Amira Karaoud: A Tunisian Globe Trotter (interview)

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Amira Karaoud is a Tunisian globe trotter who found peace and serenity embracing the wonders of nature while taking beautiful memory-fueling memories.  

TTT: Tell us about yourself. Tell us what have changed in you since you’ve left for the world’s wonder?

Amira: I’ve changed. I’m a different person. Everything is completely different for me. One big thing that I’m really happy about is the fact that more and more I trust the universe and I trust people, although it’s not easy. It’s a blessing. I’m not scared anymore of people. I’m not very doubtful. I just live and whatever is going to happen is going to happen. And I end up meeting great people at the end. It just keeps me positive and I live life. I don’t live being scared or doubtful. Whatever comes to my mind I do it. I know I am not jumping from the fifteenth floor. I wouldn’t do that. But whatever it takes, I trust the universe. There is no reason to doubt it or think of the negative outcomes. If it’s going to happen, I’ll live it. But I wouldn’t live the fear of anything living it. I just dream it and do it. If it’s successful, then it’s great. If it’s not, it’s ok. I have probably learned something out of it.

Q: You have already been to 22 countries, and since you’ve left home to wander the world you’ve been to 15 countries. How many languages can you speak fluently by now?

Most people who have never left the country speak more languages than me. I only speak three languages: Arabic, French and English. I learned Spanish before but I never got to practice it. That’s the next thing I’m going to learn. As soon as I’m going to get home, I’m going to get back to my Spanish classes and hopefully it’s going to help me on my next trip. Meanwhile, I learn a word or two from every country I visit. But when you grow up, it gets really hard to learn languages. You need a lot of commitment.

Q: Are you a booklover? And if so what are your favorite books?

I love a lot of books. I’ve made a collection of Le Petit Prince which is a great book and I’ve been reading it over and over. It’s the only book that I buy from any country I go to. I have a collection of it in different languages. It’s a book that is easy to read and that have a lot of meaning behind. I also like the Egyptian writer of Zeinab, Nawal El Saadawi. I like books that are educational like those of Paulo Coelho. They are spiritual but at the same there is a lesson behind the book. It’s not just a story. So anything that is teaching me about myself of about the world is great.

Q: Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu says “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” What inspired you to take that huge step and wander the world’s wonder?

I love travelling and I’ve always traveled. I like meeting people from different cultures. For me it’s very inspiring. The world is so huge and there is so much to learn and so much to see. Travelling is a good opportunity because you go there and you live in a different way. You get shocked by something you’ve never seen. You get shocked by other cultures and people’s reactions. In the last few years, I left Tunisia when I was 23. I studied in the US and I stayed there for 6 years. I came back home because I was sent for three months to Europe. I loved the United States and I loved the people there. But going to Europe made me live a different life than the American one. Then I felt that going back to the US is not going to add a lot to me. I had a lot of money and my job was really great. I loved it and I loved the company that I’ve worked at. My question was “What will it add to me? Am I going to be making a difference in my life and people’s life when I get back?” And I found that the answer was negative. I felt like if I go elsewhere I might learn new things and I might be able to help out other people and achieve something different. I wanted to be in a place where it is more human. I got rid of the meaninglessness of life. I do things without making any plans.

When I went back home, I was faced by another Tunisia. I had that nostalgia of being home when I was 18 and 20 and people used to be not that much of a consumption society. But I went back and discovered a new Tunisia and everybody was looking for something I ran away from. People care about buying cars and making houses. Everything else is not a priority. They lose the true meaning of happiness. I started questioning a lot of things and I do know that I was lost and didn’t have answers for anything. It’s Tunisia. It’s a society that has a lot of rules and again I’m a girl and I’m in an age that I have to get married and I had too many things in my life and I was kind of lost. So I started to travel more often. I said maybe I need to breathe. I was going to Europe. And then, one day I was like “I’m not happy”. I said along the trip that it’s going to be hard but I have to choose a place where people have chosen to not make money their priority. I just packed and left and I do not regret it because I got all the questions I was looking for. I feel happy and confirm. This is how I want to live and people need to learn how to accept me. It’s better to be with people who know what I’m talking about and share the same principles and same values with me. All what I said was “I’m going back to the States. I’m going to see my brother.” When I got there, I said to myself I’m going to do it. I have no doubts about it. I called home and I said I’m not coming back and going to travel.

Q: You happen to be a role model for many not only Tunisian girls but also Arab girls for being brave enough to leave Tunisia on your own and travel to different parts of the world and for proving that wandering the world is no longer a man’s trick. I’m sure you know that most of those girls are living in a patriarchal society were making such decisions and leaving family for the sake of traveling the world is not really their call to make and it’s almost impossible for those girls to do it. I’m sure you’ve seen comments like “I wish I were in your shoes”, “I wish I were as lucky as you are”, etc. If you have a message to deliver to these girls, now is the time.

Nothing is impossible. A girl is as strong as a man. We are equal. There is no such thing that can be done by a man and cannot be done by a woman. I came across guys who are scared to travel by their own. It’s not about being a man or a woman. It’s about wanting that experience or not. There is no such a thing as men can do this and women cannot do this. I once met a couple of eighteen-year-old Swedish girls. They’ve finished high school and decided not to start school yet and go to Australia for a year. They get their working holiday Visa and they decided to experience new things to decide what they want to do for university. They used a website called helpX where you can exchange your work for a place to stay and sometimes people ask you to work in their place and do some cleaning for them or baby sit their kids. They did that it because for them it was an opportunity for other people to do other jobs and they will tell them about those jobs and then they probably decide what they want to do when they go back home. So if there is any message I want to tell these girls: “Nothing is impossible. Dream it. Do it.”

Q: Your smile reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, when I first saw her in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Are you planning to write something similar to Gilbert’s?

I‘ve read the book and I’ve seen the movie. I heard Elizabeth Gilbert’s speech when she won the TED prize and it was much more inspiring then the book and the movie. I thought about writing a book and at some point during my trip I thought it would be nice to write a book because I’ve seen a lot. I’m not a writer but I can tell the story that I’m experiencing. But then I said no. Maybe I should do more travelling before. But I’ll tell something that actually inspired me about my trip. It is the project of  “Carnet des 23 Souhaits” that contains the wishes of the people that I ask. I have shared a lot with these people. They don’t know me but they trusted me with their wishes and stories. At the end of the trip, I thought how stressful and difficult it’s going to be to get back to real life especially that I didn’t work for a year. It’s also hard to think what if my project won’t be successful and I’ll have to go back to work which I do not believe in anymore. The project has brought a lot of happiness to me and a lot of people especially when they receive the message and see it in the picture. I said if I’m going to write a book it’s going to be about this. I’ll link them to experiences that I have lived during this trip. I put the project online and I was hoping that I get 23 messages. I said people will never share their wishes with me and only my friends will send me their wishes. But the amount of messages that I’m receiving is huge. It’s like I am already finished with a book and I’m going to start another one. This is bringing happiness to people and it’s making me happy and I hate to see it end up at the end of my trip.

Q: How did you manage to cover the expenses of your trips?

It’s my savings from ten years of work. It’s not really a rocket science. I went to the US and people would think that I have a lot more money than them. I spend maybe the fifth of what they spend. Travelling doesn’t consume a lot of money. People can travel with less money than everyone would think. I will share more on my blog when I get back home.

Q: How did you manage to go on a trip coming from a society that does not tolerate women being that free?

I’ve always lived that way. I don’t even consider it freedom. It’s a mere decision: either you want to be the person that society is expecting from you and that way you can call it freedom and you can say “I’m not free”, or you can choose to be who you are and it’s not freedom. It’s a decision that women can make. They don’t need a man or society to keep telling them whether they are free. Freedom is a concept. You either see it as something that you are allowed to do or not or you say this is what I want to do and you do it. If people refuse you, then know that even if you stick to the rules of society people might not like or accept you anyway.

Q: What the best experience you’ve ever had and you’d do over again and again and again?

I can think of two things: one is meeting people and trusting them and let oneself be helped by someone we don’t know. That’s the only way to actually be able to trust people. People pick me up from the street and help me. One time in Singapore I had a problem with the hostel I was staying in. A man working at the train station told me not to worry about it and that I’ll be more than welcome to stay with him and his wife. He had no idea what’s my name is. Same for me, I didn’t know where I’m going to be and I ended up in this great place with an Indian couple. I’d love to see myself going back home and doing it like others did it to me. That’s something I definitely look forward to do again and again. The second thing is the meditation. I did the 10 days course and I want to do the 26 days course. It’s very interesting. It clears one’s mind and it makes me see life clearly.

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