Arriving in the New York and Detroit airports after two weeks of intense and varied experiences in the Middle East and being bombarded with the latest news about the fate of Balloon Boy’s father is a bit of culture shock to say the least- The twelve hour flight in the silver tube feels a bit like passing through the rabbit hole and coming out on the “other” side and in a completely new reality. The more I experience this the more the saying “curiouser and curiouser” comes to mind.
As we spent the last 24 hours of our Middle East Journey I couldn’t help but reflect on the many adventures and the mini adventures that comprised this 2 week odyssey for 10 Americans and 1 Indian living in the Midwest, USA and traveling from Amman, Jordan south through the desert sites of Petra and Wadi Rum to the Gulf of Aqaba then north through Arad, Israel the Dead Sea, Bethlehem and several other towns in the West Bank of Palestine, to Jerusalem and the Israeli towns of Haifa, Acco, and before ending the journey in Madaba, Jordan.
The Middle East is a place where history collides with the present in sometimes graceful and other time’s quite tragic ways. Meeting with Iraqi refugees early on in the journey reminded me of the many mass exoduses of populations from one region to another throughout history in the Middle East. Baghdad once the center of civilization now has a very uncertain future as multiple forces violently struggle to gain control. The people we met, each human story that rattles the conscious, contributes to the well-worn fabric in the unfolding drama in this region.
Identity becomes a central theme in the Middle East and our group must have looked quite curious to many of the people we encountered, a multi-faith group of Americans (and one Indian) traveling together to share insights through a wide variety of experiences. Experiences that included: listening to Fr. Haddad describe his Coexistence program, Professor Edward Curtis field questions from Jordanian students regarding Islam in America, listening to Palestinian refugees and peace activists, rabbis and priests in dialogue in Israel, and meeting with Arab-Israel Evangelicals who are striving to maintain their community in Cana and Nazareth. People are forced to live their identity in this part of the world where it is not simply a luxury to discuss differences if you choose. It makes me more aware of my privileges as a white male living in the United States and it helps me to better understand the challenges faced by minorities in my own country.
The evening before leaving Israel we took a little time to take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. As fate would have it we enjoyed calm seas and a lovely sunset. We listened to the American National Anthem and an Israeli peace song as we sailed through the historic waters. The weather was clear and we could see Jordan and the Golan Heights and I wondered what the future holds and what role we could play to make it better for all of us.
It was an amazing opportunity to travel with 11 diverse individuals, each of us adding a unique piece to a puzzle as we try to better understand the world we live in. It was truly an honor to be a part of the experience and I look forward to future conversations. I came to realize that my role as one of the organizers was to facilitate a conversation between and among the members of our group and the many wonderful people we came in contact with. It was gratifying to witness the many relationships that developed along the trip, between Muslim and Jew, Evangelical and Catholic, gay and straight, young and older. I am confident that many amazing things will develop as a result however I am also aware that much can be done to improve future journeys. Each and every one of us enriched the overall experience and I believe we all hold a piece of a puzzle that will lead to a better understanding.
I constantly strive to find an opportunity where each of us in our multiple identities can put a collective foot forward in making a better future in the Middle East, a region that is critical to a better future for all of us. It appears to make sense to work together with caring Jordanians to establish a medical clinic for Iraqi refugees who are struggling to survive in and around Amman. This effort would be more powerful if it came as a result of an interfaith effort here in Central Indiana and I believe it would be a wonderful opportunity to increase understanding in our community. As an American, a husband and father, a veteran, and a white-male from a Catholic family, I am compelled to continue to try to make a difference- When I came through customs in NYC the immigration agent asked if my visit abroad was for business or pleasure and I replied by saying a little of both but mainly for business. He asked what type of business and I described it as an interfaith trip to better understand the issues that confront us in the Middle East. He said that it sounded like an admirable mission and wished me luck…