Monday, August 25, 2008

Ten years ago today...

...I stepped on a plane and it landed me in a realm that altered my reality forever after. My hair was newly shorn into a pixie cut (I wasn't going to waste a moment of my Grand Adventure messing with my stupid hair.) I was quite sure that I would make no friends, but I only half cared.

I thought that I would be studying Hebrew and reveling in the history and traditions of the Jews.

I ended up studying Arabic and reveling in the history and traditions of the Arabs.

I watched a Jewish bris being performed in an ancient mosque under armed guard.

I was mistaken for a man and pulled into the men's dance at a Muslim wedding. It felt more privilege than insult.

I was served Thanksgiving turkey at a Jewish kibbutz. It was garnished with lit sparklers and red, white, and blue streamers, which is only charming when you're on a Jewish kibbutz.

I lived in a date palm grove and gathered white clamshells from the Sea of Galilee. I'm quite sure young Jesus liked to gather shells there, too.

I stood in the ruins of synagogue where Jesus had blasphemed. I finally understood: he was a radical and rebel. It blew my tidy little Christian mind.

I visited a school for orphans funded and run by Palestinian women.

I watched Jewish children sweetly blessed by their parents over Sabbath candles.

I was ushered into a cab by young men trying to spare clueless Americans the violence that was about to erupt in the streets.

I picked a pomegranate from the tree in my balcony garden and ate it while looking out over Jerusalem's temple mount.

I discovered that having to scrub pomegranate juice out of your white Sunday shirt almost cancels out the romance of eating exotic fruits while looking at exotic views.

I rode a camel named Michael Jackson.

I learned that camels, like Las Vegas, are more charming from a distance, though still worth a try.

I met an Egyptian cab driver who only charged once you'd found fun in his city. Told us about his children while we ate ice cream. Wouldn't let us buy him any.

I was henna tattooed in a dimly lit perfume shop by a veiled woman with lean, elegant hands.

I considered visiting a Turkish bath, but chickened out. Don't regret it.*

I failed to master the high art of shofar blowing. Do regret it.

I floated in the thick vinaigrette that is the Dead Sea. "Medicinal" my a--. Ohhh, what a rash.

I almost met George W. Bush. Thankfully he flaked out at the last minute.**

I almost saw President Clinton. He parked his airplane next to ours.

I was told by a Jewish woman that Israel was becoming the same racist, insular menace that the Jews were fleeing after World War II.

I was taught by a Palestinian professor that the minute you think you know who is right in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you know that you don't know the whole story.

I saw the bottom of the Red Sea. It's covered with coral reefs and shimmery fishies. Much prettier than the Charleton Heston version.

I watched the sun rise from the top of Mount Sinai, and craggy eternity caught fire.

And after the fire, a still, small voice.

*My more courageous fellow travelers told harrowing tales of violent exfoliation practices...

**Though I confess I was miffed at the time.


wynne said...

Whoa. You rode Michael Jackson.

wynne said...

I once read that the Red Sea is one of the best places in the world to snorkel...or go diving, whatever.

Wonderful reminiscence, there, Marie. A joy to read!

I wish you lived in the same state as me. Maybe even the same city...I miss you!

plainoldsarah said...

now those are some darn good stories! way to share!

Hey, It's Ansley said...

Oh Marie! What a wondeful trip. So glad you have all these memories to share. Whenever I finally make it over there, I'll be sure to get travel ideas from you.

Carvel said...

Thanks for this touching (retrospective?) on that semester, Marie.
I'm proud to say that I have finally started reading the exciting (to persons interested in religion & history) and eye-opening book, "Islam: A Short History", by Karen Armstrong. I'm amazed at how little I knew about Muhammad, the Koran, the essentials of Islam, & "much, much more." After I finish this book, it will be interesting to browse some of her other books on the monotheistic religions, and perhaps even her books about transitioning from a Catholic convent into the secular world. I enjoy being shown Christianity from the perspective of a muslim or a scholar of religious history.

sharonsfriendjen said...

Marie! Hello! This is one of the best posts. I was living through you. You have had the most interesting experiences and a phenomenal life. I would love to write your bio, 1. because I could live vacriously through your tales of adventures and 2. We would make a fortune because everyone would want a copy of the book. :)

Jessica said...

I did not know this about you. What was all of this? 10 years ago I was on my mission, so... had you graduated? Or was it a study abroad? It sounds fabulous.

Marie said...

Wynne -- I miss you too!

Sarah -- thanks!

Ansley -- My main travel advice for the Middle East is: when a large group of young men start congregating in the street, don't stop to ask what's going on -- just run.

Dad -- I love how openminded you are; I hope your siblings will follow your lead.

Jen -- It felt pretty cool to me, but it's only enough really adventurous adventure to fill a pamphlet :) And compared to most Middle East travelers we were quite sheltered.

Jess -- It was the fall semester at the BYU Jerusalem Center, right before I graduated.