Oh where to begin…
I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Zachary Eastburn, and I hail from Wisconsin, home of the best football, motorcycles, and brats (sorry Germany, I ate one of yours during my ten hour layover in Frankfurt—they don’t beat Johnsonville brats!) in the world. I am one of seven on this trip, and I am sure you will hear from each one of them. I just graduated from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.
You’ve probably heard of it…maybe not.
As a philosophy major, I was deemed the most able to take care of finances…I am hoping that the theories of infinities and series will help keep the trip financially solvent.
This has probably been one of the longer June 10ths of my life. In fact, it may not even be June 10th. I have lost all concept of time. Be that as it may, traveling is inherently exciting, especially to a place like Amman, Jordan. However, after 26 hours of traveling, ‘exciting’ is hardly the word I would use to describe the numbness in my legs…
The country of Jordan is intoxicating. We arrived here early this morning around 2:30 am. Even at this ealry time in the morning, the airport was full of life. One woman, who had traveled on the same flight was received by what looked like three generations of her family at the airport. Little did I know that this would only be the beginning of my discovery of the family centered culture of Jordan.
All said and done, we were picked up by a friend named Rasha. We arrived at her home in downtown Jordan in an hour and were helped to mountains of food. For many of us, it was the first time eating a fresh fig or even seeing one. As we were heading to bed, we heard a strange call outside our window and we were informed that it was the first of the Islamic prayers for the day. 4:30 am. Talk about devout!
The plan was to get up early the next day and head to the border. It would take about 45 minutes to get there, and we would have to go through a number of different checkpoints and visa stations to finally enter the West Bank. We had to get there by 1pm, or else the border would be closed and we would have to wait until the next day.
We left on time the next day around 11am. Our taxi driver was especially friendly. He talked about his family, how Jordan was home ot the nicest people in the world (or at least of all Arab countries), and why I should learn Arabic. He mentioned how he was Palestinian and that his family was expelled from Palestine in 1948. It would not be the last time I heard that date mentioned.
At the border, our taxi driver non-chalantly informed us that the border closed at 12pm. It was 12:10pm. No amount of pleading and conniving could get convince the Jordanian public relations officer to let us through…unless we wanted to pay the “VIP” price: 100 Jordanian Dinar each. This amounted to about $130.00 per person. That Midwest common sense inherited from my dad compelled me to avoid that option at all costs.
We were out of options, except to head back to Amman, and try again the next day. We were frustrated (well, at least I was). I have learned now that dealing with customs and border agents is a universal frustration that transcends language, political, religious and socio-economic difference. Those people are paid to foil your traveling…
Well, we tried to view this as an exciting new development in our journey. It turned out to be very helpful. Upon our return to Amman, we found a completely understanding Rasha and family.
A little bit about them:
Rasha is a third generation Palestinian/Jordanian Muslim. We learned that her entire family occupied the apartment complex we lived in. In fact, her grandfather had built it!
Her father Abdullah told us that when each of his brothers came of age and married, his father would simply build another level on top of the next for each to live in with their families. Above Abduallah’s floor were two others, each occupied by a different brother. Abdullah had eight siblings (two brothers and six sisters).
Now, I have several Arab friends in the states, who have always told me anecdotes about how the women in their families made them constantly eat. I was curious if this was hyperbole or if it was fact. My expectation was to come into this trip maintaining my weight and maybe losing a few pounds due to skimping on food in order to save money for other parts of the budget.
At this point in the trip, I have learned that weight loss is not an option in Jordan. This is not because of fatty foods, but because they just keep giving you more. All types of hummus, bread, baklava, figs, sharat (like a gyro), and much MUCH more. I think that some of women cooking for us were perplexed that we were not eating enough. This was a shock to me after eating my third plate of food.
The hospitality shown to us has been far above anything I woul have expected. On top of the plethora of food, Rasha’s brother drove us all over the city. It served to validate everything that taxi driver said to me earlier in the day. We had known Rasha’s family for a little over twelve hours, and they were treating us like we were kin.
We decided to spend sometime wondering around Amman. We were met with a pleasant surprise when we came across our friend Tania Kuttab. Tania had just graduated this past year from Taylor with me and Sarina, another person on the team. She is a Palestinian living in Jordan. Tania was exhilarated to show us around her city, and took us to some of her favorite haunts, which included an organic restaruant with a panoramic view over Amman. The city is stunning.
We returned to Rasha’s house and were met by her father, who insisted that we sit down for coffee. We talked for some time, looked at family photos, and then were told that we would be eating around 8:30pm. Most of us were still recovering from our last meal that they had prepared, but we did not refuse. (Personally, it takes a lot for me to turn down food).
The meal was held in the apartment below where Rasha’s grandmother lived. A great deal of her family was there, including one of her uncles. I took a special interest in her grandmother. She was a kind woman, who did not speak English, but always had a smile on her face. We were told that it was unthinkable to miss the evening meal with the matriarch of the family. Every day, at least one of her boys would come down to eat with her. It seemed like a mom’s dream.
We ended up having an intensely engaging discussion on the Arab-Israeli conflict. We were eager to talk about some of the issues that we had read about in preparation for the trip. It was a fascinating conversation in which we learned that their family had been forced to leave the country around 1948. In fact, the grandmother’s father had been shot by Israeli soldiers. Like almost all of the Palestinians in Jordan, their family is not allowed to return to their homeland. They cannot even vist Jersualem. Both Abdullah and his brother spoke eloquently about their feelings about the conflict. His brother was quite frank about the need for Israelis to leave occupied territories. Abdullah suggested that the Israelis talked peace, but every year, more and more Israeli settlers poured into the West Bank, carving up land that has been internationally recognized as Palestinian.
Though the US condemns such actions, they tacitly (and often overtly) support Israeli efforts. Abdullah hoped that we would not be pro-Israeli, but he hoped that we would not be pro-Palestinian either. He wanted us to experience the situation and seek out justice.
As a young man, he studied in the United States. He told us that he knew Americans to be fair-minded lovers of freedom. He understood that the reason many in the west did not understand or even opposed the Palestinian cause was because of political agendas and media support for Israel.
Abdullah has been an authentication of everything he spoke of the Palestinian people. He and his family have been extraordinalrily generous, gracious, and accomodating. Through my personal interaction with him, his family, the taxi driver, and friends like Tania, I am convinced of the complexity of the situation. It is not easy to cast one side as evil and the other side as just. For the sake of sparing you all from my philosophical ruminations on justice, suffice it to say that I do not believe that that concept is understood all that well.
Perhaps that is the point of this film project. We need a reframing of justice. Jesus Christ came to bring justice, but he did so through humility (Philippians 2:3-10). The hope still remains that Christ can reconcile all things to himself, as he can transcend the labels of religion, nationality, and socio-political status. As learners, our team seeks to be guided by a humility. We hope that we can emulate Jesus’ lover for people whether they are Mulism, Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian, Christian, Arab, Jordanian, male or female.
Tomorrow (or about in six hours) will be round two in our attempt to cross to the West Bank. Hopefully, the next time I will write to you will be from West Jersualem!
Thank you to everyone for their support, prayer, and encouragement. I know I speak for everyone when I say that we have felt deeply honored to be tasked with this project.
May the peace of the Lord be with you,