Thursday, September 4, 2008

and they lived happily ever after

With grateful hearts and calloused feet, we turn our eyes toward home. Speaking of eyes, am I or am I not staring at Wanida in the photo above? Hold that thought. You see, we've bittersweetly come to the end of our story here, and closure calls for revelation and resolution, so time travel with us back to the beginning in February--no, not six and a half months ago, but eight and a half years ago in February of 2000.

What's the punchline? That the ingredients of our relationship and adventures started coming together not on February 19th when we departed LAX, nor a year ago when we began charting a course around the globe, but on Valentine's Day weekend in the year 2000 when, over a year before we ever met, our hearts shared the same camera space! Once upon a time well into our relationship, Wanida caught a glimpse of the serendipitous pic above before she lost it, but this summer she worked hard to track it down again. What you see are the two of us from our college years--two strangers at the time living in different parts of the state--at Hume Lake Winter Camp. I just happened to be in the vicinity on this particular night when she and her friend posed for a photo op. I suppose we could have met, could have connected, but we didn't. It wasn't until sixteen months later when I moved to San Diego in June of 2001 that we were finally introduced! Revelation: We were on a collision course with each other, so from early on we started practicing how to be in photos and make memories together. :)

As far as finding resolution goes, I'll ask again now: Am I or am I not staring at Wanida? We disagree. Wanida believes it to be obvious that my eyes are gazing at her, while I argue that it's oh so hard to tell, especially with blue jacket girl and her beige hat clearly in my line of sight. :) Let us know your verdict. In the meantime, we'll debate the issue as we conclude this fairytale and fly home in a few hours. The end of the story is that we lived happily ever after.

The end.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

no, this is not moscow

When we purchased our round the world tickets we were given twenty flights to jump around the world at our leisure. It was perfect. After we charted out our flight plan, we discovered that we had one extra Europe leg, a bonus. Halt. Hold on. We had a problem. Both of us had very different ideas on how to spend the bonus segment. Joe was all for Zurich, Switzerland and I was pushing for beautiful Moscow, Russia. Why Moscow? Yeah, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's a strange desire to visit the desolate and dreary over the dramatic beauties of the Swiss Alps. You'll be happy to know, Joe won.

Last Friday, we left our desert summer home, and four hours later we touched down onto a different planet. Snow covered mountains, lush green valleys, and quaint little log cabins dotted the landscape. Within minutes of our arrival we met up with our escorts (our escorts home), as we affectionately call them. The Heinrichses have made the trip over to join us for a week of re-socializing, re-engaging, and are kindly re-acquainting us with speaking in non-broken and normal paced English. They have listened to us ramble on about our stories and reminded us of all the wonderful relationships that await us at home.

I'll post pictures/captions super soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

it's time to go home

There's not much left to do here. The piano is gone, the sun has set, and we've said a few goodbyes, so all seems quieter now. Soon we will pull down some pictures, collect our things from around the apartment, pack our bags, and double check all the important documents. Like I said, there's not much left to do before we put our heads to our pillows and slow our hearts and minds for one more peaceful night's sleep in Amman, Jordan. In the morning we will rise with the sun and welcome the dawn of a fresh season for us.

In the waiting there is a sort of beauty--an acknowledgment that behind us is the new history of our lives, and before us is the opportunity to live out of the depth of that experience. We find ourselves simply nodding, like people do when they understand a truth without having to speak it. The truth is that it's time to go home. This epic journey is leading us back to San Diego, California, USA--not just San Diego, though, for in the words of our brother-in-law, we continue to be led in the pursuit of "...somewhere much greater, the home of your heart, the bosom of the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

See you after one sweet week in Switzerland. Check back for the end of the story.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

coming to a close

my journal entry from this morning

It is nice out today! I've said it four times already- but today, while I stand out on the balcony, it feels like I'm at the beach! Yes, very random, I know. Because I couldn't be more smack dab in the middle of a desert. But the sunshine, the strong cool wind, yes, if I close my eyes I can go there. I feel like I am sitting on the edge of a giant ocean. I will let my mind transform the unending traffic below into beautiful crashing waves! Oh, here come the waves now. Some waves are noisier than others, but they sure do fly by! As much as I try, I can not seem to transform that man's voice. Yes that one that trills and tramples all over my beach dream. There are no calls to prayer in my beach get away. Well perhaps he could be the lifeguards calling out their safety warnings? Nope, not working for me. The call to prayer brings me back to the very clear fact- I am nowhere near a beach. But, I will be soon!

We are counting down the days- we have two more days at our little Arab summer home. It's hard to believe it's time to go home. I have loved this place. I have felt so very comfortable, safe, relaxed, creative, and in touch with a new voice inside me. Maybe I learned something along this crazy journey of ours, maybe I didn't. And I love that I can say that. Because my first reaction tells me that I need to share something significant... that I need to prove myself and prove the reason for this journey. But I quickly realize that I'm only trying to find my own significance in the process. Maybe, this is all I needed to learn. That I can honestly say "Maybe we learned something, maybe we didn't learn anything- but I'm okay with that, because we had the greatest time!" Like I've said many times along this journey- "This trip isn't necessarily about accomplishing something, it's just something that needs to be accomplished." Or how I described it in Santorini to Joe, "This journey has always been on my recipe card of life. It was always something that was intended and necessary for the full makings of my life." Ahhh, with a deep breath and a true smile to self- I am thankful. Life feels so full today.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

down and dirty

Showering was more important than usual last night after we got back from our two day desert excursion to southern Jordan. It was necessary--and it felt oh so good--to scrub from our skin a thick layer of red sand, a symbolic reminder of another layer of memorable life experience. We enjoyed the company of our good friend Mohammad as we accomplished a whirlwind tour of Aqaba, Wadi Rum, and Petra across the extremes of summer in the middle of the Middle East desert. It was fun to follow in the footsteps of Indiana Jones on the path to Petra, but first we bussed our way to Aqaba for a dip in the Red Sea, then camped like the Bedouins among the dramatic cliffs of Wadi Rum.

The highlight for me was our evening to morning stay in Wadi Rum, a protected area of desert wilderness with contrasting sand valleys and sandstone peaks. I like rock climbing, so I was happy to scale a couple of piles of carved sandstone, first for the sunset, then again when Mohammad woke me up to catch the sunrise. Between the times that the sun was painting the mountains red, we squeezed in some good conversation and a fairly comfortable night's sleep in a canvas tent under the blur of a million stars. I can still feel the warm desert breeze blowing on my face and, though it eventually carried me away from Wadi Rum, it was nice to have nowhere else to be that night.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

olympic goodies

Have you ever found yourself on the edge of your seat while archers fire their arrows at the far away bull's eye? Or felt the excitement of a judo wrestler flipping her opponent over her shoulder? Ever seen the crazy intensity of a Chinese ping pong-ist? Or enjoyed the beauty of a birdie smashed down onto a badminton court? Perhaps you've missed the barbarian madness of the Russian handball team? Ever dreamed of watching hours of greco-roman wrestling? I bet you have. Or how about watching the frightening faces of hefty women as they throw themselves under massive amounts of weights. That's right... the beauty of weight lifting. Thailand won a gold in weight lifting; made me especially proud. Or our new personal favorite... each time the competitor jumps sky high my stomach sinks! Then he flips and flies like backyard children only dream of! The excitement of the bouncy trampoline! Yes, my friends, these are the Olympic events that have filled our television screen this last week. Sure, the swimming and gymnastics are on, occasionally, and if we are really lucky we'll even catch it in English. But, the networks serve a different audience over here. Channel after channel, we're getting our fill of Olympic events we have never even heard of! We have found a new love for the Olympic little guys, and we're cheering them on, even the folks running the odd and funky Steeple Chase. Bet you never watched that before. Come to the Middle East, you can find all the Olympic goodies here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

the promised land

We're alive! We visited volatile and historic Israel--probably the most controversial piece of real estate in the world--and lived to tell about it. Let's just say, it's incredible.

Most people travel halfway around the world and spend weeks in the Promised Land (no doubt there is much to experience); we're already in the neighborhood, plus we felt ambitious and had saving money on our minds, so we did it in three days and four nights. Accomplishing all that we set out to do was easier said than done, requiring not a wasted waking moment and miles upon miles of walking in our sandals (we mostly traveled first century style). On our first full day, we conquered the Old City of Jerusalem, one square kilometer of concentrated historic and spiritual sites. Instead of explaining everything in detail, we'll let you look stuff up on Wikipedia, but highlights included the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall / Temple Mount / Dome of the Rock, a tour of the underground tunnels, and watching the sunset from the Mount of Olives. For orientation, just at the tip of Wanida's silly right foot in the photo above is the famous Dome of the Rock. Truth be told, no one claims certainty when it comes to the exact locations of the majority of the Christian places of interest, but for sure Jerusalem has been the stage for so many significant events, so treading on "holy ground" and using one's imagination proves to be quite meaningful.

Day two began with about four hours at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Memorial. The Jewish State has done a truly impressive job putting together one of the most moving and carefully crafted museums in the world. We learned a lot and were heartbroken a lot. In the afternoon, we boarded a bus for Tel Aviv and, after rush hour traffic, our eyes feasted once again on the oasis of the Mediterranean. We didn't bring our swimmies (mistake--the water was inviting), but we caught another sunset as we reclined in a pair of beach chairs.

We knew we were in for an adventure on our third and final full day as we took advantage of the reliable Israeli bus system again. Our destination was about two and a half hours north next to the Sea of Galilee. Mount Arbel, one half of a mountain split into two after an earthquake, came highly recommended as a day trip by both an old friend of Wanida's and our Jerusalem host. To summarize, the day was scorching hot and the summit was a chore to reach, but the achievement resulted in spectacular views of the entire Lower Galilee region and a fun climb down. Our circuit from the bus stop, up to the top, then to the town of Tiberias consisted of about five miles worth of walking in and out of the National Park and even three hitchhiking legs. We know, we know, don't try this at home. We cooled our bodies and replenished our spirits with a short dip in the Sea of Galilee before dinner. Unlike Jesus, we did not walk on it, we sank.

The Israel landscape is a beautiful one. Much of what we saw reminded us of parts of good old California. The people are a little more difficult to deal with. In spite of the approximately six billion dollars in aid that the US supplies to Israel each and every year, the citizens weren't as happy to see us as we thought they would be. In other words, no one had a problem cutting in front of us in line, or ramming their shoulders into ours as our paths crossed on the sidewalk, or making a scrunched and disapproving face instead of giving us directions. Perhaps it's fair to say that Israelis are hardheaded and aggressive people. We're not surprised, then, that they're willing to endure oppression and propagate conflict in their struggle for survival. It's worthy of mentioning that, in as much as we experienced it, the tension is in the air in Israel--religious and political. Especially in Jerusalem, the presence of Christianity and the promise of peace are overshadowed by Islam, Judaism, and the present day politics of borders and the right to exist.

One more story: Israel imposes mandatory military service on everyone once they turn eighteen. As a result, teenage soldiers with big guns slung over their shoulders are everywhere; our bus from Tiberias back to Jerusalem was no exception. One such soldier fell asleep in the row behind us, I fell asleep in my aisle seat, and Wanida fell asleep on my shoulder with her head in front of the gap between the seats. We were all awoken when she screamed, "Ouch", and started rubbing the back of her head. Military man's gun had slipped from its oh so safe leaning position, fallen through the crack in the seats, and the end of the barrel had whacked Wanida on her noggen. Does that not sound scary and dangerous?! It's just another example of the fact that, around Israel, war is always on your mind. Get it?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

a backyard field trip

According to Tripadvisor, our hometown of San Diego has 260 points of interest. Contrast that to our current hometown of Amman, Jordan, where Tripadvisor, by a big stretch, counts 9. This week we took an outing to point of interest #9.

Together, just after a shwarma lunch, we grabbed a taxi and headed toward Amman's old downtown (headquarters of the world for pirated DVDs and high-end name brands for under a dollar- Christmas presents are coming your way!). We climbed the main hill in the very heart of downtown, and at the top we found Amman's #9 tourist attraction: the Roman Citadel. For about 3 bucks each, we got to see a Hercules temple, a cistern, baths and a church built in the 2nd century. Most ruins we've seen along the journey have been roped off and protected against tourist invasions. But here in Amman (the ancient biblical city of Philadelphia) things are, let's say, a bit more low key. There aren't any ropes to protect the ruins, and there aren't any ropes to protect the tourists either! (There are some deadly drop offs right around the perimeter of the ancient walls!) So, Joe and I carefully roamed this hilltop gem and took in some of the most beautiful views Amman has to offer. For a long while it was quiet, with only occasional honking horns to remind us of the congested city below. Then, in a moment, that all changed. The skies filled; the sounds echoed from hillside to hillside, pouring into the valleys below. It was time for prayer, and you're completely clueless if you don't know it. The mosques dominate the landscape, they are everywhere, and their music is mesmerizing. In that moment, perched above this old city, we listened. The voices sang over the valleys, singing of God and his greatness, to make haste to come and pray, and how nothing compares to God. It was a powerful moment, and a pretty one too.

Tomorrow, we are finally making the 44 mile trek down these desert hills, through the West Bank, and over to Israel, and for 5 days we will explore this spiritual and controversial land. We know, we know, we'll be careful.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

the $2.80 taxi ride (worth a million bucks)

Allow me to introduce you to the new voice telling the story of West / Middle East dynamics. His name is Samir and he drives a taxi in Amman, Jordan.

It was Samir who I happened to flag down for my cross town trip the other day. I quickly realized that here was a man--a small, smiley man--who actually spoke less English than I speak Arabic. That's not saying much, but time for me to practice. With few words, we covered the basics about our names, homes, families, etc. Samir, a Palestinian, then took it to the next level by pointing to his prayer rug and asking me if I am a Muslim and whether I believe in one God. I knew he wouldn't understand much, but I responded by saying something to the effect of, "Well, yes, one God, but I follow Jesus."--half in Arabic, half in English. I freaked out and almost jumped out of the car when he then flashed a knife. No, I'm lying, he did not do that! Sorry about the scare. But doesn't our perspective tell us to half expect a story like that? What Samir really did was continue to smile and use his hands and Arabic to communicate, "You and me, friends, brothers." Beyond that, he spent the remainder of our time together in the taxi trying to make me understand that any Arab-American conflict (Israel was his example) is among the governments, but that between the people there are no problems. Accordingly, we smiled again and shook hands fondly before I got out of the car. Once more before he sped off, he waved out the window to me: "Bye Joe."

It's slightly unrealistic to think that everyone everywhere expresses the sentiment of Samir's heart, but maybe, instead of driving a taxi, he should be using his voice to influence more people in the global community.