Hello Matt! I almost feel wrong saying Matt, I have always known you from your Superstar Blogging Course as Nomadic Matt. I have learned a lot from your courses, and have read a lot about you and your work, but my readers may or may not know you. Would you mind giving a brief background for them on how you got started in blogging, and how long you have been doing it?
Matt: Thanks for having me, Janiel! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Nomadic Matt. For the past decade, I’ve been traveling the world and blogging about budget travel at nomadicmatt.com. My goal is to help make travel accessible by showing people how to travel cheaper, better, and longer. I started blogging back in 2008 as a way to showcase my writing. I wanted to be a travel writer, and I figured creating my own website would be a good way to highlight my abilities.
While that didn’t exactly work out, my website became popular in its own right, and I actually write my own budget travel guides these days. So, while things didn’t work out as I planned, they definitely still worked out! In addition to running a blog, I also manage a media school, a charity, an online community of 20,000 travelers from around the world, and the world’s biggest travel conference. Oh, and I somehow still find time to travel too!
Let’s get into the meat of what I wanted to ask you about, how to find meaning behind the destination. In one of your articles, you suggested Viz eats, where you can go and eat with locals. How else do you connect with locals in a country or city that you may or may not speak the language? What would you suggest for those who are introverted vs extroverted?
Matt: We’re living in the golden age of budget travel, with cheap flights and the sharing economy giving us an infinite amount of choice when it comes to travel experiences. If you don’t speak the language in the destination you’re visiting, there are still plenty of websites and apps you can use to have unique, local experiences. Some of my favorites are:
Couchsurfing.com: where you can meet with or stay with locals.
Meetup.com: a great platform for finding people who share similar interests.
Vayable.com: a website that offers unique tours and travel experiences.
Blablacar.com: a rideshare program where you can share a ride with locals.
By embracing these non-traditional platforms you’ll be able to have an experience that is unique and centered around local interactions. The best thing about these platforms is that you can enjoy them even if you’re an introvert. You’ll need to push your limits a little bit, but both introverts and extroverts will be able to take advantage of the sharing economy. You’ve just got to be willing to take the plunge!
When you make the effort to connect with the locals, do you find that you remember these trips more than others, or are these the trips that hold more meaning for you?
Matt: Not only does connecting with locals make the trips more memorable, but it adds depth to your travels as well. You’ll find out new tidbits about the culture, discover hidden restaurants or attractions, and see the destination from a more nuanced perspective. At the end of the day, it’s the people you meet that really make your travels the incredible experiences that they are. But it doesn’t always have to be locals — meeting other travelers can be just as insightful and rewarding. So always be willing to meet new people when you’re traveling. You never know just what opportunities will come your way because of it!
Do you have any volunteering groups, organizations that you know of that could make travel more meaningful? I’m thinking of those who want to give back, have skills, but in some areas may not be as welcome as others. For example, I work in the medical field and when I asked a friend in Jordan if they needed medical aid for the refugee camps. The response was, ‘We can help ourselves, these are people not some animals in a barn that you can come take photos with to feel better about yourself’. So I would ask you, in your professional opinion, what is the best way to volunteer for a few days, weeks or years? Do you have any organizations you would recommend?
Matt: Volunteering abroad can be tricky, as you want to make sure you’re working with a group or agency that is helping make real change as opposed to just offering tourists a chance for a photo op. There are plenty of travel scams out there that offer shady “volunteer” experiences to tourists that actually do more harm than good. So when it comes to volunteering, research is vital. I would also encourage people to look for opportunities that last weeks (or more) instead of days. Volunteering anywhere for just a couple of days, I would say, isn’t really going to make a huge difference; that’s the kind of experience that is there to just make travelers feel better. If you want to make a lasting difference somewhere, spend a few weeks volunteering. That will give you time to fully learn your role and make a lasting contribution.
I know you have your own non-profit you have started. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what made you want to pursue establishing FLYTE?
Matt: The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) is a non-profit that helps high school students in underserved communities travel abroad with their classmates. Every year, we send a group of students abroad to a country of their choosing. So far, we’ve sent students to Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, and Guatemala. Many of these students have never left the USA, so these trips open the world to them and show them just how transformative travel can be. As travelers ourselves, we’re all aware of the amazing and eye-opening experiences that travel can offer. These experiences are a privilege not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy, so I wanted to create a project that enables everyone to see the world with their own eyes with the hope that these experiences will encourage them to travel more in their personal life. The more we travel, the more cultural bridges we build and the more understanding we create. And I think the world needs a lot more of those two things these days!
Being a person who has traveled so extensively, having books, websites, non-profit program, and now Travel Conferences. Do you ever find yourself feeling isolated or lonely? If so, who is the go-to person that helps you out of that feeling? If not, what do you do to combat this loneliness or are you just too busy to think about it?
Matt: I’ve always been more introverted than extroverted, so I actually enjoy those rare moments when I’m alone. It gives me time to catch up on things like reading and writing and gives me more mental space and freedom to relax. While I love meeting new people, both at home and abroad, I also value my personal time so whenever I feel the need to connect I’ll make sure to reach out to my friends and make plans. Whether it’s dinner, drinks, or going to see some music, I think having a community is what helps keeps me sane when I need a break from work.
As an entrepreneur, there is always more work to be done so I could easily spend my days and nights hunched over my laptop. Having friends I can escape to not only gives me a reason to take a break from work but it gives me time to refresh and recover, and it gives my brain a chance to digest everything that I’m working on. So, while I am always comfortable being alone, I think it’s important to have people you can turn to whenever you feel the need to connect.
I always feel like laughter is the best medicine, there is nothing like endorphins coursing through the veins. So my last question is this…what is the funniest travel story you have?
Matt: I think the best stories are always funny in hindsight, though at the time they might not seem so funny. The best example of this from my travels happened when I was backpacking around Spain. I awoke to the noise of one of my dorm roommates banging on the door as he had locked himself out.
I reluctantly rolled out of bed to let him in before plopping back down into my bunk. But then I noticed something: a terrible smell. The smell, it turns out, was coming from my hand. It was shit. I immediately got up and rushed to the bathroom to find shit all over my hands, as well as the doorknob and trailing back to the bed of the backpacker who I just let in. He had shit himself. I confronted him about it, but he tried to say it wasn’t him…even though the evidence clearly proved otherwise. Later that day I checked out and went to a hotel. I figured some privacy was worth the extra cost — especially if it meant no one shitting in my room!
Well Mr. Nomadic Matt, it has been a real pleasure getting to know you on a more human level. I appreciate you taking your time out of your schedule to do this. I wanted to also say thank you, from the bottom of my heart for always being upfront, open and honest about all of your work, courses, and conferences; and thank you for being open and honest about your answers today. If anyone had questions, where can they reach you or your team?
The History of the Berber People The Berbers have been in North Africa since at least 3000 BC according to scholars. Morocco is made up with the majority of Berbers, 10.4 million (40%) of the population. These can be divided into three main groups with different dilects: the Riffians, the Chleuh and Central Moroccan Amazigh; 2/3 of the Berber people actually live in rural and mountainous areas, most being farmers. Traditionally, Berbers raise sheep, cattle and goats; some work in flourmills, do woodcarving, quarry millstones, and make pottery or jewelry. Women generally do the cooking and caring for the home and children, weaving, and pottery. Today many Berber people work in Spain or France as migrant workers and send money home to their families.
Family and Culture of the Berber People
A traditional word used in the Berber language is ‘Fard’, a word which literally means “The individual is nothing without the tribe”. The immediate family comes first and they are the most important thing to these wonderful people. Most of the time family members live together and most stay close to home, women children and extended family actually end up working together closely in their own homes.
If you ever visit one of these families, be prepared to eat more food than you will ever want to eat your life (ie/bring a walker because your belly will be so full it will become difficult to walk afterward). The Moroccan culture, and especially the Berber people hold their guests in very high esteem, hospitality here is taken VERY seriously.
If you look into some of the religious beliefs of the Berber people, interestingly they actually believe in a spiritual dimension, or ‘Baraka’ or the positive power of the saints. It is a major source of what has inspired most artisans in Morocco and often is what helps to create the traditional designs of the Berber people.
Baraka can infuse itself into all things, at different levels, such as jewelry, talismans, ceramics, textiles; it can also be in artistic vocabulary (like song & dance), suffuse itself in plants like henna and oleander, sandalwood, saffron, and myrrh. So what is Baraka exactly and why is it so prominent in this culture? Baraka traditionally thought and used to deal with the darker forces of life, curing illnesses and protecting oneself against the evil jnoun (spirits) and the evil eye.
For example, I say an adorable little boy on the street in Marrakech, and told the mother ‘oh he is sooooo cute’ and smiled and motioned that I wanted to pinch his cheeks. The guide I was with told me to say Baraka, which would deter the evil eye, because it is very common for mothers to be superstitious that you will jinx their children by doing this — so saying this word can avoid the curse of the evil eye. Another example is of a Berber woman dancing in Jamma el-fna with a certain colored scarve over her head to get rid of a certain demon or bad spirit that could be plaguing her life. (See video above)
Symbols of the Berber People
The Berber people commonly wear different symbols and say different words to help protect them from the evil eye. Berber women commonly would wear tattoos, jewelry and henna with different patterns to help protect themselves; now with many converted to Islam where tattoos are forbidden, they weave the symbols into the textiles, jewelry and henna even to this day. So if you see the designs of henna drawn on the hands and the feet of a bride, this is something that is both protecting and nurturing for the marriage that has been used and evolved throughout the centuries of use.
If you see photos of the Amazigh women/Berber women, you may find some with the tattoos I previously mentioned. These tattoos were traditionally placed by the family on the face as a sort of rite of passage (usually around the time of her menstrual cycle) signifying her transition into womanhood.
This would typically happen in groups, with several girls being tattooed at once, making it a very social activity. Now that Islam is so prominent, you typically do not see tattoos on the faces of any Berber woman under the age of 30.
There is actually a museum in Marrakech called, ‘The Tiskiwin Museum’ – where you can see some of the preserved arts of the Saharan people, and Berber people of Morocco. There is also a book to help you see what the different designs of the Berber people actually mean by -Cynthia Becker Phd called ‘Amazigh Arts in Morocco + Women Shaping the Berber Identity’, such as circular motifs in pink and red, colors categorized as light, resembling the sunlight, are embroidered over other motifs. They hover like the sun above the other designs, creating a composition that resembles the natural world and its plentifulness, connecting women to fertility.
Traditional Berber carpets contain distinctive patterns and colors and are woven from sheep wool or camel hair.
The materials are hand washed and naturally dyed from saffron yellow to wild mint green and from pomegranate and henna. These carpets are known for their strong geometric designs, and have been dated as far back as the Marinid era (Berber dynasty). Carpets in the middle Atlas generally have a traditional diamond grid. Even the wool itself is thought to have a protective power.
Berber weaving is highly dependent on the female culture, and is passed down traditionally within the home. The young learn from the old, and are expected to learn all the different ways to weave & loop, and the different patterns, color ranges, and symbols. Historically women wove carpets for their families, and the men traditionally produced carpets that were more specialized as professional master weavers. Each tribe has a signature pattern and commonly tells a story, revealing acts of ceremony, or designs that related to fertility and protection.
The Music of the Berber People
You may hear Chaabi Music while you are in Morocco, and this is actually a common folk or ‘pop’ music that is very common at celebrations and markets. Typically an instrument known as a gimbri (sinter or hajhuj) a guitar with three strings and 4 chords typically played. The gimbri has a low bas like tone, and was borrowed from the popular Gnawa traditional music that is typically known as mystical and used in healing rituals commonly.
Gnawa music was brought up from Sub-Sahara African areas and is common in Morocco amongst the Berber people, especially in Southern Morocco. Other instruments used are the Lira (a flute made of bamboo),
a Bendir (a drum played with the fingers) which has a snare stretched across the back that produces a buzzing sound when played,
a Darbouka (single head drum held under one arm),
and the Qraqeb (or karkabas)– this is a set of Metallic castanets or a type of symbol, originating from when the slaves would clang their chains together to make music & now has been adopted into traditional Gnawa music.
Overall I find the Berber people to be kind, intelligent, family oriented, hospitable, positive, vibrant people full of life that I think most of the Western World has forgotten how to live. So if you have the privilege to meet someone who is Berber, ask them of their heritage and be sure to visit them on a Friday when the family gets together for some Couscous 😉
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales and See you on the Flip Side.
Who are the Jordanian People? I was able to interview a Jordanian friend of mine Mohammad and ask him some very poignant questions about what it is to be Muslim and Jordanian, how to tour Jordan, scams to be aware of and customs that are very unique in their society.
Me:How to the people in Jordan identify themselves? Kind, stoic, helpful, funny, laid back?
Mohammad: Jordanians are known for hospitality. If you are my guest, I should give you food and sometimes a place to stay for free. Hospitality is like you are my guest. Like I should serve you some food.
Me: How would the people describe where they are geographically in relation to the surrounding countries?
Mohammad: Jordan is next to Palestine or what you know as Jerusalem. It is middle east. The common and well-known thing about Jordan is its safety.
Me:Do you feel that your culture and traditions have changed in any way in the last 10 years?
Mohammad: Yes, back in the day. If you came like a guest, you have to stay at least 3 days, with me providing your stay and food. Now it is a – you can be my guest for one day or a few hours, but it is only because of the financial situation there. It is considered a big shame if you cannot provide for your guest everything that they need and want.
The Right Way to Tour Jordan:
Me: How can we as tourists and visitors help to maintain your culture?
Mohammad: Since you are foreigners, and they don’t know about anything, you should just ask someone & they will explain. Jordanians can talk for hours. Most of them don’t have anything to do, so they like talking.
Me: What are some Festivals that you think are worthwhile for people to visit in Jordan while touring?
Mohammad: Jerash festival – it is Arabic singers and dancing, but you won’t understand anything. We also have the royal car museum in Amman. This is the King’s collection of all kinds of rare and classic race cars. You could come during Ramadan, but most people will be with their families and the shops are all closed during the day.
Me:What about towns that are not well known?
Mohammad:If you go to Irbid, my hometown. My hometown is in the genius book of world records for the town for the littlest villages & quantity of villages – compared to the rest of the world. There are 497 villages in Irbid. The reason is that it is a countryside.
Me: What are the biggest tourist traps you have noticed here?
Mohammad: The tourists get charged waaaayyy more than it costs. Like a taxi costs $2-3 max, but they will charge you $200-$300 for the ride.
Me: If I were to move to Jordan how would you suggest I assimilate to this culture? Are there facebook/Instagram or other internet apps/groups that I could use to integrate myself?
Mohammad:People are nosy, they will be your friend without you trying. They come and ask you all sorts of questions. This is by default, they treat you like family
Me:What is the Language spoken here?
Mohammad: Arabic and some people speak a little English, but everyone is educated. About 80% of Jordan speaks English.
Me: Can you give me some useful words all tourists or those recently moved here should know?
La = is no
Nam = yes
Assalam Alaikum = Means greetings
Me: What is the best mode of transportation here?
Mohammad: Buses, taxis, or you can rent a car if you are coming as a tourist or if you are a local.
Me: How do you cross the street?
Mohammad: You have to worry about cars, because they will run over your @##.
Me:What would you pay for a cab from the airport to the city centre?
Me: Best places to get Coffee, Breakfast, or Nightcap? Mohammad:
Coffee- At home.
Breakfast- Commonly people don’t eat much in restaurants, everyone makes their own food every day. Most of the time you eat with the family at home. If you are coming as a tourist, then you eat Schwarma or Falafal Sandwich.
Nightcap (can you buy alcohol from a store?) Yes
Me:What is your favorite local hangout?
Mohammad: Café’s, smoking Hookah, Playstation, Pool for the men. The women go and smoke Hookah together, they visit each other and go to the mall and go to the mall and eat something.
Me:How do you order?
Mohammad:You have the menu in Arabic and English in most cases. The waiter will come to you and you ask for an English menu, it is the same system as here.
Me:How do you tip?
Mohammad: They do not usually tip waiters, but if you want to do it, then 5 Jordanian Dinars is good.
Me: How do you know if service was good?
Mohammad: If he coming and asking if you are ok and keeps checking on you all the time.
Me: Do they typically charge for water or a table?
Mohammad: Yeah, they usually have a bottle of water. They tell you it is free, but they will charge you 1 JD and might even try and charge you for 5 JD. You can ask them about it if you want and see if they will take it off.
Me:If I had a food allergy, are they helpful in telling me about how to order and would they be willing to take it out of my meal?
Mohammad:No, they won’t cook it special for you. Unless you are ordering a sandwich. Most of the food is already cooked and is like a buffet.
Me: What are the Best Hidden gems of Jordan?
Mohammad: Villages and the countryside, go to Irbid, Irbid will always be the best place for me. Everything is green there. Jerash is a good place to go, Ajloun Castle is really nice too.
Me: What are the best historical places to visit in Jordan?
Mohammad: Most tourists go to Petra, Aqaba, and Amman and then they leave. Me: What are the most romantic places to visit?
Mohammad: You can go to a Café or a Park and hang out.
Me:What is nightlife like in Jordan?
Mohammad: Most people go buy Schwarma and eat in the car on the side of the street. You have nice clubs in Amman in hotels, there are even strip clubs there. I don’t know of any places to go dancing.
Me: What are the best places for outdoor adventures and hiking?
Mohammad: They do activities, there are adventure companies that can take you on those things. Most of the time I was working so I don’t know.
Traveler Tip: There are loads of camping spots, rock climbing, and other places to go in both Wadi Rum and near Petra. Please email me at email@example.com and I can provide you with some contacts in Jordan that I trust and are reputable.
Me:How to get help should you get in trouble/hurt?
Mohammad: Call 911, same as in the USA
Me: What are a few things you would like to tell anyone who visits Jordan?
Mohammad: It is beautiful, what the f#%* (insert laugh). There is a company, like, Jordan tourism board you know. They have a website visitJordan.com, you have everything you need to know right there. The few places I have heard are really nice are hiking in Mujib preserve area, go to the hot springs, the pink desert, Madaba is the Christian treasure, Mt Nebo and things like this.
Me: Would I be safe traveling as a single woman there?
Mohammad: You might not be single for long if you were over there, but if you covered up properly, you would be safe for sure.
Education Systems in Jordan:
Me: What are the school systems like here?
Mohammad: Elementary we have grades, after KG-1 KG-2, you have the grades when you are 6 years old you go to the real school which is the 1st grade. It is the 1st to the 10th grade. After that, you graduate and go to the next school, High school which is 2 years. After the second year, you have a comprehensive exam which is called the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination. This is after you finish the two years of High School and 10 years of school. Only those who pass the exam with good marks can proceed to a University. We have different majors like if you want to be an engineer or a doctor and you must pass that certificate. My certificate was in Information Technology. If you want to be a doctor, you must pass the Scientific Stream with a score of 95%. That is why the doctors in Jordan are Bad Ass!
Me: Does it cost anything to go to lower level schooling?
Mohammad:No, you just need your birth certificate and your ID. You have to pass each grade otherwise you have to stay in the same grade until you pass it. If your friends pass it, then you have to stay in that grade while your friends move forward. Most likely if you are in Elementry school you will pass through.
The Families of Jordan:
Me:How is the family unit work here?
Mohammad: The Family is a father a mother and children. The family is different. Everyone is family in the city and they visit each other daily if you miss a day your mom will call you. If she calls and you don’t answer she thinks you are dead. (Insert Laugh). Back in the day, they use to have 14-15 kids but now they just have 5-6 because of the financial situation. There are still some like this that can have 27 kids, sometimes it’s the same wife sometimes not.
Me:You can have more than one wife right?
Mohammad: Yeah, you can have up to 4 wives according to Islam. This is a solution for us because of too many single ladies. But the man has to have good health and a good financial situation.
Me:How common is it for someone to have more than one wife?
Mohammad: Now it is only 10-15%, because of the financial situation you know. No money, No honey.
Me: Who wears the pants in the family?
Mohammad: The father, if he is dead then the mother, if neither of them then it is the uncle, then if not then it is the grandpa, if not then the oldest son. For guys and girls, we stay with our parents until we get married, it does not matter how old you are.
Me: Where do the elderly go when they can no longer walk? Who takes care of them?
Mohammad: They stay in the home and EVERY PERSON in the family helps take care of them.
Me: What is the view on feminism, gay, or minorities here? Are they treated equally or do you notice a societal difference in how they are treated?
Mohammad: The transsexual and gay people? It is totally unacceptable, they kick you out and ask you to go back home. They will likely start harassing you and making fun of you. If you want to be a girl and you are the guy then do it by yourself. If you drink then go and hide.
Me: Is having children common here?
Mohammad: If you are married you should have kids. If you don’t and you are a man, then people start asking if something is wrong with you or wrong with your *$%*. If it is the girl that can’t have kids then he can go get another wife, but he will not divorce her unless she asks for it, then she can go do what she needs to.
Me: Do people get maternity leave? How long is it?
Mohammad: Oh yeah, if you are a school teacher, and you are pregnant and give birth then you get 3 months paid vacation.
Me: How many days off a year to people here get?
Mohammad: In the government, they work 5 days and 2 days off. You can take up to 1 month of vacation. You can take 2-3-5 years of vacation unpaid if you want.
Me: Is it common to have one night stands?
Mohammad: No, the man who does that will probably get killed by the girls family. (Laughs)
Me: Are people faithful in general faithful to their spouses?
Mohammad:Well if they have a Sharmuta they will, but no, they are faithful.
Me: Do people commonly show affection for their wife other in public spaces here?
Mohammad: Yes you can, but you aren’t supposed to. It just isn’t a good thing.
Marriage Customs in Jordan:
Me: What age do people here get married?
Mohammad:Until he is done with the University, so usually 25-26, but even then it is only if you have money. So now, due to the financial situation, they are getting married around 30.
Me:Are there customs associated with marriage you would like to share?
Wear clean good clothes, the guy wears a tuxedo and the girl wears a nice dress. But for those coming for the wedding, you just wear the best you have. You can’t wear shorts though.
If you are interested in a girl, you go and ask the father for her phone number, or whoever is in charge. You must ask her are you single or married. Tell her you would like her phone number. If she says that is ok, then you start spying on her. You ask about her family, who her Parents, her family, her Uncles, and everyone in her family. If you think the family is good, and you like the girl. Then you ask your Dad, and he calls her Dad. Your Dad says “Hey, we are part of this village, we would like to come and drink coffee with you”. The girls Dad says, sure and must say, “You are welcome”. Then the guy must dress good and goes over with his parents. Then they introduce themselves to the girl’s family. The father of the guy should do the talking, the guy shouldn’t do the talking unless he is asked to. This is a tradition to be respectful and listen to the man in charge or try to talk over with him. Then my father says, “We are interested in my son’s hand to your girl’s hand. It is an honor for us to be a part of your family. Here is our phone number, I’m going to call you next week about this. No matter what happens we are still friends”.
When you leave, now this one week gives this time for the family to do an investigation into the man. The main answer will come from the girl. No one can force you or convince you to marry him, it will be up to you. So your family comes back and tells you all the information. Then it is up to the girl if she wants to marry you or not.
If the girl agrees, then her father calls and says come over for coffee. Then I bring my sisters over and then we all talk for real.
Then the girls family starts saying, (for example) “We want a car, we want a house, we want $4,000 gold for the girl”.
Then my family says, “Oh that is too much, we don’t have that, help us out”
Then once conditions are reached and agreed. Then the guy has to set up a blood test to see if our genetics will cause diseases or not (genealogy is too close). If it is not a good result then the family says, “No you can’t marry or you will f*&% the whole family”
If the answer is good, then we do an engagement party. Then they have a party with her friends throw a party for her as a goodbye party.
The wedding is the biggest event. You can go to the house, the tent in front of the house. At the wedding the dance what is called the Dabka. Back in the day they use to shoot guns, and now the laws are changed, and you can’t do that in public. When they are done with the wedding, they drive their cars to the guy’s house. Then they might shoot a couple of AK-47’s and then go inside and lock the house…..Then you know what is going to happen….hehehehe.
Me:Is it common to live together prior to getting married?
Mohammad: No, you aren’t supposed to touch her, kiss her or even hang out with you. If we are engaged, the most I can do is take you out with your brother or sister with you. You can’t be alone. Once the wedding happens, yeah, you can go do whatever.
Me: What is the classic place that people get married here? Why is that culturally significant for the people here?
Mohammad: They get married in a special wedding place, it is a big hall and a lot of people will be there. There will be 500-600 people coming at the very least.
The Politics and Military of Jordan:
Me: What are the common stereotypes that are encountered in Jordan?
Mohammad: Jordanians they say everyone else has a better life than us, lol.
Me: What do they think about Americans?
Mohammad: They think they are smart people and the USA supports their country, and they want to let them know that they are funny, not terrorists, peaceful and very hospitable. They are also very generous with what they have. They also think that if they marry a foreigner then they can get out of the financial situation. They think that people overseas will appreciate the family orientation of Jordanians.
Me: How are refugee’s viewed here and why? What are the major benefits of them being here? What are the major drawbacks?
Mohammad: Refugee’s are welcome anytime anywhere in Jordan. It is a safe place so anyone can come in. They need to live and get jobs, but there are no jobs, not even for Jordanians. This is the thing that killed the financial situation in Jordan.
Me:What are two of the major Political conversations going on right now?
Mohammad: It is all about how high prices are going up.
Me: What are the political parties here?
Mohammad: No, we have a king, we don’t vote for him.
Me: Can you vote and how would you vote?
Mohammad: We vote for representatives that make up the Senate.
Me: Are the citizens allowed to do demonstrations? Who are the people/ages of those that typically do this?
Mohammad:They do all the time, they go burn tires and f*&% up the streets. Usually, it is when the government raises the price of a product and they go and do this.
Me:Is it dangerous for tourists to be a part of these or taking photos of these demonstrations?
Mohammad:No, not at all. It is a peaceful demonstration. (Me: doesn’t sound peaceful..) – That is Arab style, but it is peaceful.
Me: What are the Police and the Military system like here? Do you have confidence that they would protect its citizens in the event of a terrorist attack?
Mohammad: Oh yeah. Well if the terrorist attacks, the local people will defend. The citizens actually have more guns than the police do. They want to help the military, it is not Arab style to just sit and do nothing. Remember in Kerak, there was a problem and the local people had it taken care of before the police even arrived.
Healthcare in Jordan:
Me: How is Healthcare there?
Mohammad:Everyone has Health insurance. You have hospitals and clinics all over the villages, towns, it is everywhere.
Me: If you were sick, how much would it cost you to be treated?
Mohammad: Almost for free.
Me: What could someone expect a local to say if it is not common?
Mohammad: If you are a tourist, they will stare like crazy at you, and say it is ok for your culture.
Me: Is there a class system here?
Mohammad: We have 2 classes, rich and poor, that’s it. If you are rich you generally end up staying rich and your family does too. If you are poor you end up staying poor.
Me: How many languages does the typical Jordanian Person speak?
Mohammad: One, Arabic
Me: What type of calendar system do you use?
Mohammad:Same as the USA
Me:Do you have daylight savings?
Religion in Jordan:
Me: Major Religions here? How has that changed over the years?
Mohammad: Islam has been in Jordan forever. We have a lot of Christian people in Jordan. We are a family. Most of my best friends are Christian in Jordan.
Me: Are people generally open to talking about religion or do they just not want to hear anything about it?
Mohammad: Yeah, people in Islam have converted to Christianity, and visa versa & each time they end up getting killed by their families.
Me:How devoted are people here to their religion?
Mohammad:They f#%* around. Most people who drink and smoke and f#%* around are Muslim.
Me: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about Jordanian?
Mohammad: They are serious people who don’t like to laugh, but they are really funny people.
Me: What are your favorite memories in this city?
Mohammad: I dunno, I was born and raised there so everything is exciting for me.
Me:How do you say Thank you in Arabic?
Me: Well then, Shukran Mohammad and thank you for the entertaining interview. I have known you for quite some time now, and I have to agree that Jordanians are both funny and infuriating at times.
Mohammad: That is Arab style, what can I tell you.
I personally found this interview with Emma from Amsterdam to be compelling as My Heritage is largely Dutch. Emma is a receptionist at ClinkNoord, the Hostel I was staying at. She was a petite woman, tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes.
After looking at her, I felt as if I compared to my Scottish Ancestors more than the Dutch as I am 5’4″ tall. She had a sweet unassuming smile with an open countenance, but also a professionalism that would make you not want to challenge her in a duel of wits. Although she consented to my interview, she did not want to have any photos taken of her, so I apologize I cannot provide more of a visual for you. Read the full interview below:
The People of the Netherlands:
Me:How do the people in Amsterdam identify themselves? Stoic, Kind, helpful, funny, laid back? Emma: I believe that people here are open-minded, blunt, optimistic, and yet always in a rush. They are typically blonde with blue eyes and are very tall as well. Me: Do you feel that your culture and traditions have changed in any way in the last 10 years? Emma: The Dutch culture is fading away, the smaller villages still wear clogs, but it is very modernized and different than what it was.
Me: How can we as tourists help maintain your culture? Emma: Clean up after yourselves! Please do not throw garbage on the street, the Dutch people are a very clean people, even in the streets. Me: How many days off a year do people get in the Netherlands? Emma:20 days and if you work for a company you can get another 5 days, especially if you are a teacher. Me: If I moved to the Netherlands, how would you suggest I assimilate into the culture? Emma: Connect with people in the bigger cities as most of them speak English. You want to speak Dutch if you are planning to live in the smaller towns. Me: What languages are spoken here? Emma: Dutch, English for the younger people, and German for the older people.
Me: What is the best mode of Transportation here? Emma: (laughs and responds with a grin on her face) You must use a bike or a bus. You can trust Uber, but it takes awhile to drive through cities. Me:What are the major religions here? Emma:Catholic, Protestant, Muslim Me:Are people here devoted to their religion? Emma: Yes Me:What are the biggest Misconceptions people have about the Netherlands? Emma:That the people are arrogant with strong opinions. The thing is, is that people in the Netherlands know their shit and it comes across as arrogant, but it really isn’t true. Me: What are your favorite memories of this city and why? Emma:The beach for sure, and the flower fields, cows coming into my backyard. This was usually at my Grandparents house that the cows would come into the flower fields.
For the Tourist:
Me:What are some Festivals that you think are worthwhile for people to visit? Emma:Tomorrowland, Mystery land, and the Pinkpop Festivalis very very popular with a lot of big artists, Justin Beiber was there last time.
Me: What are the biggest tourist traps that you see here? Emma: The tourists come and get caught up with the drugs here. There is also an area that I would say to avoid called Bijlmer area, it is a homeless area and can be dangerous. Me: Where are the best places to eat Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and get a beer? Emma: For breakfast, I would say the Pancake Bakery which is here in the Netherlands about a 10 min walk from ClinkNoord. Then for lunch, we don’t really eat a lunch, just eat a snack or something. For Dinner, I would say Jordaan or Hannover streets you can find really great places to eat all along those streets. If you want a good beer, you can really go anywhere in Amsterdam but the type of beer is what will make the difference. So for the beers, I would suggest getting: Amstel, Heineken, Grolsch, Hertog Jan, or Bavaria. Me: How do you tip at restaurants? Emma:We don’t really expect a tip, but if the bill is 13.50 you might round up to 15 euro so that you don’t have change. We like the round numbers here, but I would say do not tip more than 5 euros for a meal for one person maximum. Me:I have noticed that they charge you for bottled water here, and tell you that you cannot have tap water. How would you as a local get around this, or is there a way around it? Emma:They tell you they can’t give you tap water, but it is not true. You can ask for tap water and they cannot refuse it, it is a way for the restaurant to make more money. So how I usually get around it, is to say, ‘Can I have tap water, to begin with’, and then you can bring a water bottle for in between meals.
Me: What is one of the best-hidden gems in the Netherlands? Emma:Haarlem, it gives you a really good local experience and it is right next to the beach where they have fairs and different experiences for the tourist and for the locals. Me: Are there places in the Netherlands that you would say are Romantic? Emma: Romantic in Holland? (She smiles a huge smile and stifles a laugh) Dutch people aren’t Romantic….we just light a candle and call it romantic. (Laughs again). Me:Where is the best place for nightlife in the Netherlands? Emma:The Sugar Factory is really nice, also Melkweg or Paradiso are great places for nightlife that aren’t super crazy. Me:Where are the best places to go for outdoor adventures and hiking? Emma: The Flatlands, the forest, they have caves here that are fun to explore and Veluwe. Me:If you were to get hurt doing these fun adventures, what number could you call for an emergency in the Netherlands? Emma:Call 112 for emergencies, or just ask someone to call the paramedics for you because they will know the area better and how to direct them to get to you.
Schooling in the Netherlands:
Me: What are the school systems like here? Emma:At 3 years old the parents decide if they want you to go to school, from 4-6 the kids go to Kindergarten, 6-11 reading and writing school, 11 years old and older is High School until 17-18 where you decide if you want to go to a higher education. We have here MBO, HBO, and the University. The MBO is a practical industry school, HBO is the economy school and you must be smart to go here, and then the University is where the smartest people go. Me: Does it cost anything to go to a lower level school? Emma:Yes, the parents have to pay to send you to school. The government can give you money for this, but you have to pay them back in 12 years. Me:How do they advance grades? Emma:You have to pass a test after each grade. If you do not pass you can take it again, but after you fail the second time then you go to a lower level. Me: What about higher education, how are people able to access that? Emma:it is much harder because you have to have money to do that….lots and lots of money.
The Family Unit in the Netherlands:
Me: How does the family unit work here? Emma:It depends on how close the family is. Young kids go to the city & leave their parents. Some stay and buy a house if they have a good job. Me: Who wears the pants in the family, or who is in charge? Emma: Mom definitely wears the pants in the family. Dad is the money. Dad typically goes to work, eats, sleeps, and repeats day after day after day. Me:Where do the elderly go when they can no longer walk? Who takes care of them? Emma: They go to the old folks home where their family can visit them. They do not move into your home because you have to work and then take care of them all the time and it just creates a bad situation. Me:What is the view on feminism, gay, or minorities here? Are they treated equally or do you notice a societal difference in how they are treated? Emma:It is an unusual thing to separate them, but I see that the younger generations are ok with it. The older generations are still traditionalists and have a hard time, but if you look at forms that people fill out there is options for man, woman, or other. We were actually the first country to approve gay marriage.
Me: Is having children common here? Emma: yes Me: Do people get Maternity leave here? Emma:Yes, you usually get 5-6 months of maternity leave. Me: What age do people here get married? Emma: Typically in their twenties. Me: Are their customs associated with marriage you would like to share? Emma:Not really, they just go to the church, they might have a reception and eat some cake. Then there is a party in the evening with a dinner and a DJ. The party typically lasts all day. Me: Is it common to live together prior to getting married? Emma:Yes Me: What is the classic place that people get married here? Emma:The city hall (laughs), there is no special place, you go, you get married and it’s done. If you go on Monday morning actually you can get married for free at City Hall.
Politics, Stereotypes, Citizen Rights:
Me:What are the common stereotypes that are encountered here? Emma:It is always the immigrant’s fault, and people feel it is always those from Serbia, Turkey, or Morocco. Me: What are the different political parties here? Emma:There are a lot of different parties that represent different things like the animals, religion, elderly, economy, immigrants and religion. Me: Can you vote? Emma:Yes, from the age of 18 you can vote. Me:Are the citizen’s allowed to do demonstrations? Who are the people that typically do this? Emma:There aren’t usually demonstrations here. There was a time where Kindergarteners were demonstrating because of the low salary for the teachers. Me: What are the Police and the Military system like here? Do you have confidence that they would protect its citizens in the event of a terrorist attack? Emma: You don’t want to call the police because they will want to do a ton of paperwork. The citizens take care of the problem themselves and just beat the people up because they don’t trust the police.
Me:How do you say thank you in Dutch? Emma:Dankjewel (sounds like Dunk-ya-vell) Me: Well a big Dankjewel to you Emma for taking the time out of your day to answer these questions I really appreciate it. Emma: No problem, they were interesting questions and some of them made me think a little bit.
Emma was so kind in answering my questions, and I was so grateful that she was willing to do so as it was so difficult to find someone to Interview in Amsterdam. I personally found the Dutch people to be a people motivated by duty. Duty to make their lives better for themselves, their family, and their country. There is a certain pride within them from being Dutch, but I felt that it was not as forthright as other places I have encountered like Texas. They are a quiet, clean, kind people as a generalization and humble enough to not want to be on camera or have photos taken.
I really enjoyed my time and all of the cities I was able to visit while in the Netherlands. Stay tuned for more posts on Edam, Haarlem, Zannse Schans, Den Hague, Delft, Jordaan, Kinderdijk, and Dordrecht. If you would like my full itinerary please email firstname.lastname@example.org Should you ever visit the Netherlands, make sure to stop by and say hello to her at ClinkNoord, she is a receptionist there and like most of the Dutch, is tall, blue-eyed with blonde hair and looks like she stepped out of a magazine.
Have you been to the Netherlands yet? What was your favorite place to visit?
One of the most fascinating things for me while traveling, is to be able to interview locals from around the world. I grew up in a very sheltered community, and so hearing the stories about how the rest of the world works and lives has always interested me. One of the interviews I was able to do, was with Alexandra, a gal I met on the train from Prague to Berlin who was from Slovakia studying German.
For the Tourists:
Me: How would the people in Slovakia describe themselves?
Alexandra:I may be biased but on the whole, Slovakia people are very kind.
Me:Do you that your culture and traditions have changed in any way in the last 10 years?
Alexandra:The cities are more progressive, but Slovakia has changed quite a bit. It use to be a communist nation you know, now it is more westernized. It is still quite conservative in the way that they think because many are Christian.
Me: How can we as tourists and visitors help to maintain your culture?
Alexandra: Try the local things, tourists tend to buy things that are made in China. Try and buy things that are made by the people within the country because they are very unique and will support them.
Me:What are some festivals that you think are worthwhile for people to visit? What about the towns are not well known?
Alexandra: Every region has a special thing that they do. The fall season is a lot of wine festivals. There is a lot of folklore and dancing festivals, more of the cultural festivals where the people all come together to celebrate. There are not many people who can do the traditional dances anymore so this is very important to support.
Me:What are the biggest tourist traps in Slovakia?
Alexandra:People only visit Bratislava because it is so close to Vienna. I would say nature is better. You should visit the High Tatras in Slovakia, it used to be covered in Icebergs and now it is the most beautiful lakes and mountains.
Me: What is the best transportation method in Slovakia?
Alexandra: Train travel and bus, but a train is better I think.
Me: What would you pay for a cab from the airport to the city center?
Alexandra: 2.50 to 3.50 Euros around the whole city, it is a standard rate.
Me: Do you trust Uber in Slovakia?
Alexandra: No, but the buses are ok. They tend to come every 7 minutes.
Me:Do people commonly show affection for their significant other in public spaces?
Alexandra: The older generation still does not like it, and will give you a funny look. But the Younger generation does not care.
Me: What is a good beer?
Alexandra: I would say Saris, but it really depends on the region that you are in.
Me:Can you give me some useful words all the tourists or those recently moved there should know?
Thank You = Dakujem (sounds like – jakuwee-em with a soft D)
Please = Prosim (sounds like – Proseeem)
Hello = Ahoy
Me:What do people commonly eat for the different meals?
Alexandra: Breakfast we have some bread with ham and cheese. Lunch we eat our soup first and the second dish is meat with rice or potatoes and some salad. Dinner is typically a quick meal at home with your family.
Me: Can you buy alcohol from a store and how old do you have to be?
Alexandra: You have to be at least 18 years old, and you can buy it from any store.
Me: How do you tip?
Alexandra: There is typically a box for a tip, you can use that to tip as you like. If you do not tip, they do not get mad. At a restaurant, you just tip at the end.
Me: How do you know if the service at a restaurant is good?
Alexandra:If it takes more than 30 minutes to get your meal, it is too much. If they cook it fresh, then it is ok for it to take more than 30 minutes because it is going to taste better.
Me: Do they charge for the table at a restaurant to just sit down?
Alexandra:No do they do not charge to sit at a table.
Me:What is the common language that menus are in?
Alexandra: In Slovakian, but you can just ask for an English Menu. They have both.
Me: What are the numbers you should call if you are in trouble?
Alexandra: 112 for the emergency operator, 155 for an ambulance, 158 for Police, and 150 for a firefighter.
The School in Slovakia:
Me: What are the school systems like here?
Alexandra: It is a Grade system. You have to go from 6 to 16 years old. Primary school is first and covers the first 9 years and is focused on all subjects. Then you can decide to go to gymnasium a more theoretical preparation for college. You can also go to a specialized school like electro-technical. You can be more practical for going straight to work then go to University.
Me:Does it cost anything to go to lower level schooling?
Alexandra: State school does not cost anything, neither does private school.
Me: How do you advance grades?
Alexandra: You must take small tests throughout the year, but at the end of the year you take an exam that is graded from one to five. If you have a four or a five then you can pass to the next grade.
Me: Do you have access to higher education? What is required to enter into higher education?
Alexandra: To be able to go to a university, you have to pass a test to get into it, but this is not at all universities, only some of them. Some universities are paid for how many people study there and then they weed the students out of the university throughout the year.
The Family in Slovakia:
Me: How does the family unit function in Slovakia?
Alexandra:Family, in general, is very important for Slovakia. Dinner is typically eaten together, and then unless you are away on a weekend, lunch is often more important than dinner.
Me: Who is in charge of the family, or who wears the pants of the family?
Alexandra:Dad definitely wears the pants (laughs). The man is considered the head of the household, but the woman is the neck that turns the head (chuckles again).
Me:Where do the elderly go when they can no longer walk? Who takes care of them?
Alexandra:There are houses for old people. Nursing homes are very expensive. If they are healthy and you put them there it is considered bad. If they have limitations then it is ok to put them there. If your Grandma has a Stroke and your parents are working all the time, then she will just be laying in bed all the time.
Me: What is the view on feminism, gay or minorities here? Are they treated equally or do you notice a societal difference in how they are treated?
Alexandra: Gay people are considered ‘sick’ still, but minds are changing all the time & it is still quite discouraged. Black people and Muslims you just don’t see very often, we don’t treat them badly, but you will notice people staring at them because it is so unusual to see them in our country.
Me:Is having children common?
Alexandra: Two children is the average but it can go up to seven. Families here are very traditional Christians. I know one family who continued to have children until they had a son.
Me: What age do people here get married?
Alexandra:Usually after they finish their University studies around 25 or 26.
Me:Do you get Maternity leave? How long is it?
Alexandra:You get 3 years time off, for the first 6 months it is pain in full and then you get half pay for parental support. Your employer is not allowed to fire you either.
Customs and Traditions of Slovakia:
Me: Are there customs associated with marriages you would like to share?
Alexandra: They usually break a plate at the wedding, the pieces of the plate are brought to the couple and kept for good luck. The bride and groom feed each other. There is one dance, you have to dance in a circle. You give the couple money while dancing in the circle and then they give you candy in return. At midnight the bride will change into traditional clothes, covers her head at midnight because at midnight she is a married woman and will go on her honeymoon that night or the next day.
Me:Where is the classic place that people get married here?
Alexandra: A church or a state hall.
Me:What are common stereotypes that are encountered in Slovakia?
Alexandra:They think that Americans are stupid because they see the game shows they are playing on the television. Like one question they asked, “What is the capital of France” and they say, ‘Oh I thought France was the capital of Europe’. Tom Hanks was interviewed by someone from Slovakia, and the interviewer said, “Well your fans in Slovakia love you.” He then responded, “Well that’s wonderful, whatever Slovakia is.” It was really sad and embarrassing that this major actor did not even know that we were an actual country. I wish people would know that we are an actual country with many wonderful things to do and see here.
Me: How are refugee’s viewed here and why?
Alexandra:Slovakia is not accepting many refugees right now. It is difficult because they don’t want to stay in Slovakia, they want to go to Germany or Norway.
Politics in Slovakia:
Me:What are the two major political parties, and conversations going on right now?
Alexandra: There is the left side, and the right side and then the mixed coalition. Then you have the Hungarian party which represents the minorities, and the nationalistic party which is just a strange combination of people.
Me: Can people vote?
Alexandra: Everyone can vote in Slovakia.
Me: Are the citizens allowed to do demonstrations?
Alexandra: Yes, but you have to tell someone in charge that you are doing it first.
Me: Is it dangerous for tourists to be a part of these demonstrations?
Alexandra: Please do not participate.
Me: What is the police and military system like here? Do you have confidence that they would protect its citizens in the event of a terrorist attack?
Alexandra: We don’t have a lot of soldiers, there are quite a lot of soldiers in Kosovo though. Did you know that the car that collects the landmines was actually designed in Slovakia because of all the wars that use to be here? (I did not know that) The police here are just state police, they take care of the neighborhood if it’s too noisy and things like that. There are the special police for more serious things, and then the traffic police as well.
The Intricate Details of Slovakia:
Me:If I were to move to Slovakia, how would you suggest I assimilate into this culture? Are there Facebook/Instagram groups that I could use to integrate myself?
Alexandra: Younger people speak English here very well, look at us, we met each other at a train station. I would say that if you move to Slovakia, you should go to a pub, or sports event, even if you don’t like sports at least you can have good beer.
Me: Tell me about the history you know of Slovakia.
Alexandra:1993 was an independent state before that it was part of Czechoslovakia then it split.
Me: Is there a class system?
Alexandra:Yes, there are the very rich people, you can tell by their houses. There is a large gap between the poor and the rich and not many people who are in-between.
Me:Are people, in general, well educated? Can most people read?
Alexandra:Yes, and yes
Me:What type of calendar system do you use?
Alexandra: A regular calendar
Me: Do you have daylight savings or something similar?
Alexandra: Yes and I hate it.
Religion on Slovakia:
Me:What are the major religions in Slovakia?
Alexandra:Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Orthodox Christian Russian, there are not many Jewish people left in Slovakia.
Me:Are people generally open to talking about religion or do they not want to hear anything about it?
Alexandra: There are a lot of religious people, but every year the country is becoming more Atheist.
The Takeaway Message:
Me:What are the biggest misconceptions that people have about Slovakia?
Alexandra:The Hostel movie put a very bad view onto Slovakia. So people don’t have a very good view of it now, but really it had nothing to do with us.
Me:What do you want people to know about Slovakia?
Alexandra: People don’t know that it exists & so it would be nice for them to know we exist. There is a lot to see and do. The country is not just politicians that represent the country, it is much much more than that.
Thank you, Alexandra, for your time and efforts in answering my questions, for your help on the train. I hope you enjoyed this interview and found it as fascinating as I did.
Have you been to Slovakia? What city did you visit?
Meet Suzanne Bhagan a fellow travel blogger extraordinaire from Hot Foot Trini. She gives you tips on what to see in Trinidad and Tobago, recipes, and how living there has been.
Hi Suzanne, I’m so glad you decided to be featured on Culture Trekking! I’m really excited to be able to connect with Trinidad and Tobago through you, its always such a pleasure for me to meet locals and get the inside scoop & learn about the culture and people. So let’s start by just asking some questions about you if that’s ok, and then we will move onto your country and what it has to offer visitors. Me: What are some of your hobbies?
Suzanne: I like traveling (of course), reading, and hiking. When it comes to reading, I enjoy reading fiction or nonfiction set in different countries, particularly if written by authors that call those countries home. Regarding hiking, I like climbing hills and mountains. Nothing like Mount Everest though!
Me: What do you do for work?
Suzanne: I’m a freelance writer and editor. I’m also a Meaningful Travel Insider (MTI) for GoAbroad. As an MTI, I research and write blog posts on meaningful travel, work, and study abroad.
Me: Who are you closest to in your family and why?
Suzanne: I’m closest to my husband, Jesse. He’s my favorite travel buddy. He’s great because he’s very resourceful and solutions-oriented when we’re on the road.
Me: What is your biggest aspiration or dream right now?
Suzanne: My biggest aspiration (of all time) is to write a travel book. I don’t have a theme yet but I’m working on it!
Me: What is it that drives you to get up every morning and be disciplined to see that dream fulfilled?
Suzanne: I continue to write and blog as much as I can about traveling, studying, living, and working abroad. I also devour lots of travel fiction, nonfiction, blogs, and articles. I’m generally very self-motivated and deadline-oriented so getting the work done is not a problem. Plus, I love doing what I do and that’s enough motivation in itself!
Me: What is your most embarrassing moment?
Suzanne: Too many to mention. I tend to block out embarrassing moments.
Me: That’s ok, I do too unless something reminds me of what I did that was embarrassing and then I end up laughing at myself at random which just adds to the embarrassment. Alright, next question: What is something you have personally done that you are really proud of?
Suzanne: I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to live in a country (Japan) where I didn’t even speak the language.
So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of Trinidad and Tobago. I first learned about you when you posted something on She’s Wanderful about how immigration officers didn’t believe your passport was real because they didn’t realize it was an actual country. How frustrating and anxiety-driven that situation must have been!
Me: What is it like for you to have people not realize it is an actual country?
Suzanne: It’s pretty annoying. Sometimes, I get tired of the blank faces and wish I had a map to show them that it actually exists. Without a map, it’s hard to explain where my country is because many people out there aren’t too clued up on world geography. For example, many people I’ve met thought Trinidad and Tobago was in Africa or the US! Go figure!
Me: Why do you think it is not well known to the world yet?
Suzanne: It’s not very famous because it’s not well-marketed in the global tourism industry. For example, it’s not the typical Caribbean country most people think of, like Jamaica or Barbados. However, travelers can learn more about my country because there are a lot of novels based in Trinidad and Tobago. I highly recommend A House for Mr. Biswas and Miguel Street by VS Naipaul and A Brighter Sun by Sam Selvon. These novels capture Trini culture very well.
Me: Do you think that driving tourists there would be beneficial for the country/people?
Suzanne: Tourism is well established in Tobago, the smaller island. A lot of tourists also come to Trinidad, the bigger island, for Carnival (a huge festival similar to the one in Rio but with its unique flavor). However, tourism isn’t a big money spinner in my country because the economy is more energy-driven (oil and gas etc.).
Me: So tell me about the people there. How would you describe the people of the countrycompared to the rest of the world?
Suzanne: Trinidad and Tobago is very diverse. The population is made up of people who came from all corners of the world: Europe, Africa, India, China, and the Middle East. The native population, the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago, has also remained but is quite small.
Me: What is something you are proud of that your countrymen do that you find yourself often bragging to your friends about?
Suzanne: I’m pretty proud that the people of Trinidad and Tobago created the steelpan, the only acoustic musical instrument to be invented in the 20th century. Every Carnival, there’s a massive steel orchestra competition called Panorama. It’s a must-see for visitors. I’m also proud that Trinidadian-born fiction and travel writer, VS Naipaul, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. We also have a fantastic literary festival for Caribbean literature, the Bocas Lit Fest.
Me: What types of religions are in Trinidad and Tobago?
Suzanne: There are so many religions in my country: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Spiritual Shouter Baptist, Orisha, Rastafarianism, even Baha’i.
Me: Honestly, I haven’t even heard of some of those so I may have to go do some personal research before I can even think about asking more questions on that one. I really like the fact that there are in fact so many different religions in your country. I’m a big believer in that. Ok, so next question:
Me: What is a spot you would frequent as a child?
Suzanne: As a child, I loved to go to the beach. In Trinidad, I loved Maracas, Las Cuevas, Mayaro, and Manzanilla beaches.
Me: What are 3 hidden gems of Trinidad and Tobago that you wish people knew more about?
Suzanne: I wish more people knew that Trinidad and Tobago is a birder’s paradise. One of the best places to see them is Asa Wright Nature Center. I would also like tourists to visit the Temple in the Sea at Waterloo. This temple has a great story behind it. Trinidad and Tobago is also a chocolate powerhouse so visitors should check out the cocoa estates on both islands. Chocolate in Trinidad and Tobago is made from trinitario cocoa beans grown there, the highest grade of cocoa beans in the world. It’s the real stuff!
Me: What is your favorite food there that you can’t seem to get anywhere else?
Suzanne: Bake and shark, hands down!
Me: Food is always a great way to connect with people, I’m definitely going to look those up for sure. Do you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share with the Culture Trekking community to try?
Me: Is it safe to travel in your country as a single female or with a family?
Suzanne: That’s a tough one. I would suggest that single females and other travelers be cautious when traveling alone in Trinidad and Tobago because there is a crime problem. Find a reputable tour operator or local guide to show you around.
Me: What about racism? I know racism is a hot topic right now in the United States. How do those in Trinidad and Tobago handle that, or is it something not frequently thought of?
Suzanne: Although many locals claim “all ah we is one,” racism still affects everyday living in the country. It’s something that subtly permeates every level of society. Many people ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist.
Me: Would those in the LGBTQ be welcome and safe there? If not what would be some suggestions you have for them when traveling?
Suzanne: Trinidad and Tobago, like many other Caribbean islands, still has a very conservative attitude when it comes to gender and sexuality. LGBTQ travelers are welcome but may get unwanted attention from some locals.
Me: Are there areas you would suggest avoiding while there?
Suzanne: Avoid crime hot spots like Laventille, Enterprise, and Beetham.
Me: What are the major tourist traps?
Suzanne: I don’t think we have any tourist traps in Trinidad and Tobago!
Me: Do you have any favorite camping spots or hiking trails you would suggest?
Suzanne: Hiking is very popular on both islands. I would suggest going with a local guide or tour group because the trails are not signposted and you could get lost in some areas. I highly recommend hiking to Paria beach and Rio Seco waterfall.
Me: What about your favorite hidden beaches?
Suzanne: You can access hidden beaches by boat on both Trinidad and Tobago. You need to hire a local guide to get all the deets.
Me: When I say home, what does that picture look like in your mind?
Suzanne: In my mind, home is not a place. It’s the people who matter most to me.
Me: That is such a beautiful thought, I’m definitely going to remember that one. How do families there spend time together?
Suzanne: Different families do different things but in general, families spend time eating out, going to the cinema and malls, visiting relatives, going to the beach or river, and vacationing at beach houses across the two islands.
Me: What are marriages like there? Does the woman or the man propose? I need to find a country where the woman can propose myself, lol.
Suzanne: Marriages are generally love matches but there are a few arranged unions. Man or woman may propose although traditionally, men propose.
Me: Do you have any closing thoughts for my readers you would like them to know or take away from this?
Suzanne: I would love for your readers to learn more about Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean. We are so much more than beaches!
Me: Well Suzanne, it really has been a pleasure speaking with you and I hope one day to be able to meet you in person. You sound like a fascinating person, with loads of adventures awaiting you around the corner. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions and help my readers learn about your fascinating culture and connect with Trinidad and Tobago. I hope that they have been as enthralled as I have been in reading your answers. Thank you so much for your time and if my readers wanted to get in touch with you, how would they do that?
Alright folks, that is it for today. I hope that you enjoyed this featured follower post. I want to sincerely thank Suzanne Bhagan for participating and being willing to answer all these questions. I love being able to connect with different cultures and communities throughout the world.
I’m 34, I’m educated, and I still want to travel the world and ‘be that change I wish to see in the world’. I’m too ‘good’ to fit in with the EDC/Rave/clubbing crowd, and yet I’m not ‘good enough’ to be considered a suitable match for a temple marriage, as most Mormons believe is paramount in their trek through life.
I tried to find someone through online dating and I was Cat fished by a man pretending to be a single father with a 2-year-old daughter whose mother died when she gave birth to her. I was working 65 hours a week and barely had time to think for myself. My days off were mostly to do my laundry and let my mind be sucked into a useless TV show. Luckily, through my own (and my aunt’s) investigative work, I was able to find out that he had stolen someone’s Facebook identity and profile pictures and made them his own. This was very disconcerting that someone could so perfectly replicate a total stranger’s life!
Every year I get older, I get asked or told, “Why don’t you try online dating?” “Why aren’t you married yet?” ‘Well, you’re just being too picky.” “Maybe if you lost a little weight.” “You won’t meet anyone if you decide to move so much.” I am too embarrassed to explain how I got duped once online, too nice to say “screw you” when someone asks me why I’m not married yet (LIKE I KNOW), too irritated to try and explain that I’m picky because my friends all complain to the single girl about how their husbands don’t do this or that, and I don’t want to end up like them or another statistic.
I found out my Dad was living a double life after 25 years of playing the caring, loving father who I have so many fond memories with. I’m still trying to process this and my family is still mourning the loss of a man we thought we knew. I don’t hate him, I love him, I hate what he did to our family & was angry at first….now I’m just sad. Its very odd for me to talk to people about this, because divorce is so polarizing and traditionally people think you have to choose sides. What if I don’t want to choose sides? What if I just want to be sad and not hear all the terrible things he has done in secret? It kind of makes me question if anyone is honest anymore. (Any words of advice you have on this would be appreciated).
And the last one, “Maybe if you lost a little weight…” Well….insert the snarkiest remark you can think of and that is about how I feel about that. I have tried so many diets, I lose the weight and yo-yo back when emotional pain slips through the cracks. So now I am putting the weight loss on the back burner for now and focusing on the root of the problem – treating that problem with kindness, giving it space and feeling those feelings that I buried for so long.
I think people are surprised when I can actually hike for three hours, go camping, go hiking, do a 5k without a problem, kick their ass at the gym; I’m made for comfort, not speed people. Get over it.
I was told to try Tinder when it was first new, and was too naive to know what it was ACTUALLY used for. I talked to an Indian Man, met up with him, and ended up being raped.
I remember crying to him about how I still was in love with my ex-boyfriend; he told me he had just had a bad breakup too. I won’t get into the details, but after I was examined, I remember the nurse hugging me with tears in her eyes telling me she was so sorry that it happened to me. I still have vivid nightmares. I feel like no one could ever love me after what happened. Who would ever be able to understand?
What is really sad, is that the night that it happened, eight people, who were supposed to be my supportive church friends, snubbed me. I still wonder, “why me?” and if they would have shown up, would it still have happened? Why did God let it happen? Why didn’t God prompt them to come over? The friends I have shared it with tell me, “Just forget about it now; it’s in the past.” Trust me, if I could, I would, but that’s the trouble with PTSD, you don’t know what will trigger the memory that will put you into a fight or flight-like state.
Now it’s incredibly difficult to let anyone into my life, even my own family at times. Yet I still have such a desire to have my own family. So, most of the time I’m battling the feelings of being utterly worthless and never being enough with the feeling of the courageous lioness inside that is ready to explore and take on the world and truly be that change.
Three months after it happened, I decided to travel to Scotland to see the lands of my ancestors. My great-grandmother was a McFarland and I had become an Outlander superfan (a TV series on STARZ). I followed my heart which said that I needed to get away from all the mess in Texas. I knew going to Scotland wouldn’t solve my problems, but when I travel, my thoughts and feelings, the great battle within, seem so much more diminished and small. I think it’s because when you travel, you realize how big the world is and there is something so HEALING in disappearing (in a way) for a few weeks.
It was my first solo trip and I had planned it months before (what I now call) my “incident,” and I was determined to go. It was terrifying, but I was able to get outside my head and learn of the Battle of Culloden and how my ancestors fought there; how the ruggedness and magical landscape of the Highlands made me feel like I was finally at home. The landscape was so vast, harsh, and beautiful, and the people from Scotland have warrior spirits that do not bend, despite the harsh winters and the history of decades of brutal suppression by the British.
I returned from my trip and realized that I was more than what happened to me. I was not a victim. I am a survivor. Now I realize that (and worry) that after exposing myself like this, there will be many opinions. I’m not afraid of what people think anymore, just at cruel things they tend to say. I know that telling my story will touch some, and repel others, but I can’t hide anymore behind what once was. In talking about it, I feel like it is releasing me from the feeling that I need to hide from the public. For a long time, I have felt vulnerable and couldn’t wait to get home to the safety of my house and my beloved puppy Zoey. Now, I am turning 35, and I know that I need to start pushing myself to go out in public again; to try and retrain my brain that most people are not going to hurt me and can’t see straight through me.
My goal is to not be afraid anymore; to not be afraid of someone finding out about this through the grapevine. This is something that I never thought I would share in a place like this, but it is allowing me a certain sense of freedom in doing so. I hope you will be able to understand where I’m coming from and be able to understand that it has taken a great amount of courage to publish this.
I don’t have it all together…yet, but I will, and I won’t stop until I do. I know that there are not a lot of men who will understand, and many won’t have the compassion and understanding I will need on the harder days. One day, I trust universe will show me the way to my soul mate, that won’t be afraid of the hard things.
For now, I’m focused on healing and developing healthy coping mechanisms. Reconnecting with the world, the people in it, exploring without boundaries. Seeking those unique adventures that will help me heal from the wonderful feeling of newness and discovery.
The majority of this was not meant to be negative, but to be raw and open about the struggles of a fellow human being. I still have hope for something better, I am still confident in my own strength to do hard things. Most importantly, I’m not giving up & continue to love and share with those around me what I do have to offer. Life is too short to live constantly in my past, so I have decided to create a better future, even if it is not the future I always envisioned was ‘suppose to happen’.
Thank you for reading my story and I hope you will honor the amount of courage and vulnerability it took to share this experience with you. Happy travels my friends, and thank you for being on this journey with me. I know I’m just typing this on a screen at the moment, but somehow, it seems to release something inside me. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Any words of advice, encouragement are appreciated!