Tag Archives: middle east

Courage and Magic

I’m sitting up here on the same rooftop deck in Tel Aviv that I started my unforgettable journey almost three weeks ago! The late afternoon sun is starting to set over the Mediterranean Sea and the intoxicating breezes drift over me, telling me that I surely will be back here. I was born to live by the sea, and I am bewitched by this city and country, by the waves and the salt, the sand, the coolness of the ocean air, and the most beautiful boardwalk I have ever seen in which to take it all in.

I left off my last blog about to start my Jordanian cooking class, but I think I just wanted to get some general thoughts and experiences out on paper before I go to pack and get ready for one last night out before flying home tomorrow morning.

Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of traveling – a lot – and to many different countries and cultures. This has not only been a deliberate choice but something that was in my blood I think from an early age. Everyone laughed at me when I said in all the serious thoughtfulness of a young child that I wanted to be a professional tourist when I grew up. I used to pour over maps imagining what it would be like to actually travel to all those countries. I’m a bit obsessed with globes and still pour over maps. I’m curious and I love trying new things. I love meeting new people and making friends. I love home and family and always want a real home to come back to – I don’t think I could be one of those that travel indefinitely over years and years – but there’s nothing quite like the excitement of planning for a trip, the rush of airports, and the deep joy that comes from experiencing moments of breathtaking beauty in this incredible world we live in.

I guess I have heard so many times that traveling is “an escape from reality.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Travel drops you smack right into the middle of reality and demands that you confront what you see, feel, experience. Traveling requires guts. Guts to face the challenges to whatever worldview you might have or been brought up with. It requires courage to face yourself. Wandering through cities or wilderness or wherever by yourself, you are brought face to face with WHO YOU ARE: your assumptions about other people and cultures and countries. Perhaps you start to realize that that upper-middle class white American existence that was all you’ve ever known – and the concomitant worldview that accompanies it – is not the only valid way to think. Perhaps you realize that relationship you’re in is not really the right one for you. Perhaps you become aware of how crazy blessed you are when you see whole villages that have next to nothing and you tell yourself you will never complain about anything again. And because there are so many practical challenges with travel, you also are confronted always with CHOICE. Do you choose to live in and embrace the moment? – The bus schedules written in a foreign language, the missed train, the hard bed and getting lost for hours in a strange city, the forgotten toothbrush, or stolen bag. Of course, we have these opportunities every.single.day. to choose, to change, to examine who we are but all I’m trying to, perhaps inadequately, say is that travel accelerates that process in a crazy way.

And just as travel is about shattering worldviews, confronting assumptions and prejudices, travel is also about MAGIC. I have had my senses filled with so much beauty that the joy threatened to shatter my soul. It seemed at times too big to contain. I will never forget standing in the pure snow of Iceland as it whipped around me gazing into the glowing, gold horizon over a sea fronted by a black beach and the tears just came to my eyes. I thought perhaps it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I remember weeping my way through the Jewish center of Prague, just unable to contain the emotion from the thousands of lives lost and the children that had to go through such unspeakable things. I remember where laughter trumped any need for a common language in a little mountain village in Thailand as we sat around sharing a meal and an unforgettable evening. I remember the complete exhilaration of sailboat racing in Sweden with some of the finest people I’ve met in my life: a group of friends whose love for each other was so real and tangible and who opened that love to include me.   And just this trip I remember so much – the moment my guide, Mahmoud, led me blindfolded to the edge of a cliff to surprise me with a view of the Treasury in Petra, the crazy beautiful slot canyons, the delight of scuba diving – always – seeing enormous fish the size of bathtubs, sunken wrecks, crazy funny puffer fish, and the blues, yellows, greens, reds of coral. Its hard to even convey the magic. (and there’s my plug for scuba diving, people…do it. It’s the closest thing I can imagine to being on another planetJ One of my favorite things in all the world. …

Anyway, I’m not really sure I conveyed all that was on my heart, but I guess I’m just trying to encourage everyone to be open to new people, experiences, ideas, cultures. Perhaps the ideas you have about the Middle East are a bit skewed – mine were before coming here. Perhaps you just want to try something new! Don’t be scared! Step out. All I know is that my life has been indelibly changed and enriched by stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing this awesome world we all share together. Shalom…

Border crossings, travel hiccups,…and finally, Jordan!

I finally arrived in Tel Aviv, having flown the last leg of my journey from Instanbul with an abnormally high number of children aboard – I was soon to learn this is the norm around here.  Families have a HUGE number of children and traveling with all 5-8 children is certainly way more common than in the US.  Ben Gurion airport is beautiful and security was a breeze, despite my apprehensions from all the warnings I had been given about it.   Basically I just got interrogated with a few specific questions through some thick glass – I had to keep asking the guard to repeat himself as I could barely hear him with all the noise in the background. I’m sure he thought I was extremely dense and could do no harm in his country and let me through to claim my bag and get my adventure started! J

First couple hiccups included my debit card being refused by the airport ATM, and subsequently my taxi driver refusing to let me pay with a card despite my being told clearly before I got in that it would be no problem. So here I am in the middle of the night with a taxi driver who needs to be paid, me with too little cash and no clue where I am, and a debit card that doesn’t work… lovely J We found a little free-standing ATM that worked (thank goodness!) and I arrived at my little hotel…where I couldn’t sleep at all thanks to the time change. It turned out this place had an absolutely lovely rooftop deck that overlooked the Meditteranean Sea and it felt soooo good to be up there, feeling the night breezes and taking in all the sensations around me. Being awake in such a lovely setting was a great excuse to get a work out in and I felt truly ALIVE and so happy and excited to be exactly where I was and for what the next few weeks held in store for me.

Early the next morning I arrived at the little domestic airport in TLV way too early and had to wait outside the (well-secured) gates till the airport opened. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one that made that mistake so I had some good conversation to keep me occupied. And, oh, did I say that security was a breeze somewhere earlier in this blog?! Yeah…nope. They scrutinized my passport, didn’t really like what they saw, made a very long phone call to god knows who, scrutinized it some more, questioned me about pretty much everything, ran my bags through the scanner LITERALLY about 5-7 times (I lost track), unpacked my fastidiously packed backpack, and finally handed me my stuff and my passport back and told me to enjoy my flight to Eilat. Whew!

So I arrived in Eilat (very far south resort beach town on the Red Sea) but I immediately zoomed off to the Jordanian border to begin my grand Jordanian tour. The border crossing was another almost unbelievable amount of passport checks. I think I literally had to show 7-8 people my passport, stopping at each different window, checkpoint, gate, scanner. Carrying my bags down a rather long stretch of no-man’s land to the Jordanian gate, it felt exactly like something in a movie… the hot desert air, the tall white metal gates in the distance, a couple other people in the distance struggling solo with their bags as well… interesting. I’m learning to really embrace the moments though and roll with each part of the happenings as part of the adventure. It makes it way more peaceful and way more exciting too, ironically.

My Jordanian driver deserves a blog devoted entirely to him, but for now let me just say he and I were quite the buddies by the time we arrived in Wadi Musa 2 hrs later. An older gentleman with 8 grown children, he really had quite the perspectives on Jordanian culture and population, the world, the USA, people, marriage, etc etc. More on him perhaps later…

The first thing my tour coordinator had booked for me was a cooking class with the Bedoins. I really had no idea what to expect but it sounded fun… boy, was it ever SO cool and completely different than anything I could have even made up or wanted. My Jordan experiences will be continued in next blog… Have to get ready to go have breakfast and leave Jerusalem for exploring up in beautiful Northern Israel… J