Time spent on the Abraham Path promises to be a rich cultural experience for all; by moving through local villages and communities slowly and on foot, travelers are sure to experience the richness of Abrahamic hospitality that so distinctly characterizes the region and to be welcomed warmly into any number of new environments. This may at times be challenging; immersion in unfamiliar cultural settings can certainly push you outside of your comfort zone, but it can also lead to incredibly educational, meaningful, and rewarding moments of exchange. Whether in asking for directions, sharing a cup of coffee with a local, or staying at a family homestay, you can anticipate a broad range of worthwhile intercultural interactions along the trail.
When traveling, be prepared to exercise patience and humility in dealing with language barriers. As in many parts of the world, English is the de facto medium of communication between people from many linguistic backgrounds. Many communities along the path will contain some English-speakers – especially closer to major urban centers. As you travel further from these tourism hubs, however, you should expect to encounter more locals who do not speak much or any English.
If possible, anticipate these scenarios and learn some basic words and phrases in the local language(s) of the region in which you will be traveling. Even if you stumble over words and struggle with pronunciation, you will be amazed how warmly your attempts to communicate will be received; any demonstrated willingness to learn the language goes a long way in conveying your appreciation and respect for the local culture.
At times when spoken communication has reached its limit, don’t be afraid to get creative! You may be surprised at how well you can get by with hand gestures and charades, and the process of attempting to understand one another can often break the ice and lead to good-natured laughter and fun.
In more conservative communities, gender roles and expectations are very clearly defined. Take your cue from the locals when assessing whether it is acceptable to shake hands with members of the opposite gender: if they reach for your hand, accept. If not, you can simply place your hand over your heart and speak a greeting. Refrain from hugging locals of the opposite gender or putting your arm around them, even if this would seem natural or friendly in your home culture. Public displays of affection toward fellow travelers should also be avoided. When staying with local families, do not be surprised if the men and women in your group are separated for much of the time spent in the family’s home.
Both men and women should plan to dress appropriately. Pack long pants/trousers; if traveling on the path in Turkey, women should wear long skirts. Women should also avoid sleeveless tops and anything low-cut. When visiting mosques, women will often be required to cover their heads; remember to pack a scarf for this purpose. Visitors of both genders may not be permitted to enter many places of worship (of any religion) if they are judged not to be dressed modestly enough by the custodians of the site!
In conversation with locals, be careful with topics that could be sensitive, such as money/finances, politics, religion, sexuality (arranged marriages, polygamy, cohabitation, homosexuality, etc.), and gender roles and expectations. The Abraham Path brings walkers into contact with members of a number of different religious groups, and it is especially important to avoid proselytization, handing out tracts/Bibles or other religious texts, etc.
In general, try to approach your intercultural interactions with an eagerness to learn! Both locals from communities along the path and former hikers have remarked that the opportunity to spend time with members of other cultures has been educational, enriching, and fun. Do prepare yourself with a bit of background knowledge about the culture you are entering into; but when the time for to travel arrives, be flexible and open to whatever new experiences your journey may bring.