Traveling from Cairo, Egypt to Tel Aviv, Israel
via Amman, Jordan
6/8/01

I woke up on Friday and carefully packed my things. It wasn't easy to fit all of what I had in the suitcase so, I managed to leave some of my things with Don. He had some friends who were returning to the states in a couple days who could hand-deliver the package to the mainland (mostly film and souvenirs). Then I said a thankful good-bye to my cousins Don and Sylvia and headed off to the airport.

But, before I get to that part, let me talk a little about my morning shower (it's OK, you can read on). I must at least mention in passing that each morning I had the privilege of taking a shower in an "Egyptian" shower. The significance of this is that Egyptian showers do not have special compartments, they simply have a drain somewhere in the bathroom. When you wanted to take a shower, you simply took the top off the drain, stood upright (usually directly in front of the toilet), turned on the water, and let the water flow down the drain - very hard to get used to.

I arrived at the airport early and braced myself for another trip into never-never land. One thing I have learned about Middle East travel: expect the unexpected! Anyway, to arrive to Tel Aviv, I had to catch a flight to Amman, Jordan, sit through an arduous 3-hour layover, and then fly to Tel Aviv. The flight into Amman landed in the South Terminal and the flight out of Amman left from the south terminal. As I said, I had three hours to make the connection. How difficult could it be? Stay tuned.

Calmness turned into restlessness, and restlessness into concern, and concern into all-out panic, as my flight from Cairo to Amman left 2 ½ hours late. Still, I would have 30 minutes to make the transfer and that was plenty of time, especially since I didn't have to change terminals. Yet, I was concerned.

When I landed, it took a while to deplane, leaving me with only 15 minutes to catch my connecting flight. Scurrying through the airport, I could not find the Tel Aviv gate on the departure screens. I raced to an information booth and asked where the gate for Tel Aviv was. The gentleman paused and then asked for my ticket. I gave him the ticket. Then he said, "This flight leaves from Amman's other airport." My eyes widened in anger. He continued, "Your flight leaves from the south terminal Amman's other airport. It's about an hour away from here, you'll never make it." Honest to God, the first thought that came into my mind was, "If I could get my hands around the neck of my travel agent . . ."

It gets worse

It was about 4:30PM at the time and my friend Gil Medina was traveling to the Tel Aviv airport to meet me. Therefore, it was essential that I arrive sometime shortly thereafter. Since I was desperate, I asked the gentleman if he could place me on the very next available flight to Tel Aviv. He said, " no problem . . . the next flight leaves at 12:30 tomorrow." Again, the first thought that came into my mind was, "If I could get my hands around the neck of my travel agent . . ."

So, here is the long and short of it.

I immigrated to the Kingdom of Jordan.

To do so, I was required to obtain a Visa, go through customs, convert money, find transportation, and find a hotel (and all without the necessity of speaking the language). Of course, in most situations the more important language involves the other kind of Visa (the plastic kind) and I was pleased to see this was no different. I found a hotel for around $60 and it was both comfortable and very clean. Phone service was another matter. They charged $4 a minute to call the United States and $2 a minute to call Israel. I had to tell someone where I was, so I called home for 1 minute to tell my dad that I was alive, and called Gil later to arrange our next day's meeting. Gil was so gracious; he made me feel at ease with his calm demeanor. He also told me he had been praying for me, which also helped me.

I stayed the night and left the next morning.

Journal Excerpt from my hotel room in Amman -
I don't know what to say, or think, or do, or feel, I am so helpless and alone. I have never felt so alone. Where am I? I am nowhere. I'm so weak, and tired, and hungry, but I can't eat, I just can't, I'm too tired and weak. My mind is too convoluted; this must be a dream. It can't be real. Does anyone know where I am? I'm afraid right now, to the point of tears. I want to cry, I would give anything to cry, but I can't seem to do that either. I'm so afraid, but not for my health or my life, but for this loneliness. I didn't know such a brand or extreme of loneliness existed . . . I didn't know a person could feel so alone. It frightens me beyond words to now know these things . . .This room is oppressive, filled with Demonic Spirits. . .I know God is with me and protecting me, and that is all.

I managed to read through Psalm 55 (again) and Psalm 23:4 definitely became more real that night. I wasn't feeling very well at all and I hadn't been eating much. I remember being so very weak. I would later meditate that I had experienced several consecutive incidents of intense loneliness just before entering Israel. Perhaps, God had been preparing me for something.

Oddly enough, for all the calamity of confusion contained within the worst Friday night of my life, the next day would render a comprehensive photonegative. I arrived at the airport without incident, I checked my bags with ease, I was handed a replacement ticket easily and found my gate with tons of time to spare. While waiting for the flight, a middle-aged Jordanian woman and her daughter started a lengthy conversation with me. They were on their way to New York City, where her daughter was graduating from fashion designer's school (they had some major $$$$). They spoke perfect English and it was a joy to hear someone who understood my native tongue. Apart from this conversation, I also toured around the airport a bit and made several other observations:

A note on the Amman airport:
It is difficult not to feel at home here. This airport is cleaner and better organized than many airports in the States. The duty free shops are especially impressive and the service is unbelievable; upscale and trendy, this place reminds me of Nordstrom's.

A note on Jordanian people:
Everyone is helpful and extremely friendly. People here go out of their way to show hospitality and to be helpful. Everyone seems top speak very good English, with only a slight Mid-Eastern accent.

A note on Jordanian woman:
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. . .I have never seen such consistency in appearance. Now that I think about it, it hasn't just been here at the airport, it seems to be everywhere. They have a very "Middle Eastern" look. . . Dark hair with sophisticated highlights, gorgeous eyes, cute smiles, every one well dressed, and absolutely perfect skin. I've never seen anything like their skin. There is either something genetically superior to their skin chromosomes, or they're cakin' foundation with a spatula!

I arrived in Tel Aviv on time and Gil was there to meet me. I was very happy to see him. I was surprised at the way he looked, although I knew he would look different. Dressed in his priestly garb, he seemed almost "official." However, his smile and warm demeanor was still present and that informed me that he was still, "the same ole highman."


different threads. . . same ole' Gil Medina

The entire day was flawless except for a run-in I had with the Israeli Security Police. I wrote about it in my journal.

Journal Excerpt -
When I landed in Israel, I was be-raided and systematically demoralized by the security police, which consisted of a punky and uninformed teenage kid and his supervisor, who incidentally was remarkably close to perfecting the formula for rudeness . . .I was asked scores and scores of questions and I found it very disturbing to feel the suspicion.
Where are you coming from?
Where are you going to?
Why are you going there?
Who will you meet there?
What do they do?
How long has it been since you have seen them?
Since they have been in the country, have they ever left?
Why should I believe you?
What were you doing in Egypt?
Why did you not fly directly from Cairo to Tel Aviv?
Why did you stop for a night in Jordan?

The two most disturbing comments were :

Q: "Are you aware there is a conflict in Israel?
My answer: "Yes, I am aware of the conflict and plan to take special precautions to stay away from the violence."
The answer I wanted to give: "Naw, really? A conflict here? I don't understand. Israel has been such a place of peace. For centuries, there has been such harmony; I can't believe you are saying such things. Then again, I'm not perfect, perhaps my cable was out one night and I missed the little incident that interrupted the countless years of overwhelming stability.

Relating to my ill-fated transfer in Jordan - "Why didn't you tell your travel agency to book you a direct flight - You are an adult (said with sarcasm)

I was not happy with the security police and was held up for almost an hour as they thoroughly examined and interrogated me. It reminded me rather heavily of the gestapos in Nazi Germany. They had no reason to suspect me of anything, but the suspicion was intense. It really disturbed me. In fact, I was quiet the rest of that evening (I also felt pretty sick.)

Gil and I returned to his monastery in Bethlehem and I laid down to take a nap. I got up briefly for dinner, but tried to keep a low profile. I was tired, dehydrated, a little sunburned, and mentally shaken from being stranded in Jordan and be-raided in Israel. What I needed was rest and lots of it. Gil was very kind to let me go to bed early and sleep late the next morning. I slept like a rock! It was wonderful to be safe in the West Bank! (I know that doesn't right, but it is the truth.)


a view of the modern city of Bethlehem


more of Bethlehem

You may download my Israel 2001 screensavers at Webshots

 


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