It feels wonderful to be back in my favorite region of the world for Part 2 of my annual trip to the Middle East. I arrived in Jordan a few weeks ago and am now in Israel.
I lived in the Mid East in 2011 and 2012 and return to this part of the world at least once every year for extended periods in order to spend time with the close friends I’ve made. I wrote all about my affection for and my history in the Middle East when I announced my three-month journey through this region at the beginning of 2017.
THE FIRST SIX WEEKS
Weeks 1 through 4 – In mid-February of this year I began my annual trip to the Middle East in Egypt and spent my time in Cairo and Dahab.
Weeks 4 through 6 – During these weeks I visited my friends and worked on Connect the Cultures in Dahab. While there, I made the decision to split my three-month journey into two segments. I arrived back in the U.S. in late March and planned to return to the region in the Autumn.
I did indeed arrive back in the Middle East in September. Almost every day here is fantastic and is exceeding my hopes.
I knew if I didn’t begin Part 2 of my journey in Jordan, I would never get to Jordan. I have friends there but deeper ties in Egypt and Israel. If I didn’t prioritize Jordan I knew I would end up staying longer than I’d planned in the other countries and possibly flying home without ever reaching this country. I was not going to let that happen, so I flew from New York direct to Amman.
Almost every day in Jordan was perfect. I’ve written two posts so far about my time in the country.
I got to interview a mokhtar, a leader in Jordanian tribal government with a stunning amount of power. Although all Jordanians belong to tribes, most know very little about mokhtars. Mokhtar Maher Fahr Haddadin is a very impressive and charming man who told me all about his role in the government.
I also met Jamil, a really nice Syrian artist, at a mosaic shop where I ended up hanging out for much of my time in Jordan. He and his sweet wife invited me to their home for dinner, and we had such a great time I stayed for several hours. We talked about the war in Syria, and I wrote this story about the war from Jamil’s viewpoint.
Now that I’ve reconnected with my old friends in Jordan and made new friends I’ll likely I’ll be putting Jordan on the map for future visits.
I’ve been to Palestine (also known as the West Bank) several times on day trips, but have never stayed inside. This time for my annual trip to the Middle East I chose the city of Nablus to base myself for several days. The city’s history is horrible, but Its people are good people, peaceful and friendly.
Nablus gained a reputation during the 2nd Intifada as the city that produced the majority of suicide bombers in the region. Its people also suffered severely during this time and after, as the Israeli army essentially closed the city off from the rest of the world, making it easy to enter but extremely hard to exit. Today there are many Jewish settlers in the area, which cause an enormous amount of problems.
One of my new Palestinian friends lives in Duma, where two years ago about 15 religious settlers set his neighbors’ home on fire, killing a husband and wife and their 18-month-old son Ali. Their older son Ahmed survived by hiding behind a door. The husband’s brother Nasser unlocked the door and took me inside their home, where almost everything has been left untouched since the night of the fire. I have never seen anything like this. It was very chilling, and it really moved me. Only a couple of the settlers went to jail.
The Gaza Strip is known as the world’s largest open air prison. I have to say, after staying in Nablus, Palestine, this is a prison too. The people are not free. They need permits to travel outside Palestine even into Israel, and permits are hard to get. I’ve never heard the West Bank called a prison, but it is. When I left, I felt like I’d been set free.
Most people do not realize that Jerusalem is split cleanly into two parts – East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian and West Jerusalem, which is Jewish.
I’ve only stayed in West Jerusalem once previously, as I love the power of the Old City in East Jerusalem and always want to be in the midst of its vibe.
This month, though, I spent a few days in the gorgeous German Colony in West Jerusalem. One morning I went to the Old City in East Jerusalem to visit a friend. Along came another friend who told me he’d read the article about me in the paper a few days ago. What article? I asked.
I then learned that Al Quds, a major Middle Eastern news source, wrote an article about me and Connect the Cultures. I am very thrilled and honored.
A portion of the English translation in summary is:
Sabina Lohr, an American, has begun a project to correct the Western perception about Arabian women. She has immersed herself inside Arab cultures and searched for the truth about the Western media’s portrayal of Arabian women as being oppressed and controlled by men.
Sabina believes that in order to get a true understanding of any culture you must try out the culture for yourself. Her time spent in Arabian countries has given her rare insight into the lives of Arab women. She knows that it is very difficult to change the perceptions the media gives to the outside world, which continually portrays Arab women in a negative light. The only person who can change these false impressions is someone who has lived amongst Arab women and integrated herself into their communities.
15 minutes after I received news about the article, I ran across a Jewish theatre group who was doing street performances in the Old City for three days to try to help ease religious and cultural tensions for a short while. Their project was a perfect fit for my project, so as they played music in the pouring rain I took notes about this theatre company in Jerusalem.
As soon as the rain stopped, I got on a bus to Tiberias, from where I write this now, back where I used to live, in my old routines and with people whom I love.
FUTURE POSTS ON CONNECT THE CULTURES
During the first two weeks of Part 2 of my annual trip to the Middle East I spent a lot of my time in Jordan at a mosaic shop in Madaba, as I really liked and felt a connection with the amazing group of people who create mosaics there – women and men, Muslims and Christians, Jordanians, Syrians and Egyptians. In the coming months I’ll be writing several posts about their lives both inside and outside the world of mosaics.
Also in Jordan I interviewed Sami Al Hasanat, former member of the Jordanian Parliament and owner of Jordan Inspiration Tours in Petra. Sami has a Ph.D. in hospitality and tourism crisis management, a very relevant area of expertise for a tour operator in the Middle East. Part of the focus of this article will be the issues and problems that can occur between tourists and local populations in the Middle East due to lack of knowledge of and misunderstandings about each other’s cultures.
During the time that I am in Israel I’m spending a lot of time with both my Arab friends and my Jewish friends, and I will be writing quite a bit about our lives here.
Writing about people’s lives, their thoughts and feelings is a little challenging. Most of the best stories I can’t tell because much of what people share with me is private. Still, I write about what I can, with their blessings and with my love.
Written by: Sabina Lohr