Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Cathy Alifrangis (the author) of Herndon and Sheryl Asen of Fairfax
Where, when, why: My trip to India was canceled, and I needed to use the plane credit. Sheryl has relatives in Israel whom she hadn’t seen in a long time. I agreed to go there if we also visited Jordan. We traveled Nov. 20 through Dec. 5.
Highlights and high points: Standing on the Mount of Olives and seeing signs of all three religions was remarkable. Watching people get baptized in the River Jordan; their emotions were contagious. Going down into the tunnels under Jerusalem and seeing layers and layers of history. As one guide said, “We live on each other.” Visiting the Wailing Wall, where we watched bat mitzvahs, saw soldiers take their oath to defend Israel and observed people leaving a prayer in the wall for friends and family. And finally, walking through the canyon in Petra and seeing the Treasury for the first time (pictures don’t do it justice), then climbing to the top for a spectacular view of the mountains and valleys. Our bodies ached for days, but it was so worth it.
Cultural connection or disconnect: I am Catholic and had recently taken classes in Islam and Judaism; Sheryl is Jewish. Sharing our faiths was an important component of the trip, as well as experiencing Islam. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus, especially the Via Dolorosa, I felt closer to my faith. Sheryl knew the basics but learned more as I explained the details of each of the Stations of the Cross. She also discovered that the story didn’t end with the resurrection at Easter but continued for another 40 days.
We were there for the eight days of Hanukkah, and her family invited us to a first-night party with more than 50 family members. I also saw several other lightings in public squares, restaurants and hotels. Hanukkah will forever be a wonderful reminder of this trip, and the dreidel her family gave me now hangs on my Christmas tree.
Another cultural experience: hearing about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. We never heard a negative word from the Jews or Arabs we encountered. In fact, many blamed the problem on politicians and extremists, saying the people get along fine. But we did have to pass through checkpoints to enter Bethlehem and Jericho and saw odd happenings, such as an ambulance from inside the Palestinian territory of the West Bank taking a sick person to the border to be transferred to an Israeli ambulance for medical treatment. I pray that someday this issue will be addressed successfully.
Biggest laugh or cry: I had been on camels and donkeys before, but watching Sheryl experience each animal for the first time was a treat.
How unexpected: So many people could not understand why we would travel to that area of the world, but we never felt nervous or uncomfortable. It was odd, however, to not hear Christmas carols or see decorations.
Fondest memento or memory: I bought a mosaic table of the Tree of Life from a Jordanian organization for the disabled. I also cherished my time getting to know Sheryl’s family, who are wonderful ambassadors of their religion and country. I now have “family” there.
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