Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fear and Fascination

The first time we heard the call for prayer from a local mosque was in Kuching, Malaysia.  The Arabic chanting was exotic, beautiful, and new to our middle-class, Christian ears.  Then came the images of fear......two towers burning, falling to the ground in plumes of dust and ashes.

There are many times during our trip that we have felt these mixtures of emotion----fear and fascination.   One such moment came as we snorkeled over our first great coral cliff far from the safety of land on the nearby island in Indonesia.  We hung in the water, half over the multicolored fish just 30 feet below staring into the dark, deep abyss over the cliff's edge where a lone shark patrolled.

Another time was when we realized that the clouds on a nearby volcano in Costa Rica were smoke and steam, a sight which was to repeat itself on other islands and continents with active volcanoes.  We were used to the "whooff" sound snow makes before the avalanche starts or the shaking of the land during earthquakes, but active volcanoes were a novel and titillating experience.

We were well aware of the vast number of deadly and poisonous invertebrates and vertebrates as we crossed through Australia.  Whether brushing through a spider web, gazing at the mildly poisonous spine on the duck-billed platypus, or watching out for one of the many deadly snakes, we knew there were risks in our daytime and night walks.

But the fear of a religious people who dominate much of the world we now travel surprised us.  Our first experience with somewhat conservative Islamic beliefs led us to quickly change our dress and hesitate to walk at night in the towns within the state of Sabah, Borneo in Malaysia.  We loved the food, peeked curiously at the tight and constraining costumes of the women, but felt as foreign as we had anywhere in the world.

As we listen each night to calls for prayers and walk past some of the over 100 mosques on the small island of Lombok during Ramadan, we are curious.  We overcome the images of the towers and engage locals in discussions of their faith as we have all over the world while visiting cathedrals and temples.  Yet, so far, we have not entered a mosque.  We know we will soon.   The actions of extremists in any religion should not have a profound impact on how we engage each other.  There are over two billion followers of the teachings of Islam and more than 60% are found in South Asia, a place we have come to love and which continues to fascinate us.  We just have to replace the images of those towers with new images of people and beautiful places as we travel through Muslim dominated countries.

But for now, we are headed for Komodo Dragons.  These 10 feet long, 300 pound venomous beasts will eat anything, even water buffaloes and the occasional person.  We can't wait to see them in the wild.

Images are of a woman selling smoked fish in Kuta, Indonesia, the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, and a Muslim Sasak massage specialist in Lombok, Indonesia.  Posted in Lombok. Indonesia.


  1. Such a thoughtful post (with great pictures) and timely reminder that what the media chooses to focus on can often become the only truth we allow. My own personal Christian faith is lived far differently then what I sometimes see railed against in the media and social networks.

    Maybe one of the biggest benefits to travelling is the ability to move beyond the perceptions. I think this is one reason I love following your posts.

    1. Julie,
      You are so thoughtful to take time and comment on our posts. It makes writing them even more meaningful. Pictures of people, especially women, are hard to get here as we are often told no when we ask. We included two who did say yes. The images of these ladies and the assortment and styles are "fascinating"!

  2. I love this post, I have long been fascinated by people who dedicate so much of their life to any religion. The Muslim religion is one I probably know the least about and would like to fix that. Knowing people better is really the only way to get past fear and pre conceptions, I think.