Traveling to Kuala Lumpur

By Pharoah Egbuna

Dinner at my home is often filled with laughter, great food, and challenging questions. For example: what does global citizenship really mean and how can we make the world a better place? These questions do not require an immediate answer. I would say that my parents have one goal: to encourage me to consider my place in the world globally. These questions inspired me to create a list of possible world changing solutions. An increased opportunity for youth to travel and explore the world is number one on my list. I strongly believe travel plays an essential role in learning to respect diversity and in creating social change. Becoming a global citizen requires more than a passport. It begins with being aware of the wider world and having an understanding of how economic, environmental and social barriers affect communities globally. When you travel within or outside of the U.S., you experience first-hand how geography plays a very important role in shaping cultural perspectives, worldview, and identity.

Travel allows you to explore countries and learn new things outside of books and high school research papers. These adventures help challenge misinformation and stereotypes. Exploring a new country encourages intellectual and social growth, but unfortunately travel can be costly and therefore inaccessible to many youth. Community youth organizations can certainly play a large role in facilitating this type of discovery by supporting families and teens who seek access to such life-changing opportunities. I am currently a member of “Flag Stories: Citizenship Unbound”, an international cultural exchange program at SOMArts Cultural Center, a non profit arts and cultural organization in San Francisco, California. We are an amazingly diverse group of “young diplomats”, who use video, photography, painting, and graphic design to develop a greater understanding of citizenship, nationality, and culture. This year-long project encourages us to explore family and community identity through visual art and correspondence with Malaysian youth.

I was recently selected to travel with two other youth diplomats and our super cool program chaperons, to explore Malaysia and meet our international counterparts. Before departing, I read a few books to become familiar with Malaysia, but nothing can prepare you for its beauty. We were greeted by diversity and world-class hospitality throughout our trip. Malaysia has an extremely culturally diverse society. Not only is it multi-cultural, but it is also filled with many different ethnicities and religions.The three largest ethnic groups in Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese, and Indians. In some countries, the bringing together of different ethnicities and cultures has led to conflict. However, in countries like Malaysia, this diversity has produced a peaceful and progressive society for the most part. Every ethnic group comes together to celebrate one another's festivals and traditions. While Islam is the national religion of the country, freedom of religion is practiced in Malaysia, many of its citizens are practitioners of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity. There is a  wide array of places to worship, and in many parts of Malaysia one can find Islamic mosques, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, and Christian churches within the same town. As a Nigerian-American Muslim, I found every masjid beautiful and instantly noticed how Islam appeared normal instead of different or strange. Many Muslim women in America who wear hijab, struggle with acceptance and prejudice. The hijab and other forms of modest Islamic clothing were considered normal clothing items in this society, instead of markers of difference.

At the beginning of the program, I initially feared that our interaction with Malaysian youth would feel strange or awkward. However, since we were able to connect with some of our new Malaysian friends through Facebook, it wasn't as awkward as I expected. In fact, I found that they were mostly just like us in that they went through some of the same things and had similar interests. All of the youth that we met throughout our trip showed us a great time in the country they call home. They had a lot of fun with us and we felt the same. My favorite dish while I was in Malaysia was egg and cheese roti, which I had almost every morning of the trip. After we arrived, I ordered a cold milo (kinda like hot chocolate… but cold), and an egg and cheese roti from a restaurant called Yussef's Fish Head Curry. My favorite moment during my visit was when we took a nature walk with the Malaysian kids because we really got a chance to learn quite a bit about each other. Also, I find it very interesting that the way Malaysian people interact with nature seems to be very different from here in the U.S.–– what I mean is that somehow nature feels “closer” there. The form and shape of even the buildings seems to be somehow less separated from natural elements. Of course, seeing beautiful landscapes is fun, but the most powerful moments come from sharing food and witnessing beauty with the people you travel with and with friends you meet along the way. The real beauty is in shared experiences.

This is an experience that I shall carry with me for the rest of my life, and I'm sure that is way more valuable and dynamic than anything I could have gotten from any textbook.


About the Author

Pharaoh Egbuna, is a fifteen year old, Nigerian-American youth photographer, currently residing in Oakland, California. In 2013, he began “We Photography”, a greeting card company and photoblog, celebrating intentional happiness. His current work explores protest graffiti, urban culture and diaspora identity. A lover of graphic novels, independent films and travel, he hopes to attend college abroad, pursuing his interest in art history and design. He is currently a Young Diplomat in Flag Stories: Citizenship Unbound, an international cultural exchange project, exploring culture and identity with students residing in the United States and Malaysia.

9 Responses

  1. Amel

    Beautiful article, masha’Allah. Thanks for sharing your experience with the rest of us.

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  2. Dominique

    Wonderful article. Insha’Allah there is more conversation surrounding the importance of global citizenship

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  3. Sarah

    Mansha’Allah. May Allah SWT reward you and your family for your contribution to peace, our Ummah and respect for plurality and diversity. I loved reading this article and am so enthusiastic I have to write my thoughts down!

    Your first sentence highlights exactly the first step to becoming a “global citizen.”

    It starts around the dinner table, it starts with your own parents, and it starts with your own neighbors.

    I too started engaging in long distance traveling and cultivating an international network at age fifteen. Looking back, each year of my life prior to that was preparation in order to do so responsibly and ethically. I owe so much thanks and gratitude to my parents.

    When I was young I spent much time in my friends’ homes with their families. In grade school, my best friends were Korean American and Indian American. We ate together, we played together, we celebrated traditional holidays together, etc. My parents allowed me to participate in these activities and they were never fearful that my development would somehow be negatively effected by our differences in religion or culture.

    As I am still very close with those families today, my Korean mother tells me she was always so happy when I came over because I never complained about anything. I never acted disgusted by the smell of kimchi, said her food was ‘weird’, mocked her immigrant accent, rolled my eyes at having to take my shoes off at the door, or exhibited other such absent minded attitudes that many other children did.

    This is because my parents never allowed me to complain about anything, especially food. Complaining about my mom’s choice of traditional food, or begging for pizza or macaroni, only meant I went to bed hungry that night and my breakfast consisted of the left overs that I did not eat the night before. My mom taught me that if I didn’t like some kind of food to keep my opinion to myself and to never show an ounce of disgust or contempt. All edible (and lawful) food is a nourishment and blessing from Allah swt, never to be wasted or disrespected.

    My parents also opened our home to my friends regardless of ethnicity, family background, religion or even ability to communicate in the same language. I was never discouraged from getting to know kids who were different from me. When I wanted to play with dolls that had different color skin than I do, my parents always allowed me to do so. Even when neighbors and family friends made racist or disparaging comments to my mother, she never paid any heed. When my classmates in school also made fun of me for having a doll with darker skin, my mom was quick to back me up with positive reinforcement. Indeed, my classmates were very wrong, my doll was the most beautiful because she was well loved and played with.

    When I was older and living with people other than my parents, such as with my relatives or in a foreign country, became an integral part of my life, my father taught me to carefully note the details of the place where I was staying. He taught me to clean up after myself and leave everything exactly as I had found it. This actually requires patience and great attention to getting to know the habits of people.

    These experiences (and many, many more) from my own back yard are what gave me the tools to travel far and wide without experiencing culture shock or (unintentionally) disrespecting or degrading others.

    Travel is important. The direct environment plays a central role in the lives its inhabitants. The tangible, real-time experience with people in a place is much different than learning about those people and that place remotely or even getting to know them through long-distance online communication.

    Unfortunately, so-called poverty tourism and voluntourism are being carried out in crass manner. For example, travelers often selfishly focus on photo opportunities for their Facebook profile and crafting stories of hardship and adventure to brag about once returning home. Sadly I have witnessed my American brothers and sister unintentionally (or sometimes intentionally) acting in such a manner in some of the countries in which I have lived over the years. Read a recent article by Rafia Zakaria in Al Jazeerah America for more on this topic.

    An important element of your high school program is that it included extensive research, team building, self reflection and specific guidance from those with more experience and knowledge. I admire your approach and attitude. As a young adult who’s goal is also to encourage youth (and all ages) to respect diversity and create social change, I commend you and encourage you to continue to strive for this. Travel for youths is one means to achieve this goal, but I encourage our society and Ummah to think holistically and consider our every day life in this process as well, insh’Allah.

    As you eloquently mentioned: “The real beauty is in shared experiences.” In a world inundated with technology and personal gadgets, we are “closer” than ever before, yet farther apart than ever before. It’s more and more important that we cultivate shared experiences of togetherness, regardless if home or afar.

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  4. Razan

    Assalamu alaykum!

    As a young lady who’s interacted with peoples of hundreds of nationalities and lived in quite a few environments, I agree highly with your statement that learning to be a global citizen starts right at home. Many of us live very ‘suburbanized’ lives, where we do not know our neighbors nor our neighborhood, nor even the geography and history of the area in which we live. “Think Global, Act Local” – long-distance travel is not necessarily key to diverse understanding. You would be shocked at how much you learn merely by interacting more with people close by to you!

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  5. Muslimkidsmatter | Traveling To Kuala Lumpur | Muslimmatters.org | Travel Malaysia

    […] These questions inspired me to create a list of possible world changing solutions. An increased opportunity for youth to travel and explore the world is number one on my list. I strongly believe travel plays an essential role in learning to respect diversity and in creating social change. Becoming a global citizen requires more than a passport. It begins with being aware of the wider world and having an understanding of how economic, environmental and social barriers affect communities globally. When you travel within or outside of the U.S., you experience first-hand how geography plays a very important role in shaping cultural perspectives, worldview, and identity. Travel allows you to explore countries and learn new things outside of books and high school research papers. These adventures help challenge misinformation and stereotypes. Exploring a new country encourages intellectual and social growth, but unfortunately travel can be costly and therefore inaccessible to many youth. Community youth organizations can certainly play a large role in facilitating this type of discovery by supporting families and teens who seek access to such life-changing opportunities. I am currently a member of Flag Stories: Citizenship Unbound, an international cultural exchange program at SOMArts Cultural Center , a non profit arts and cultural organization in San Francisco, California. We are an amazingly diverse group of young diplomats, who use video, photography, painting, and graphic design to develop a greater understanding of citizenship, nationality, and culture. This year-long project encourages us to explore family and community identity through visual art and correspondence with Malaysian youth. I was recently selected to travel with two other youth diplomats and our super cool program chaperons, to explore Malaysia and meet our international counterparts. Read more.. visit http://muslimmatters.org/2014/05/04/muslimkidsmatter-traveling-to-kuala-lumpur/ […]

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  6. Debbie Al-Harbi

    http://www.muslimtoysanddolls.com is a charity site helping Muslims the world over.it is not just for children it is for the whole family.we sell2,700 products Islamic,learning Arabic,and Arabic electronic toys,books,games,puzzles,100 gold Allah pendants,eid decorations,Islamic decorations,250 all occasion Islamic greeting cards,12 Islamic wrapping paper,200 hijab pins,750 different Muslim dolls,200 handmade Muslim doll outfits with hijab that will fit any 11.5″ fashion doll such as fullla,salma,arrosa and even barbie.2 pc prayer outfit for girls,hijabs for children and women,kufis,shemagh scarves,digital Qurans,Quran reader pens ,azan clocks,Islamic canvas clocks,Palestinian pride section and so much more.we just got redesigned take a look and please do your shopping with us you will get gret gifts and help Muslims in need the world over.feeamaniallah,Sister Debbie Al-Harbi

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