By Cully Lundgren
I sit here listening to the sounds of mellow rock music and Bob Dylan pulse through the cool night air. I drink my cold beer and my mind wanders and meanders through the events of the past couple days.
Recently, I was in Boston preparing for this two-week trip. I was headed to Jordan for a few days of hiking, and then I would quickly visit Jerusalem, the West Bank, Palestine, and Israel (the names vary depending on where and who you are). Watching the news in the weeks leading up to my trip, I saw a constant barrage of images and stories of the worst that the Middle East currently has to offer. It was hard to escape it, and the headlines certainly had their intended effect on me. I was getting a little nervous.
I’ve traveled around the world. I have been to over fifty countries, and yet still I was not able to approach it with a level head. It wasn’t just the pictures and the stories that got to me – there were also warnings from friends and family, and they were ringing through my mind: “Grow your hair and a beard; it will make you look less American.” “Wear muted colors.” “Don’t tell anyone your plans.” “Militants could be around every corner.” “The border is porous between Syria and Jordan, you know.”
I was buying into the hype. I was losing my faith in humanity. My ability and passion for relating to people from all walks of life – one of the things I hold most dear – was abandoning me. The media’s portrayal of regional instability had allowed dark stereotypes and fear to develop.
All of these thoughts began to wash away about halfway through my airport taxi ride to downtown Amman. I used my halting Arabic to say hello to the taxi driver. I saw the people smile. Old thoughts and worries still rushed at me, though, as the taxi driver reached for his phone. “Great. He’s calling someone to meet the taxi, grab me, and take me to a secluded hideout.” Instead, of course, the taxi driver handed me his phone and a gentle voice asked me in English where I was going. He relayed the information to my driver, thanked me, and five minutes later I was at my hotel, shaking hands with Mahmoud and telling him I hoped to see him again.
The following day I went to walk the Abraham Path. I walked it with Palestinians, Jordanians, Europeans, and Americans. We walked on trails that have been trodden for thousands of years, stayed as guests in family homes, and experienced the friendship and hospitality that is synonymous with the cultural memory of Ibrahim or Abraham across the region. I have a lot to learn about the Middle East. This complex and rich land is facing serious challenges, and yet it has so much to offer.
As I begin my job as Development Director with the Abraham Path Initiative, I am focusing on raising philanthropic investment from individuals who share our goals of catalyzing sustainable economic and community-led tourism by supporting the Abraham Path. While there are certainly challenges, I have never been more hopeful.