For the better part of this past month I have taken every opportunity (and decent Internet connection) to update you on my travels. I mostly described the places and routes that I embarked on and talked very little about my impression of the locals and how they perceived me.
The further I worked my way down south into Patagonia the more intriguing my presence became. For many I was the first Muslim they had come in contact with. I often found myself explaining my origins, which drew even more curiosity. Not only a Muslim but Sudanese origins….in South America. I was prodded for answers everywhere I went. I welcomed the questions because it was much easier to start convos and meet new people along the way. For many I met, I dispelled a lot of their stereotypes about Muslim women. Having the explain the theory of the hijab and the choice I made to wear it. The differences between what I wear (the hijab) and the “black robe the covers the entire body (niqab). Also the fact that Muslim woman are not oppressed and are allowed to travel as they please. One woman was fairly surprised to find out that Muslim woman are allowed to leave their countries and travel alone. That convo was fairly interesting. I had to explain first and foremost I can’t speak for all Muslim women around the world. More importantly that along with the religion there are various cultural practices that become fairly intertwined that natives of each region have varying interpretations and views regarding the day-to-day practice of Islam.
I was surprised to know that even though most locals have never come in contact with many Muslims they still had a pretty good knowledge base. I definitely appreciated my improving command of the Spanish language as it definitely helped me meet people and get into more interesting conversations.
It wasn’t only my interaction with locals but also travellers from other countries as well. Talking about politics, culture, language, etc was fairly enlightening. Although many are put off by the thought of travelling alone, I found it be more rewarding. Generally those who travel in groups, tend to stay within their group. Me travelling, I was more inclined to start-up conversations with people around me, which allowed me to improve my Spanish and learn so much more about those I met.
With out a doubt, I know that I have much more to explore and I really hope I can return soon.
As for my time in Uruguay, as cliché as it might sound it has been one of the best learning experiences I have had. Not only am I leaving the country with the knowledge of a new language, I am also leaving with the knowledge that I have made some really close friends.
Yes I know that I have a fairly distinct Spanish accent now (many thanks to my primary teachers Emi and Euge). In terms of placement Uruguay has been great for many reasons. Firstly, it’s fairly safe; never did I feel uncomfortable walking around Montevideo. Secondly, relative to its neighbouring countries the standard of living is much cheaper. So that made saving money all the more easier. I pretty much saved every dime I could in order to freely explore Brazil, Argentina and parts of Chile. Finally, travel to most other South American countries is easily accomplished from Montevideo itself or across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires.
It’s been hard to say goodbye.