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Three Months in Egypt, Jordan and Israel – Month Three

I haven’t written much this month because while I’m on my yearly trips to the Middle East it is more important to spend time with my friends, acquaintances and other people than it is to sit in my apartment writing about my friends, acquaintances and other people.

One of the two posts I wrote during month three of my time in the region this year addresses common misconceptions about the people of the Middle East.  The other is about my perspective of the Jewish Sabbath in Israel as a non-Jew.

I’ve been in Tiberias, Israel the past month and am very comfortable and happy here, as this was my home for nine months in 2011 and 2012. When I return for my yearly trips to the Middle East I always settle down in my old neighborhood where my friends and I are able to effortlessly move back into our routines we developed when I lived here.

I’ve been interviewing people for Connect the Cultures during month three and, in addition to their stories, from here forward I am going to start writing more about my own experiences and perspectives. It’s good to write about people’s stories and thoughts from their own viewpoints in order to let the world look into the lives of people in the Middle East. But I think now it’s just as important to write about how their world looks and feels to me.

I am so used to life in this part of the world that it is not possible to step outside of it all and write from a typical western woman’s point of view. I’m a part of people’s lives here. Over the years I’ve become a bit more like them and a little less the way I used to be. So I will be wriiting about life in the Mid East not as a native and not as a newbie but as someone from another part of the world who’s now a part of this region.

Life in Israel this Past Month

I have a several Jewish friends in Israel, but most of my friends here are Arab. I’m a friend of some families in a little village in a remote area in northern Israel, so I spend a lot of time with them. One of my friends in this village got married yesterday, and I attended her amazing wedding.

My friend Tojan and I during one of my yearly trips to the Middle East
Not the bride, but my beautiful friend Tojan and I

An Arab lawyer friend of mine invited me and my Jewish friend to his home for dinner, as he usually does during my yearly trips to the Middle East. This time, though, he revealed to me that he is Bedouin, his wife and family are Bedouin, his entire village is Bedouin. This was a big surprise because unlike every other Bedouin I know, tribal and until only very recently nomadic, my friend and his family are completely modern. He wasn’t even sure what his tribe’s name is. So this is now an upcoming story for Connect the Cultures.

During my yearly trips to the Middle East I also spend a lot of time with my closest Jewish friend. He likes to make me breakfast most mornings and have barbeques on his balcony at night.

Homemade Israeli breakfast during one of my yearly trips to the Middle East
Homemade Israeli breakfast

He’s a lawyer too, so I often go with him to court. As a Jewish Israeli he has ambivalent feelings about Arabs. He was in the army for about 15 years during wars, etc., with Arabs always the enemy. He hates them but he loves them.

One of his favorite places is Nazareth, a mixed Muslim and Christian Arab city. We go there frequently, always visiting the famous Church of the Annunciation, buying goods in the souk and eating hummus. He doesn’t like Jews, he doesn’t like Muslims, but he loves Christians. His viewpoints are complicated and disturbing but fascinating.

Hummus is a classic Israeli entree, and we eat hummus in Nazareth because it is the best in Israel. At Jrar, our favorite hummus restaurant, I talked to the owner/chef and his family about life as a hummus chef in Israel, which is an upcoming article on Connect the Cultures.

A couple of weeks ago I traveled to my very favorite region in Israel, the Jordan Valley, not far from Tiberias. It’s full of palm trees, banana trees and kibutzim, small villages where beginning in approximately 1900 the Jewish people began living in a communist-type system, with shared money, shared child rearing, shared everything. While in the Jordan Valley I interviewed Eitan Arnon, a 70-something artist who’s spent his entire life on one kibbutz and volunteers his time to work on bridging the divisions between Jews and Arabs. I will be writing his story soon.

Part 2 of my time here I had intended to last six weeks. I’ve been in the region seven weeks already and haven’t even returned to Egypt yet. So while Part 1 of this year’s journey was shorter than I had planned, Part 2 is going to be longer. As we always say in the Middle East, Yalla!

Sabina Lohr is a freelance writer who shines a light on the cultures of the Middle East through non-fiction storytelling, interviews with local figures, and insightful articles. She has traveled extensively through the region for more than 15 years and has lived in Israel, Egypt and the U.A.E.

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