Maytha Alhassen is based in Los angeles California. She describes herself as a “Love justice servant, traveler, journalist, poet, serendipity junkie, yogi & PhD candidate in love with honesty, healing and authentic self-revealing.” You can learn more about May at www.mayalhassen.com and follow her onTwitter & Instagram @mayalhassen.
MJ: Where is your favorite travel destination and why?.
MA: This is an incredibly tricky question, and probably why I constantly feel bit by the wanderlust bug: I think I am searching for a locale that feels like “home.” I could elaborate with philosophical musings on the soul’s restless journey in human encasing, or answer your very straight forward question (I guess best to save the metaphysical pontificating for my journal or a footnote in my dissertation). There are also places I have yet to visit that I am told I whole sense of being would resonate, like parts of Southeast Asia, Brazil, Senegal, parts of South Pacific or Vanuata. In general, I vibe with no-frills tropical beach settings relatively free from ostensible commercialization and conspicuous consumption traps. That being said, my (thus far quasi-) answer might sound slightly divergent. Beirut and Brummana (a small town located east of Beirut in the mountains) hold a special place in my heart. I find myself returning to Lebanon, the country of my mother’s upbringing (she mostly lived in Brummana), almost every year since my first visit in 2004; and continue to meditate on its inexplicable magnetism. Anthony Bourdain brilliantly captures Beirut’s uncanny allure on his blog post accompanying his No Reservations season finale “Back to Beirut.”
“I’d already fallen in love with Beirut. We all had. Everyone on my crew. As soon as we’d landed, headed into town, there was a reaction I can only describe as “pheromonic”: the place just smelled good. Like a place we were going to love.” Bourdain’s first visit to Beirut ended up requiring an emergency exit on a US Naval ship as the 2006 War in Lebanon started days later. Like Bourdain, I have unexpectedly traveled to Beirut during moments of national crises: a hostage crisis that saw Gulf countries ordering their citizens to return home (each country sent a fleet of planes to return nationals home), a bomb explosion less than a quarter mile away from where I was staying, an incomprehensibly massive Syrian refugee crisis. Regardless of all those experiences, I echo Bourdain’s episode opening thoughts: “The first time I was here did not end well. But it made no difference to me. I love it here. In spite of everything, I love it here.”
MJ: What is the most life-changing event that has come from your travels?
MA: It might even be more difficult to offer you a coherent consolidated response to this question than the last. I could tell you about week working with displaced Syrian grade school children at Al Salam School in the Turkish border town of Reylanhli, spending a day with orphan Massai girls at the AIC Girls Primary Boarding School (for more info), the uncontrollable flow of tears at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Khalil, meeting the founder of Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP: a grass roots movement that centers food sovereignty) in Hinche, Haiti and listening to him explain how Pedagogy of the Oppressed catalyzed his organizing work, that collective feeling of a strange, fleeting liberation in Bethlehem, witnessing the unspeakable majesty of Kilimanjaro and freely mobile fellow animals on a safari in Amboseli, Kenya. I could tell you about uncovering the legacy of my mother’s side of the family on a 2010 road trip throughout Syria (including learning that some of my mother’s uncles met Malcolm X when he traveled to Saudi Arabia in 1964). I could also tell you all about that time that I wined on the fastest man in world and in human history in the final hour of the Carnival parade in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
MJ: What’s one thing that you have learned in your international travels?
MA: Having traveled solo as woman since the age of 17 has provided immense teachings. It’s heightened my connection to intuition; invest in instinctual responses to new geographies and people. I have been traveling internationally since I was less than a year old (most of my mother’s family lives in Europe and the Middle East/Asia). Sometimes I wonder if this why being in locomotion, and not necessarily being “tied to” or “settled in” a specific city/town/location, feels the most “at home” for me. The moments I have felt the most deeply present and even free have been while traveling. What about mobility can be so liberating? Even after 5 years of yoga training and more recently, teaching, it’s challenging for me to cultivate the kind of integrated presence (of mind, body, spirit) that becomes automatically embodied while globally wanderlusting. Love more easily emerges, fear dissolves into mere illusion, serendipity becomes the order of the day.
MJ: What new place would you like to explore and why? Do you really want to see my list on desired destinations?
MA: As mentioned, I have Southeast Asia high on my list. It’s hard to narrow it down to one country, even though I have primarily researched the possibility of trips to Indonesia and Thailand (and have been intending to more seriously explore traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia). I’m also still in disbelief that I have yet to visit Brazil, especially the cultural heritage tied to Bahia and Rio beaches or trek the Inca trail to Macchu Picchau. There also experiences I am interested in embarking on. In general, I’m interested in exploring yoga teaching opportunities abroad. Included in that, I would love to facilitate yoga and meditation workshops for displaced/refugee, incarcerated, orphan children. In Los Angeles, I have developed these types of workshops for marginalized (especially through practices of gentrification) youth and traditionally under-represented college students. I want to continue to learn from them too, these young folks here in my hometown and all over the world, are so damn resilient in a world that abstracts their humanity, robs them of dignity daily, and designs conditions to make their lives disposable. Lastly, I am inspired by the life-affirming practices of the food sovereignty/peasant movement and slow food movement that have developed in response to the catastrophic agribusiness industrial practices by multinational corporations and desire to learn more (as I began to in Haiti).