Hello! or shall I say, Marhaban!
Pardon my very long disappearance. I wanted to wait until the end of my time in the Middle East to blog in hopes of having a well rounded post about the entire experience. But, upon leaving and traveling to the next country I haven’t been able to connect my laptop to wifi until now. So that is my lame excuse, take it or leave it.
So for those who don’t know, (most likely due to my lack of informing), I recently finished up spending 6 weeks in the Middle East this semester. Specifically in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Those 6 weeks were by far some of the most life changing and impactful weeks of my life to date. From world views to religion to politics it was such an eye opening and incredible experience. One which I know I will be continuing to process for months to come.
Run down of my location: Where did I reside?
We arrived on January 10th and spent a night in Jaffa right outside of Tel Aviv before heading to Beit Sahour, a little town in Palestine very close to Bethlehem. Beit Sahour was home for the bulk of our time. We stayed there at a lovely, homestyle guest house for 3 weeks as a whole group before splitting up into pairs to live with host families for a few days around the Bethlehem area. After that we headed to Amman, Jordan for about 2 weeks. In Jordan we also stayed with host families in pairs.
Overview of how we spent our time: What did I do? (In Israel/Palestine)
- Visited the Church of The Nativity, saw the place where Jesus was born
- Visited the shepard’s fields where the Angel appeared to them the night Jesus was born
- Went on a geo political tour of Bethlahem
- Visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel
- visited Dome on the Rock
- Floated in the Dead Sea
- Hiked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death to Jericho
- Attended classes and lectures on Anti-Semitism, The 1st and 2nd Intifada, Jewish history, of course the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and more
- Went on a geo political tour of East Jerusalem
- Sailed across the sea of Galilee
- Worked at Tent of Nations where we planted almost 100 olive and fruit trees
- Visited different mosques and met with a Sheik in Bethlehem, to talk about the Islamic religion & beliefs, stereotypes, traditions,the political conflict going on, etc.
- Had a meeting with a Zionist Jew in Hebron
- Had quite time in the place where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount (The Beatitudes)
- Hiked to St. George monastery
- Attended a traditional Jewish Shabbat and Shabbat dinner at the home of a Jewish professor
- Visited Nazareth
- Worked at the Arab Women’s Union an hung out with the children and adults with special needs there
- Visited Golan Heights
- We attended a dance class at a theater school to learn the traditional dance, The Dabke! & got to interact with local teens
- Visited the separation wall
- Worked at La’ Arch -a place where children with special needs can go to make ornaments and nativity scenes out of wool as a job as well as be a part of community
- Attended a screening of a new documentary on Peaceful protest, and a peace negotiation
- I got baptized in the Jordan River.. Where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist!
- Attended a lecture from Jean Zaru, a quaker woman and protestor for peace, and spent time with university students touring their school with them and hanging out
- Saw where Jesus was crucified, touched the stone
- Attended a lecture with Xavier AbuEid from the Palestinian Negotiation Unit about politics, the conflict and the role of American government in whats going on globally past and present
- Met with a local artist who paints religious work for churches worldwide
The holy sights were really amazing to see, it’s something I had wanted to do for years. I especially connected with the sights in nature such as the Sea of Galilee. It was so surreal. It felt like the bible stories we grow up reading were jumping off the pages and springing to life!
But I think my favorite thing about our time spent in the Middle East was the overall well rounded perspective we got about the political conflict, religion and people. We got the chance to see & hear first hand from Sheiks, Rabbis, a Christian Palestinian feminist, Israeli settlers, local university students, high school students, Israeli soldiers, Americans who moved back there… people from all ends of the spectrum. That was pretty once in a lifetime.. shout out to the people who set everything up for us and found all of those fabulous connections!
Aside from our tours, lectures, meetings and planned activities we also had a lot of free time to explore the city, go out to fun restaurants and make local friends. Marwan, if you’re reading this, we all miss you and thanks for the memories! The friendships we made are some I will cherish always. As well as the food… We all gained about 10 lbs. probably throughout our stay but it was well worth it. Some of the best food I have ever eaten!
The people in the Middle East are honestly the most welcoming and laid back culture I have ever experienced. Everywhere you go it’s about relationships. Valuing sitting with a stranger to have a cup of mint tea or smoke some two apples shisha over getting a work deal taken care of. I have never felt more welcome in a place, and yet I have also never been somewhere so stereotyped as being the opposite of what I experienced.
The most common question I get asked when I tell people where I was is something along the lines of , “Weren’t you scared”, “Isn’t it so dangerous there? ” “You lived where? The West Bank?? What did your family say?” and on and on. And my most simple answer is No. Followed up by go and visit and see for yourself if you get the opportunity. Yes, there is heavy conflict there. & Yes, there are dangerous people or terrorists who come from the Middle East but, a small group of people does not define a country as American media likes to portray. There is so much more.
& Speaking of America, something else was going on back home during my time there that really made things interesting.. frustrating.. confusing.. I’m not sure the best word here. But I have to mention it.
Donal Trump was sworn into office during my stay in Palestine. I watched the inauguration on a couch in our guest house with a group of both American and Palestinian friends. Safe to say it was interesting, views were all over the room from left to right. As monumental as it was in the U.S. it was such a different and unique experience being over seas during everything. Everyones first question to us is “What do you think of your new president?”. It never gets less nerve wrecking to answer, no matter which way you lean.
Shortly after the inauguration, the refugee ban went into action. This was such a whirlwind of emotion for me personally. And I know for many others. Between my work the past semester in Philadelphia at the refugee resettlement organization and the country I happened to be living in at the time, it just hit like a ton of bricks. A couple days after the announcement we actually drove up to the border of Syria on a visit to Golan Heights. And as we stood up on a balcony over looking the hills of Syria my heart broke. Or should I say broke more. I just stood there with a persistent lump in my throat at a loss for words. There was something about seeing the hills, lightly covered in snow, so peaceful and still. It made everything almost tangible. I felt so connected, so close to this place that was so rejected from the land I call home. I rode with tears in my eyes as we got back on the bus, I won’t ever forget the feeling. Something about that day just struck me.
I could talk on and on about my time there, my emotions, what I learned but I want to cover Jordan quickly without turning this blog into a book.
In Amman our time was really fun. It was short, just a little under two weeks, but a great time. I lived with Meredith, A fellow Kappa sister and one of my best friends on the gap year. We stayed with Amani & Islam – the children of the most hospitable Muslim family and home to the best food!! Margaret Ann, the other red headed American beauty in this picture stayed with their other sister who is now married, so we did a lot with them also. We got the opportunity to go to a traditional wedding party with them while we were there which was so much fun and visit the Roman ruins. Love them lots!
The bulk of our time in Jordan we spent attending Ithra’a classes during the week, which is a relational training course. In summary it was kind of like group therapy (which lets be real, we all needed that by this point in the trip, haha). The main focus of it was learning about our top relational needs and learning more about what makes us who we are, how we deal with issues, how we relate to others and how to better meet others needs/love them well. All in all it was a really good time for us to step back, think about ourselves and also connect with one another.
Our final weekend in Jordan we got the opportunity to visit the Wadi Rum desert and Petra. This was amazing.
We camped out in the desert for one night and it seriously felt like we were living on Mars. The stars were beautiful, the sand was a reddish orange and we were surrounded by towering cliffs. It was unforgettable. The following day we took a jeep tour through the desert followed by a visit to the lost city of Petra. I got to ride a camel in Petra which was no joke my most talked about thing I wanted to do this gap year since this past the Summer.. so I think it is safe to say this was officially a success 🙂
On returning back to Amman we packed up our bags and headed out the following evening for almost 42 hours of straight travel (including a 10 hour London layover). This was a very cranky, sweaty time for me as I had to wear far too many layers of clothing on the plane to remain under the suitcase weight limit. So I will spare you from blogging about it.
Next stop & Next blog…backpacking TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK, PATAGONIA