the -27 Celcius weather and the Inauguration Day, but partly because we want to see wildlife and my host dad Joseph is doing crocodile research, for his sophomore book following his first one Life with 40 Dogs (available on amazon.com). First we went to Boston then to Rhode Island to see my favorite band. The trip was off to a great start. Then we went to Cuba.

We went to Cuba for 5 days. After the embargo has been lifted by President Obama, Americans are allowed to travel to Cuba again. We flew through Havana then to Isla de la Juventud, an island separate from the Cuban mainlands. There we stayed at little homestays (casa particular). We went to see Cuban crocodiles, an endangered species of crocodiles that are protected by the Cuban Government.

The cars in Cuba are mostly 1950’s vintage cars, and the main means of transportation is horse-drawn carriages. We oddly saw some tractors in the middle of the streets. We also went to the huge prison that Fidel, Raul Castro and other revolutionaries were held in. All of us, especially my little host sister, had so much fun dancing to the rhythmic Cuban music. What’s not fun is having a cancelled flight. That happened to us when we’re about to leave the island.

After Cuba, we went to Belize. We saw ancient Mayan ruins, manatees, and tons of birds. We saw Toucans 3 times and we saw a Collared aracari which is an edgy, more avant-garde version of a regular Toucan. We saw a lot of wild cats like jaguars and my favorite, ocelots. We also ate our fair share of Caribbean cuisine. Fresh fruits and freshly caught seafood, yum.

When we were in Placencia, Belize, we received the news about the extreme vetting order. It was advertised as a Muslim ban, and guess where most of the Muslims in the world are (it’s where I’m from). I thought my country was one of the 7, but it isn’t. We collectively let out a huge sigh. It’s hard to put it into words, but the huge sigh was every emotion in Google’s “sigh” definition (to emit a long, deep, audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or a similar feeling).

Yes, the extreme vetting order isn’t really a Muslim ban, but for so long, (gosh SO LONG) people have been waging the war against Islam as a religion. Now when you see Saudi Arabia (where Islam literally came from) and Indonesia (where the largest Muslim population) are not part of the 7 countries, it really makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Wonder that, you know, maybe Islam isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s just the conflicted countries.

I have a million reasons why the extreme vetting order was a bad idea. But then again, I have a million reasons about a million things being a bad idea. We, the human race, has quite the history of messing up and waging wars and being selfish. We’ve had 2 World Wars, for crying out loud. Does history really have to repeat itself? Is it inevitable, or are we strong enough to prevent ourselves from heading toward that direction again?

People don’t see the world enough. People only talk to their pals from their own socioeconomic background, only talk to their own kind, in their own language, about their own trivial problems. Only knowing what the rest of the world is going through from their tiny biased windows of electronic devices. Which is why I think student exchange programs or any form of cultural exchange in general are really important.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” — Maya Angelou.

The way you live isn’t by owning more and more things, it’s by going to more and more places. Don’t let the things you own chain you down and ending up owning you. Walk a mile in everyone’s shoes and exercise empathy. Go on an adventure, my loves. Your minds deserve it.

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