I never know when I’m going to fall in love with a country – but when it happens it can truly take my breath away.
I remember when I first entered the UAE, via the Sharjah airport in September 2011. It was the first time (after 6 continents and 30+countries) that I felt like I was in another world. I had just gotten done with a big research trip in East Africa and so I was in full analysis mode. I was blown away by how important this country is to studies of development and identity. A few months later I decided to move there and have used it as my base ever since. It is my absolute favorite country.
Something similar happened right before in Tanzania. I was doing the first project of Trail of Seeds, a small NGO that I founded. We worked in a subsistence farming town for 6-weeks, and I just could not get enough. The language, the people, the food, everything excited me and I wanted to understand it all. I go back there every year, now speak Swahili quite well, and even own a small farm where we grow cassava, rice, bananas, and mahogany.
Most recently this happened in Algeria. I already loved the country after a week in Algiers and Constantine, but then I randomly met this group of people my age while in the small city of Annaba. They were all from there but studied around the world – Paris, Montreal, London, even Romania, and were back for the summer. We hung out a couple days and then I was supposed to leave to Libya, but my visa got delayed. I remained 3 more weeks and I ended up becoming a part of their crew. We hung out every single day, sleeping late, going to the beach, driving up into the mountains for sunset, smoking shisha and dancing at night. I left the nice hotel and started staying at their homes, each day their mothers would argue over who got to cook for me. It was such a special time.
Otherwise, this year I was really positively surprised in some of the “danger zones” like Libya, South Sudan, Syria, and Afghanistan. In each case, I was warned endlessly before arriving, and then impressed at the normalcy. Now it seems obvious: Of course, life still exists! I was lucky to be hosted by the family of friends in each of these locations. Thus, I got exposed to life as they live it. That was eye opening and these visits have been some of my favorite experiences to share.
Finally, I remember being shocked when I arrived in Burundi and Rwanda. I kept thinking, “why has no one told me that these are the most beautiful countries on earth!” The bright blue sky, the red dirt earth with lush green rolling hills, the smell of charcoal burning brochettes, and the sound of happy children, all culminated in this holistic joy that I instantly felt and then remained the entire time I was there and upon each and every return visit.
Clearly, I can go on and on, there are so many places I love. I haven’t even gone yet into my bias for the places I’m from: Germany, Italy, and the USA!