Monday, June 28, 2010

Troubles With Some Local Boys Back at Camp

     I can't say I was all that happy to get back to camp, but we had made some friends over the weeks and it was good to see them. We were still complaining up at Area A about all sorts of things, but we were having fun too! Second breakfast seemed to be getting worse. While we looked forward to the 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 break, our boiled eggs and bread were getting old in more ways than one.  Jordanian flat bread is delicious when it's fresh and soft, but miserly Dr. Mare would buy it old to start with, and then we'd have to eat it until it was gone. Some days we just couldn't, and on those days we'd take to "Frisbee" throwing the hardened round pieces off the Tell to see how far they'd fly. At least the bread made for some cheap entertainment! J and I regularly bought a brand of Austrian sandwich cookies that we'd have every day out on the Tell, and they'd be our little bit of sweet chocolate that we were missing so very much on this trip. We did eat a lot of fresh tomatoes, but like I said earlier, our "dig" salt was useless, though J did manage to find us our own supply and bring it out to the Tell for 2nd breakfast. We just wanted some decent salt on our tomatoes and cold hard boiled eggs. Still, the daily grind of getting up early, working until 1:00 when it was too hot to even breathe, and then returning to camp and more bad food, awful toilets and showers, and several more hours of camp work before finally getting an hour or two at night of quiet time before flopping down on our foam mattress beds to pass out for maybe 5 hours of sleep before starting it all over again was getting tiresome beyond belief. I felt like I was growing more and more selfish as the days slowly passed. I was beginning to hoard and hide (and read: Not SHARE) salt, cookies, peanut butter, cold water, or anything else that I perceived to be a luxury. If I had been back at home I wouldn't have even cared, but here it was different. Life was hard. These things were MINE, and if anyone else wanted what I had they could go into Irbid and get it themselves! But oh my god! I was acting like a two year old! Or better yet, an amoeba!  I thought I was a person who was perfectly easy to get along with, that everyone could like, no problem; but honestly, looking back, I'm thinking in retrospect that I'm probably not the kind of person you'd want to be with in a really bad situation. I can turn really ugly! I might not say anything, or even do anything, but I'd have a big black ugly spot right in the center of my heart! And heck, who knows? If those eight weeks had turned into eight months, I might have taken to actually committing acts of violence! I mean, how well do any of us really know ourselves? Try it. Just put yourself into a really hard situation for a given length of time and see what happens!

Thankfully, there were a couple of people that I felt kindly towards, and they made camp life (and life on the Tell) a little more bearable. However, there were a few people I was growing to hate. For example, there were these two teenage sisters (I think they were around 15 and 17 years old) at the camp whose mom supervised Area AA. She was busy that summer (and from what I gathered, for several summers) having an affair with the Director of Antiquities. While I know that he had two wives, I think he was allowed four, and so pursuing a woman while he was married was not breaking any laws for him (except for the small fact that she was not Muslim!). Several evenings each week he would come and pick her up at the camp in his oversized SUV (which made a statement all its own to the local "peons" that he was very wealthy and important). Who knows what all they'd do, but many a night he would bring her back late, or else he'd hang out himself for several hours before heading back home. And I'm pretty certain that he picked her up on many weekends too. She lived at our camp with all the women and married couples, so I got to witness their comings and goings first hand. Of course, she always looked very happy. He was from a very important, prestigious tribe, and so was "big" in many ways! Unfortunately, (because of this?) her two daughters seemed to think they could do anything they wanted, and so broke every camp rule we had concerning going off alone, and being "friends" with the local boys. It was dig camp policy to not in any way "encourage" the boys' attention, as they would eventually cause disruption of all sorts, which they did. Since these girls were such flirts, and since word spread pretty rapidly that they were "easy," about 20 guys at any given time came from all over the area to our camp to "play soccer" and ogle these American babes. This they would do during our afternoon nap time, which meant that while we needed to keep as much air as possible flowing through our rooms, and thus needed to keep our doors open, there was no way we were going to get any sleep. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh. Unfortunately for us, our room on the first floor overlooked the school yard, which became their playing field. And, to top it all off, they were thieves. Personal belongings and money began disappearing while we were away during the day. Warnings went out, precautions were taken, and those two girls were reminded of the rules of acceptable behavior, while their mother was informed of their misbehavior. All, seemingly, to no avail. Apparently, the three of them thrived on male attention!

       And if this weren't enough, these same two girls would again, without regards to the culture they were in, walk up and down the road between camps all by themselves without any chaperones. Then they'd get all upset when truckloads of boys would drive by and yell obscenities and throw rotten tomatoes at them! What did they expect? In that culture, especially where we were so far out in the country, teenage girls would NEVER be allowed to walk around without being escorted by an older woman or a male relative. Thus, the assumption was that these girls were "bad." Otherwise, someone would have been taking care to watch over them, and since no one obviously was, there could only be one explanation. Plus they weren't covered! Those shameless little hussies would walk around in short sleeved t-shirts, with no scarves on their heads, sometimes in shorts.  In Arab culture they were as good as whores, and so they were being treated as such! The only reason they weren't raped is because they were part of the American group digging at Abila, and as such, under government protection. Just like the story of the guy on leave from the Army who attacked one of the American women several years back, these boys would have been tried, convicted, and sentenced immediately if they would have laid even one finger on those girls, and it was that alone that saved their little butts. Personally, I wanted to wring their necks! Their own mother couldn't keep them under control. Of course, nuts don't fall far from the tree, if you know what I mean! Trouble followed them out to the dig, and while I don't remember exactly what area they were working in (it wasn't ours or their mother's), I do recall complaints being made that boys incessantly hung out too much where they didn't belong because of them. It's sometimes easy to fall back into the archaic thinking that if girls act or dress in a certain way then they are just asking for "it," and thus deserve whatever they get. That's the way it is in most Arab cultures. Males are not held accountable for their deviant behavior. They can't help themselves, after all. I knew that those two girls weren't asking for anything more than some attention, and that they might have wanted that more from their mother (or father). Who knows? But I was sick and tired of their self-centeredness. Their lack of regard for the larger group. And Dr. Mare didn't care because he didn't have to deal with it. So it was just one more thing that became J's problem, and mine. Sometimes I thought this whole dig thing majorly sucked, and that J must surely be insane! Why else would he keep coming back?

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Farewell to Israel

     The next day we had to head back across the border into Jordan, and I was glad. I was ready to leave.  This was not my promised land, and I knew that it would take awhile for me to digest all that I had seen and felt, and thought about this place. It's hard to even write about it, to try to capture it, to do it justice when so many people have visited there, many on their own pilgrimages. Millions of visitors to Israel have been spiritually moved by their experiences, so for me to say that I had mixed emotions about it seems almost heretical. But I don't want to lie. I don't even want to exaggerate. Not this. It's too important. This land is a part of my Judeo-Christian heritage, and so it does mean something. It just didn't feel right is all I'm saying. It didn't seem as holy as I expected it to be, or as I wanted it to be. It seemed sick. Like it had been cut off from something living. Its past and its glory were being remembered; it was being excavated, dissected, researched, and written about. It was being cried over, argued over, fought over. But no one can bring that past back! You can dig it up, put it in a museum. You can preach sermons about it. You can teach history lessons about it. But you can't go back. History keeps being made. And now, Israel needs weapons and money to survive. Now, its climate is more political than it is religious. And I guess that's what I felt. And I was ready to go crawl back into my hole at Abila, the one I was digging that dated further back in time to before Moses was called to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the "Promised Land;" to before the temple was ever even built; to before Jerusalem was burnt to the ground; to before, before . . what? How far back does one have to dig to find even one civilization that existed before mankind started being so arrogant, so selfish, so greedy, so quarrelsome?

     Well, I was headed back across Israel's border again, a border defended by scattered land mines, razor wire fences, and automatic machine guns. What was I even doing here? Learning something useful? Seeing things for myself so that I might become more interested in history, in the Bible, in politics? So that I could go back home, back to my church and say that I had been to the Holy Land? And share what message? Tell people what? In the end, I didn't have to worry because J would take care of all that. Me? I just needed to be still.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Touring More of Israel

     Friday was spent getting to Israel, crossing the border, checking into our room at ASOR, and then walking around the predominantly Arab area of East Jerusalem, close to where we were staying. Saturday was our visit inside the walls of the Old City, and to the Mount of Olives, as well as to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I particularly liked visiting Bethlehem, as it was less crowded. And while it was still hard to imagine Jesus being born in a manger where what is now an underground "basement" area of the church, I knew it had to have happened close by, even if not in that exact spot. And the same with his crucifixion and burial in Jerusalem. As most people are aware, Catholics and Protestants in general disagree as to whether Jesus was crucified at the top of the hill which is now encased inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or a little ways away at the Garden Tomb, which at least looks more likely, whether it is or not.

Now for some reason almost no one was at the Church of the Nativity when we were there, and so we had a much better experience. We didn't have to wait in a single line, which made it easier to get our minds around what had taken place here some 2000 years ago. Of course Bethlehem itself is no longer a small remote village (Bethlehem was not then a Palestinian Territory), and as can be expected, one street close to the church had a row of shops that sold to tourists, and to that end I couldn't help but buy a few souvenirs. In a shop right across the street from the church I ended up buying a bunch of olive wood nativity Christmas ornaments (which I have given out over the years as presents), plus I bought myself one really cool souvenir, something I have worn everyday for the last 16 years since I purchased it -- a thick silver and black band ring with silver flowers adorning it. I call it my Bethlehem ring, and it's a constant reminder to me that Jesus was born into this world in the flesh to save me and all the rest of mankind until the end of time. I especially appreciate it on days when I feel a whole lot like I could use rescuing! When I'm lonely, broken and tired, short of money and short of hope, when I've run out of answers, when I feel no peace! When I need the living waters of grace and love to flow over and through my weary, dried up soul. I need a living God! I need communion with the Divine. I need to let Him do His thing. Get out of His way. Let Him be God. Remember my place in the universe. Remember that my only job is to love Him and love my neighbor.  And I need that reminder here, in this strange, holy land. That somewhere in all the mess over here in this part of the world, Christ was born, he lived, he preached, he loved, he laughed, he listened, he got angry, he pitied, he healed, and he wept. Then he was crucified and buried (and it's not important exactly where). But then, he rose. He's not here in this place. He was raised from the dead, and if I can't feel him in all this mess, well, then maybe at night under the stars at Abila, or in the desert, or back at home, or in my car driving along the highway, or at a friend's house, or in the woods, or in a sunset, or on a mountaintop, or at the ocean, or at school . . . Or on my knees. And Christians everywhere are arguing about the details. And the Jews are still waiting for a Deliverer, and the Muslims say that there is only one God and Muhammed is his prophet. And they fight and they hate, and there is no peace.

   On Friday, the Muslims go to the Mosque to pray, and it's their holy day; and on Saturday, the Jews go to Synagogue, and it's their holy day; and on Sunday, the Christians go to church, and it's their holy day. And so for three days in a row God gets special recognition from these His children who do not get along with each other. But today is Sunday, and we can easily rent a car and travel, as there is less reverence for this day and everything's open for business. So we get a small car with yellow license plates, meaning our car has been registered in Israel (as opposed to the Palestinians who have white plates) and therefore we can more easily travel throughout Israel, Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements, though we will stand out like a sore thumb in the Palestinian Territories. For the most part, while we will be close to the Gaza Strip when we're at Ashkelon, we will stay away from there, though we pretty much have to drive through Jericho Sunday night after dark, as that's about the only way to get back to Jerusalem. There's no way we can make it back earlier, as we need the entire day to go everywhere we have planned. One of the Catholic priests who was at Abila with us also came to Jerusalem this same weekend (also staying at ASOR, THE place for archaeologists to hobnob), and he spent Saturday with us inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was super cool because he knew all the nooks and crannies of the place, and took us into areas that most tourists do not get to see. (Plus he knew where there was a portrait painting of God the Father, and I had always wondered what he might look like! Well, you know, there are tons of pictures of His son, but none of Him. And not surprisingly, he was depicted as being white, elderly, Anglo-Saxon.) So we invited Father L along with us on our Sunday sightseeing trip, which made me feel a little safer, maybe because he was a priest, or maybe because there was more safety in numbers (and because he was a priest)! Besides, this trip was still not feeling like that much of a honeymoon, so who cared if a priest tagged along!

     Now, when I think about all the places we went, I don't see for the life of me how we did all this in one day, so it's possible that I'm a little confused here. I am relying rather heavily on photographs that I took from that year to remind me of everything we did, or otherwise I might get that trip mixed up with others I've taken since. But in any case, I know I'm not wrong about where we went that particular summer. It's just that we might have taken two days to do what I'm about to tell you, instead of one, though in all honesty, J could squeeze more sightseeing into one day than anybody else would ever dream of trying to do! So, if you're not a stickler for an exact itinerary, then we're good. Here goes.
      At some point we headed south towards the Dead Sea, though we didn't stop. We drove through groves and groves of date palms, which I thought were quite beautiful; and we drove to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and where I, in typical tourist fashion, took a camel ride (you might say I was suckered into making a fool of myself, which J caught on camera!); then, pointed in some direction or other, we drove through the Judean Desert, where there is absolutely nothing for miles and miles as far as the eye can see (though its magnificence was astounding!); then we turned north, making one quick stop (much to my husband's chagrin) to walk around and peer in the gate at Beit She'an (only one of the finest archaeological sites in the country!) and then continued on towards the Sea of Galilee (or, Lake Kinneret) and Tiberias, where we visited the Church of the Bread and Fishes and the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, places where Jesus fed 5000 pilgrims with 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish, and the spot where Jesus made Peter the "Shepherd of his People." Of course we ate lunch overlooking the sea, each of us ordering the famous St. Peter's fish, which comes on your plate complete with head and bulging eyes looking straight at you; never mind that you have to skin and fillet the darn thing before you can begin eating it. WAY too much work! Oh, and I almost forgot -- you do get fries with that! (I want to comment here that, really, everyone should try it at least once just so they can say they've had the same fish from the Sea of Galilee that Peter and the other disciples caught, and that which Jesus multiplied, even though in my opinion it's much too salty besides its being generally overall disgusting! Sitting across the water on that steep bank listening to Jesus speak, I would have probably asked if I could just have more bread, please! Sorry. But I doubt if I'm the first person who has not liked it!) 

     Okay, after our delightful lunch we took a boat ride on the sea, but because we couldn't wait around for more tourists to show up, or afford our own private tour, we ended up on a boat full of Arabs having some sort of party celebration -- music, dancing, and the works! I have to say that all this gaiety detracted quite a bit from my ability to just sit in awe and reflect on the significance and profundity of where I was! Aargh! We did, however, experience a very nice breeze and lots of waves, which aided me in better understanding how rough the sea could get, and thus how scary it might be if a person or persons were on a small boat like the ones used for fishing during Jesus' time. From our boat, once we crossed the water, we could see the Mount of Beatitudes (where Jesus delivered his sermon on the mount) and Capernaum (where Peter lived and where Jesus might have preached in the synagogue). During our little venture I tried hard several times to picture Jesus walking on the water, or sleeping in a rocky boat as Peter and the gang became terrified out of their wits by a storm that had very quickly brewed up on the sea; but, alas, Arab music and everybody's loud talk and laughter kept disturbing my imaginings. This is what happens when you're poor and trying to save money but still see and do as much as possible. But all in all, it was way better than not going. Once we were happily deposited back on land, we drove around to the other side of the lake where we could see the Golan Heights up over our heads, as we made our way to a Kibbutz where Father L knew some "Kubbitzniks" (people who live and work on a Kibbutz). From there I think we must have driven back to Jerusalem by way of Jericho (which I do recall, as it was close to midnight, the roads were desolate, and I was sleepy and scared!).

     But this is why I think we might have spent two days touring: at some point we drove with Father L along the Jordan River. I know this for certain because we stopped at a nice quiet spot and Father L blessed my new Jerusalem cross, the one that I had just purchased.  I figured, why not, as the water from the Jordan is supposed to be holy, and people use it to bless all sorts of things, and while I wasn't Catholic (though I was once for a very short time back when I was 18), I figured that it wouldn't hurt to ask the priest I had right there with me to do me the honors, which he graciously did! And now, while I remember the sun setting on us at the Kibbutz, I also remember J and I driving to Ashkelon and watching the sun go down there over the Mediterranean Sea as we ate dinner.

      I realize that I am rather confused by our long weekend getaway, but let's not forget that I was a tad worn down, both physically and emotionally, and squeezing so much activity into my every waking moment made my days seem to more or less run together. But I do recall how perfectly that sunset dinner inspired feelings of romance, though I have no recollections of anything happening once we got back to our room. Now HOW could I have forgotten THAT?  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jerusalem, The Holy City

     So there I was in Jerusalem! I suppose most people would love to go there at some point in their lives, and I too was happy to be there, and to have such an experience before I had even turned 40 (I was still in my mid thirties, which now seems like a baby!), but I was starting to get really pooped out! I was on the adventure of my life and here I was, completely exhausted! But, as my beloved J would often say, "You can rest when you're dead." Or maybe that was "rest when you get back home" and "sleep all you want when you're dead." Whatever. So, once we were dropped off at ASOR, we went in, said our hellos to the staff, and found our room. I might have sat down for one minute (probably on the toilet, which is sometimes a good place to just sit and rest, and because I could seeing how these were western toilets!). But alas, there was only so much time, and lots to see, so off we went!
     ASOR is situated in the Muslim section of Jerusalem, which having just arrived from Jordan, made me feel right at home as we ventured out into the streets. Not too much new too quickly. But for those of you waiting for me to begin a diatribe about how holy and godly the whole place was, here's the thing -- I know that many tourists (millions maybe?) go to Jerusalem every year because it's supposed to be one of THE most holy cities in the world. For Christians, for Muslims, and for Jews. And I'm certain that it once was and still is, I guess, but in all honesty (and it scares me to be this honest, and has even caused me a bit of writer's block), I never felt its "holiness." Not once. I felt, instead, its lack (or loss) of holiness. Maybe this was because I was tired. Maybe I was in some sort of culture shock and my system was on sensory overload. Maybe it was because I was a new convert and didn't have the right attitude. I don't know. I WAS fascinated, though, if that counts.  We walked all around the area we were staying in that first evening before heading back to our room. We even "toured" the ASOR complex, which was exciting as well, as some very famous 20th century archaeologists have stayed there. Let me just drop some names right here, as I was feeling closer to them than to God (at least for the time being): William Foxworth Albright, Nelson Glueck, Cab Calloway, Hershel Shanks, Bill Dever, Al Hoerth, Larry Stager, John Pinkerton, Eric and Carol Myers. I'm leaving out lots of people, both dead and living, I know, but, like I said, I'm no archaeologist, so I'm impressed with myself that I know the names of even these (plus, I'm using the term "famous" loosely, as you may or may not be guessing). But most of these esteemed men and women have passed through these same doors and have eaten and slept in this same place. And here I was! I even had the most delightful chat with Bill Dever's ex-wife one morning out in the courtyard. She had much to say about her ex, and though I see she's currently typing up his manuscripts and papers for him again, at that time she had very little nice to say about him! (You know, all the other women and all. Typical egomaniacal male prowess.) And besides, Bill Dever's an ex-Church of Christ guy (his dad was a preacher) who became so disillusioned with Christianity that he almost single-handedly dispelled the notion of "Biblical Archaeology," though he had to retract a little of what he said since both interest in archaeology and funding by church people began drying up.  Jerk! Okay, enough of that! All of that was my own interpretation anyway (I'm thinking I need to say that for legal protection. I don't know.) What I'm really doing here is putting off the inevitable explanation as to why I didn't like Jerusalem all that much once I got there. And yes, I was a little mad that I couldn't feel all that impressed by it!

     Here's what I saw: I saw lots and lots of people, everywhere. Up and down the streets, Arabs, Israelis, European Jews, New York City Jews, tourists, "pilgrims." And I saw an ancient city built on top of an even more ancient city, now quartered off by different religious sects. In the Christian Quarter I heard voices whispering that under this glass lay a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on, while a piece of the stone that sealed his tomb lay under another; In the Jewish Quarter I saw men and women, who were separated by gender, placing their prayers on folded paper into the cracks and crevices of a wall, tears streaming down their faces as they cried for a Deliverer, mourning the destruction of the Temple Mount, or who knows what, some with phylacteries wrapped around their arms and foreheads, reminding them to stay close to the law; I stepped over vendors' wares as they were lined up and down the Damascus Gate, selling everything from food to underwear to hats to jewelry to cheap souvenirs; J and I bartered with a shopkeeper for an olive wood nativity set and a silver Jerusalem cross as we walked along the Via Dolorosa where we were followed by young Arab boys who wanted to "give" us tours. (One kid over at the Mount of Olives even wanted me to pay him for an olive leaf he had handed me, but I flung it back at him, telling him he could just keep it!)

    Back inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre my nose and lungs were filled with the smells of body odor, mixed with the smoke of lighted candles and incense that hung thick in the air, as people stood in long lines, shoving and yelling, or else whispering and praying their rosaries quietly, crying as they knelt beside erected shrines made of gilded saints. In the Muslim Quarter, the Dome of the Rock was closed off due to recent Israeli and Arab conflicts, so that no one was allowed to visit, as there had been "trouble" of some sort earlier. We could see the renovated cupola of the Mosque of Omar, gleaming gold with the pride of King Hussein, Protector of the Holy Shrines, the place where Mohammad ascended into heaven, and the hill where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed. While outside the Damascus Gate I saw soldiers lined up, cocking their guns in preparation for a trip to Gaza. Everywhere outside the walls of the Old City I saw guns. I have experienced so much more holiness in so many other places I have been, and while I wanted to experience it here, and so many people seemed to be able to, I just couldn't! All I could think of were the words of Jesus (Mathew 23:37 and Luke 19:41-44) who wept as he looked out over the city, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I have longed to gather you up like chicks to a hen, but you were not willing. If you in your turn had only understood on this day the message of peace! But, alas, it is hidden from your eyes!" And that was what I felt. Separation, sorrow, and discord.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Crossing the Border into Israel

     During the dig Dr. Mare gave the volunteer workers one long weekend off, so J and I took advantage of it to make a quick trip to Israel. While we were in Amman the weekend before, we had gotten our visas (at the consulate over by the multi-storied mall complex), as we would not be entering from the US, and so were set to go the following weekend. I cannot begin to say how excited I was to make this journey, though I was a little scared as well. We were going to cross the Jordanian/Israeli border at the Allenby Bridge (though why we did not cross further north at Beit She'an, or the Peace Bridge, is beyond me), and there was trouble brewing in Israel, as there so often is. I had heard stories about how the Israelis often pulled individuals aside and questioned them as to where exactly they were going in Israel and what they planned on doing, and why. I had heard of people getting stuck at the border for days while their passports and luggage were both taken from them. I also knew that we were not allowed to take any pictures at the border. I felt unbelievably queezy about leaving Jordan, where I had begun to feel somewhat safe and comfortable. But still, bible studies had taught me to think of Israel as the promised land, the land of milk and honey, the land God had promised the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 34:1-6) when he chose Moses to lead them out of Egypt, though God never allowed Moses to go in because of his arrogance and disobedience. Fortunately, God did allow Moses to see it from Mt. Nebo in Jordan, where years later I also would catch a glimpse of the panoramic view of the Promised Land.  But now here I was, fearful that I, too, might not be allowed in! What is your destination? Jerusalem. Where will you be staying? At the American School of Oriental Research (ASOR), in the Old City. For how long? Three days. For what reason are you visiting Israel? We're tourists. What were you doing in Jordan? We're on an archaeology dig. We got some time off. Do you want your passport stamped? No, thank you; we will be returning to Jordan. Had we had them stamped, we would not have been allowed to reenter Jordan, nor would we have ever been allowed into Syria (who still refuses to recognize Israel as a nation, and while we weren't certain our travels would ever lead us there, we were hopeful, and one never knows anyway what the future holds in store), and so, instead, we opted to have a single piece of paper stamped and slipped in between the pages of our passports. This, I felt regret over, as mine eventually got lost, and to this day, after many trips to Israel, I still have no actual "proof" that I have ever been there except for pictures I have taken and souvenirs I have purchased. (I have never entered from there, but have always crossed over into Israel from Jordan, and have always left by way of Jordan or Eilat, Egypt.)
    Surprisingly (at least to some), was that the Israeli and Palestinian flags were both flying high at the border crossing, which indicated that some headway was being made in regards to their peace treaties, though much remained unsettled (as it still does today!). Peace talks had begun in 1991 in Oslo, and in 1993 Israel and the PLO had announced their agreement to negotiate Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and the Jericho area, as well as the Gaza Strip, though still by 1994 Israel had yet to fully pull out of all of these territories. Because of all the changes and unrest (there were still plenty of uprisings and terrorist attacks), crossing at the Allenby Bridge into Palestinian territory was a little more "adventurous." Of course we had to leave our Jordanian transportation, cross the border on a shuttle bus, and then make new arrangements to continue on the Israeli trek of our journey. All of our luggage, as well as our persons, had to be inspected by armed customs officers, and then, of course, both transit and bank fees had to be paid. (This is the hardest, most expensive, and scariest country I have ever entered or exited.) Thankfully, a sherut (shared) taxi was sitting there waiting for visitors who hadn't made prior transportation arrangements, though the driver would not make the trip with only the two of us, so we had to wait until there were at least three more people needing a taxi. Before we departed we all had to be clear on and agree to the fare, then wait as the luggage was loaded up, after which we each climbed in, and off we went, a couple of hours later. Finally, we were on our way to Jerusalem, where unbeknownst to me, troops were preparing to storm Gaza. But at that point, I was just glad to be away from where I was!