The Russian Mafia, a Gruelling Bus Ride, and Salvation in the Monastery
"Hiking through France on your own? Isn’t that dangerous?" a man near the French border had asked me. He had coughed miserably between his questions and proceeded to take a good pull on his hand-rolled cigarette. I often get questions like these. And whether I was not afraid of becoming sick or being assaulted and such. Of course, anything can happen: assaults, accidents and sicknesses. I have been robbed, had malaria, was forced to spend the night in a Benedictine monastery, and have been at wilderness’ mercy. But just as much can happen at home.
And yet I overcame it all. Thinking back today, I smile and actually feel proud because I still enjoy travelling so much. My first night in a monastery was so much fun that I like to spend a few days in a monastery from time to time. One priest had hugged me hard on hearing I was Muslim and pilgrimaging the Way of St. James. "You don't get experiences like that everyday. For as long as I have been with the church, this is the first time." I had briefly looked into his bleary eyes. They had exuded such cordiality and faith in god that I told him everything that weighed heavily on my mind. I talked for an hour straight.
Scholars and Muslim coreligionists are not much help to me. Slander and condemnations had been the answers to my questions. The priest only sat there and listened. I had felt how he absorbed and processed my every word. With the words "Please don’t condemn me," I had ended my monologue.
"I don't do that. On the contrary, I admire you. For everything we do, God has had something in mind. God loves his children."
Every country and every place has its fascinations and its quirks. If one would only see the "beautiful" things when travelling, one would face every adventure with a lack of respect. Personally, I prefer to travel quickly. But as a student, you often do not have the money for a comfortable taxi ride, which means you have to settle for a collective bus or a ramshackle tour bus. I experienced my worst bus ride in Algeria. I had felt like I was on the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. Those who know Harry Potter know what I am talking about. The bus driver had driven like a maniac. He would not even slow down for sharp bends with little space. I could only see the ravine beneath me. My fellow passengers had been sitting and praying uptight in their seats. On asking the driver whether he could slow down, he had peered at me from behind his hornrims and said: "My child, it is night and I want the drive to be over as soon as possible because I cannot see well in the dark." Bewildered, I had stared at him and said my last prayers. It is a miracle that I am able to sit here and recount my journeys.
In St. Petersburg, my grandmother and I have been pursued by the Russian Mafia once. I will write a more detailed account of this. Some of my travel reports have been printed in magazines and newspapers. I mainly write for the "Islamische Zeitung" (Islamic Newspaper). Sometimes I speak at small bookstores, universities and cafés. Even there, questions like "Are you not afraid, after everything that has happened to you?" are being asked.Of course you would be afraid. But not the kind of fear that makes you wet your pants, more like a deferential fear. And this is exactly the kind of fear that makes me want to hurl myself into my next adventure.
I deem the risk of being subject to terrorism or natural disasters to be rather low. Even though I have seen some things during the Arab Spring that I had rather not seen. This is life, and this is the world we live in. Even if we do not want to see certain things, these things still exist and can happen to anyone of us. Whether it be at home, out on the street or in an alien place.
Or, as the author Ray Bradbury put it: "See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories."