A Palestinian’s story: the social media traveler with no borders
By Cesilia Faustina
Photography by Cesilia Faustina
“I found out you can not be in a tight room alone. I found out they designed the cell in a way that it is not alive at all.”
Tight walls and iron doors were what Motasem Ilaiwi had to face when he got thrown in a Palestinian jail.
A local from Nablus, Palestine, a free traveller, and a social influencer Motasem Ilawi left his country to expand his knowledge of self-discoveries and life.
“What I do is I try to visit as many countries as I can to learn more about their culture. I’m really interested in culture and I love to watch people and observe how they think and how they get to where they are now,” he said.
Motasem, also known as Mota, started travelling around his university years after living his whole life in Nablus, a Palestinian city located in the Northern West Bank and 49 kilometres from Jerusalem.
Mota decided to leave in order to understand more about borders and different cultures between countries. He has now travelled to countless of countries and cities, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest.
“All my life I was only in one country, I was in Nablus, so I started to travel and it was amazing. I started to understand all the political thinking, like the wars and borders and why they took that and why they took this,” he said.
He started his curiosity about the world after moving to Jordan for his studies. Experiencing a fully different culture and people, Mota had a hard time in creating a comfortable environment.
“I came to Jordan to study and the first year it was very bad because I was still very closed-minded,” he said.
“I kept seeing everybody weren’t like me and they weren’t like my friends in Palestine and I couldn’t accept this. It took a lot from me to understand that I’m not always right, but I thought I was always right.
“The more you travel the more you realise that you’re not always right and that you can be stupid sometimes.”
Coming from a conservative background, Mota said it was difficult for him to adapt to the different situation Jordan presented. This mindset, however, changed when he was presented with an unlikely character during a work meeting.
“For me, girls were sexual objects, so I didn’t understand why she was [at my organization’s meeting] but then my friend told me about her — how hard-working she was and her dad isn’t…for the first time in my life I thought ‘what am I doing with my life?’,” he said.
“Why would she go to hell and I go to heaven? If she dies today, many things will be destroyed because she has her jobs and family, but for me, I have nothing, I wasn’t doing anything.
“Twenty years I thought I was the greatest and then you find out that you’re just nothing.”
The Palestinian said he started changing and wanting to learn about different subjects. Progressively, he managed to change his mindset by constantly meeting new people, a slow progress and a continuous one.
“Things kept changing until now and I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow, that’s why I’m curious to travel because I want to know more. Maybe I will see and I may be gay, maybe I will be Jewish, I don’t know what I’ll be in the future and how can I know if I say ‘no’ or if I stay [in Jordan],” he said.
“I’ve mastered this place already and I have to move more. So this is what happened. I think that’s the main thing that changed, that I accepted I wasn’t always right, then I started listening after that.”
Mota’s love for travelling grew after that, as well as his love for social media. Gaining his first experience in the field after volunteering for a Jordanian event, Newthink Festival — a workshop held to inspire youths to achieve social change.
“I attended this meeting, and this meeting was filled with the most expert social media people, I was there and nobody knew that I had no idea what I was doing,” he said.
“We started talking about New Think, that time it was in 2013/2012 and we got the biggest number in all of Jordan, the first one in peak December…we were really good, and I was a part of them.”
Through his experiences in Jordan, Mota eventually gained knowledge in social media and is now qualified in the field. Combining his passion for social media and travelling, he then started a career as a social media traveller. A career that was temporarily stifled after he landed in Jail.
Being in jail
“I went back to Palestine to visit my family and then I went to jail after I started travelling in Palestine. I got banned from traveling and sharing my content on social media,” Mota said.
Mota tries to visit his family on a regular basis, as well as travel around Palestine. As a famous social media influencer, he not only got the attention of the Palestinian people but also, from the authorities.
Upon his visit to see his parents, he was faced with unexpected circumstances.
“I was very politically active and my friend was taken to jail before me, I knew in two days they would take me too,” he said.
“I knew I was going to go to jail, that’s why when I went back I took a bag full of books, Mota said.
Palestine has been in conflict with Israel for over 50 years over, which has caused a lot of political tension between the states. Beginning in the early 20th century when the Jewish population left Europe to flee prosecution and wanted to establish a national homeland in the back-then Palestine.
Until now, Israel and Palestine still bare the remains of a torn country, where both sides are still divided in political conflict. The conflict has left people in violence with many people in prison. There had been many people imprisoned, especially in the border entering Israel, as many people have been jailed and banned from Israel for political activities.
Despite knowing his faith, Mota had to wait until his investigation took place to be sent to jail.
“When I went to Palestine they told me to come back after two weeks because there is the investigation first and then you go to jail,” he said.
“They told me I would be in jail in January, so I bought the books in January.”
Mota stayed in prison for two months, where he experienced a curse and a blessing at the same time.
“I actually read something about the cell, whoever made it was a very smart human. When I got to the jail the first thing I thought was I can meditate and I’ll be happy, but I was wrong,” he said. “[Humans] can be alone but you can’t be alive alone. Once you get to the jail you feel like you can’t stay there for a week or a month.
“I found out you can’t be in a tight room alone. I found out they designed the cell in a way that it is not alive at all. It was an iron door that’s very big and nobody can hear you and the skin of the wall, you can’t make love to it, you can’t make a connection with it.
“The colour of the wall is dark grey and the lights are always off. They designed it in a way that when you wake up you can’t open your eyes.”
“As humans, you can’t be alone because you want money, sex, and attention — you want attention at least. The secret is you need to give yourself attention. If you can do that, nobody can bother you,” he said.
Mota described his experience in jail, having a very hard time at the beginning of his stay. He said it was designed to disconnect the prisoners from the world, draining a sense of life from them.
“The routine goes, at 1 am it gets so cold and it starts to get warm until it gets so hot and then it starts to get cold from 10 pm until 1 am,” he said.
“The food is always on time and it’s very disgusting. That really ruins your mood because usually if you have good food it helps. It’s really terrible, however, if you get your mind out it will be ok, but you can’t because nothing is alive.
“I was trying to search why I was in such a bad mood and I figured out it was because nothing was alive.”
The Palestinian then thought of a tactic to try and cope with the situation he had to endure for the following months.
“What I did was I asked for a cup of water and I started talking to the cup of water and you would make a connection and it would be heaven. Then one of the days they gave me an apple for lunch and it was really great,” he said.
In all the craziness, Mota managed to make some unexpected friends.
“After a month they took us outside and I met two other people in the jail and I don’t know, but we never stopped laughing and we would have parties and stuff,” he said.
“The three of us don’t really care where we end up, we were ‘high’ all the time. To the point where the guards asked us to ‘respect the jail.’
Mota was then released and decided to head back to Jordan to continue his travelling/social media business.
As a social media influencer
“I just didn’t want my dad to see me, I wanted to be alone. He also wanted me to get married, but I really don’t want to get married, especially in Nablus,” Mota said.
Mota said he started travelling in order to avoid his dad around the house. He started going on walks and hikes to mountainous areas and found it was an amazing experience.
“I started to go to the mountains and I liked it, and I started to do more. I started to go for more than one day and then I went to another city and it was amazing. I spent five days walking there,” he said.
Mota said he started to change after his travels in Palestine, which led to his current success in Jordan and overall popularity.
“I started to care more about having values and I started to care more about me because people are usually only thinking about what other people think like you would have an obligation to marry somebody because they would come from a certain family — I don’t want that,” he said.
“So I guess that’s why I started doing all the things that society doesn’t like.”
This love for self-discoveries eventually became a business when he managed to receive sponsors for his travels.
“I never thought it would be a hobby until they allowed me to come to Jordan and I started getting sponsors from Jordan to fund all my travels and help me buy all my gears, so I thought if I made it more professional I would get more money,” he said.
One of the bigger travel opportunities Mota received included his trip to Mount Everest this year.
“My friend sent me a message that she was going to climb Everest in 2018 as the first Arab women to do that. So I saw that as something I wanted too,” he said.
“I don’t only want to see the pictures, I want to be in it. So I searched and saw that no Palestinian had ever accomplished that yet, so I wanted to be the first from Palestine.”
The free-traveller said it was not always easy in the process, especially when it comes to being judged and his family.
“The hardest challenge was to create a society where there is no society. It’s going back to the family because if I wanted to go and be the way I am there, people will tell on me because I would be the son of this person,” he said.
“It’s not only about the place, it’s because your family’s there. So it’s how do I create what I want in a place with no society. I really don’t want to be this guy that says ‘this is ok, this is what I am and I need to accept it.’ It’s very hard to balance you know.”
Mota said he would like to bring together a number of like-minded people that enjoy travelling, creating a community for people to have fun and just be themselves.
“I created a community who love to travel and hike. I now have a community for people to go hiking because many people asked me if they could go hiking with me,” he said.
“So there is a community that is alike and is behind me.”
With everything that had happened in his life, this social media icon said he only grew more and hoped to keep it going. And most importantly, the one thing to remember would be to keep your passion alive.
“I don’t mind that life is going to be hard for me or anyone. I try to inspire people by listening. It’s not about a hard life, I don’t mind if with all I do now, I have no progress in the end, what I do care is if I wake up and I find out I have no desire,” he said.
“I just want to be on fire and gain knowledge…I just want to be alive and I don’t want to wake up and feel cold.”
Mota is a social media influencer from Nablus, Palestine. He currently travels around the world gaining sponsors for his work. He has now travelled to countless of countries, including climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest. He is looking to continue his travels and journey hoping to gain more knowledge. Follow Mota on Instagram to check out his journey.