Jordan, Israel, and Palestine = September 28 – October 18, 2008
The Holy Land. The Land of Milk and
Honey. Jerusalem, Gethsemane, Bethlehem, Petra, Mt. Nebo, The Promised Land, and the Dead Sea. Religious stories, history, and politics all in one tightly-wound place.
Chicago to Amman, Sunday, September 28, 2008
We began talking about this trip a year ago. Despite that, the details came together rather late. The day of our departure, I was still making arrangements. I didn’t even begin packing until a few hours before we left for the airport.
We were nervous about this trip. The “Holy Land” brought to mind images of stone throwing, skeletons of blasted buses, and bleeding, crying people stumbling from bombed-out buildings. Add to that the fact that our economy was crashing–everyday there was news of another bank failing, another dismal Dow day, another company laying off thousands of workers. Plus this was one of those trips we call a “working vacation”: a location requiring mental and physical exertion…a very different culture, hiking, climbing, and two languages each with their own alphabets and reading right-to-left.
We packed light in two new backpacks–4 pairs of pants, 8 shirts, a rain jacket, a fleece, the Blackberry now enabled as a phone–to keep in touch with calls and with a new app called Twitter…”just in case”, 2 cameras, a video camera and lots of memory cards. I even left the film camera behind…a first for me! Our packs *together* weighed only 22 kg.
The Royal Jordanian flight left Chicago around 9 p.m. on Saturday night from the International Terminal. The area before security bustled with activity–bars, restaurants and shopping. On the other side of security, it was eerily quiet and empty. We bought big bottles of water for the ride and walked the long hallways. A man knelt quietly in a corner performing his prayers towards Mecca. A woman with everything but her face covered walked with a little girl dressed in a short frilly pink dress and a miniature head scarf.
About 10 TSA agents were on duty at the gate–scrutinizing each and every passenger. No pleasantries, no smiles, just a hard stare at your face, your baggage, your every move–some people were motioned over for a carry-on bag search. It took a long time to board the plane. And it was full. Overhead bins stuffed to the max, many seats filled with moms holding children in their laps.
We pulled away from the gate around 9:30 p.m. and drove slowly to the runway. The old plane took its time picking up speed and lifting off…and then took a scary amount of time to elevate. It would be 12 hours before we landed in Amman.
The plane was old–small, shared screens showed a few movies, exercise videos, and the occasional flight map to tell everyone where we were. The flight map always started with a diagram of the location of Mecca’s Kaaba in relation to the plane. We were served dinner shortly after take-off. And we settled into seats 8A & 8B with our neck pillows, water, and things to read. Lap children were laid out to sleep across their parents on the seat-back tray tables. Because it was Ramadan and we had only had a few hours of night, Ramadan fasters were offered another meal just before we passed into daylight again. The flight attendants asked in both Arabic and English, “Are you going to fast?”
The night and day flight passed slowly. Reading. Sore eyes. Headache. Getting up to stand for a bit. Dozing. Saw bits of the 3 movies: the new Indiana Jones, Leatherheads and a Jackie Chan movie. And finally, we began the descent. I opened the window shade to see white houses in the red brown earth of Israel and Jordan.
We landed around 5 p.m. in Amman. Paid our 10 JD (1 Jordanian Dinar is ~$1.40 U.S.) to get our Visas, waited an eternity for our bags and finally–headed out to meet our ride.