The Middle East is such a shit show right now. Even when I was working in the news business I could barely keep track of what acronym was associated with what terror organization, mostly because I was being personally terrorized by the relentless tag team of Lindsay Lohan and Justin Bieber. But now that I’m just a passive consumer of news, there are even more terrorists contend with. We call it ISIS in the West and it’s known as DAESH in the East. Not to leave out Boko Haram, al-Shabab or whatever other terror upstart is trending these days. That said, I didn’t have any major issues in the Arab world this time around. Well, nothing compared to my “Bethlehem is burning” experience from last fall. (If you want a refresher, here’s that blog post.)
I went back to Jordan for what I thought would be Easter. Turns out they celebrate it a week later than the states so I missed it, along with the holiday meal I was looking forward to for about 6 months. Even though it was nice to be back with family in Amman, my visit coincided with the sudden death of a relative. Within days, family members were flying in from all over the world to pay their respects. Relatives I hadn’t seen in many years were suddenly right in front of me, wondering why the hell I was in Jordan but knowing it wasn’t the time or place to catch up.
The funeral was horribly sad; made worse by the old arabic traditions still being practiced. Even though my family is mostly Christian, the priest separated the men and women. We were facing each other with the casket in the middle and the priest was the only one who spoke. I was told later he was mostly reciting prayers but eventually said a few nice words about my relative. A major departure from the memorial services I’m accustomed to in the states; where friends and family often tell stories about their loved ones and it’s ok to smile and even laugh while remembering the good times they shared. I asked some of my family from the states why the men and women were separated. A shrug, followed by “I guess it’s tradition” was the only answer I got. Yet, at weddings, mass and other religious functions, men and woman are permitted to mix. I don’t mean to paint the entire Middle East with the same brush here, but something as simple as being able to be consoled by your husband or wife while you mourn the loss of a loved one still hasn’t been addressed within the Catholic community, at least at this particular church.
Division.That’s the word that comes to mind when I think about my experiences in the Arab world. The people are divided. The men from the women. The Christians from the Muslims. The Jews from basically everyone else. My own family is segregated for religious reasons. Something I’m told I can’t understand because I’m not religious. But isn’t it because I’m not religious that I don’t care about religion? Doesn’t that make me uniquely qualified to give no fucks whether my extended family is Christian, Muslim or Jewish? Maybe my “meh” feeling toward religion is the very reason I’m the only cousin out of 21 on my Dad’s side to ever meet any of the other 7 still living in Jordan. (For those keeping track… that’s 28 total. Ridiculous, I know.) Out of respect for my family, I won’t go into more detail because even though I choose to share my life online, most people value their privacy. (Weird.) And I also don’t want to negatively affect my chances of eating home cooked meals at future holiday dinners. I’m sure I’m already pushing my luck with my non religious attitude.
None of this post will come as a surprise to people who have spent time in the Middle East, or have any Arab blood running through their veins. But for the rest of you… This is just normal here. When you read about all of these terror groups and their relentless attacks on all things western, it might seem insane. Most Americans can’t even fathom having that kind of hate toward entire groups of people. Of course we have our own problems in the states with racism and our history with slavery, but the hate here is in a category all its own. I went to Lebanon from Jordan and had to lie about ever being in Israel. Lebanese people aren’t even technically allowed to interact with anyone from Israel for any reason. And the crazy thing about it is that no one seems to think it’s odd. I mentioned to some people I met in a bar that Beirut reminded me of Tel Aviv and I got “shhhh’d” with the same urgency as if I had just voiced my plans to overthrow the government.
After barely making it out of Lebanon without being arrested for almost forgetting to deny I had been to Israel, I went to Cyprus, which also has its own set of conflicts. Half of the island is controlled by Turkey and the other half, Greece. But it’s so close to the Middle East that there is a lot of arab influence. Now I’m in Egypt, my 29th country in just under 11 months. But more on that next time.