After Half a Year in the Middle East, Reflections on Going Home

Wednesday, January 4, 2006 | Amman, Jordan (map)

Andrew in Petra, the amazing red rock city in southern Jordan.
Although it is hard for me to believe, after seven challenging, fascinating, and often frustrating months in the Middle East, I'm finally going home. I'll be taking with me a lot more than just neat trinkets (though I've amassed plenty of those). These past months have been a life-changing learning experience. I left home with some fairly standard notions of life in the Middle East, shared with many Americans, but my understanding of life in the region has since changed drastically.

For example, most Arabs have never ridden a camel, a fact which—I'm sad to say—surprised me a bit when I first read it.

Once you spend some time in the Middle East, however, you understand how it could be true. The geography of the region necessitates that most people live in cities; rural areas are too inhospitable to support many people.

People from a Tragic Land

Tuesday, January 3, 2006 | Beirut, Lebanon (map)

Beirut and the sea
Originating from a homeland with such a tragic and violent story, the Lebanese who fled their country's civil war spread across the world. Anyone who has ever met one of them—I went to high school with a few—knows they carried with them a fervent national pride surpassing that of almost any other emigrant group.

After my trip to the country this week, I know how I'll answer when people ask me about the place: When you go to Lebanon, you realize why the Lebanese are so in love with their country.

A Quiet Finish to Our Week in Lebanon

Sunday, January 1, 2006 | Jbeil, Lebanon (map)

The harbor at Byblos was quiet enough that you could hear the water lap against the docks as you ate your lunch.
On our last full day in Lebanon, we made our first destination the sleepy fishing village of Byblos (جبيل), a short drive north of Beirut along the Mediterranean. Byblos's history—like that of most Lebanese towns—stretches back too many centuries to measure. Julian, Emma, and I visited the tiny, picturesque fishing harbor and peered over the assorted ruins strewn nearby. Perhaps there is such a thing as too many ancient ruins; a seafood lunch at Pepe's Fishing Club was the highlight of our visit.

That afternoon, we grabbed a taxi to the Jeita grottoes, where we paid the hefty entrance fee and duly dropped our cameras in the cubbies by the door. ("Absolutely NO photos!" read the sign.) Inside the mountainside, a huge cavern opened before us, the entire thing lit by pink and blue and green and purple floodlights. The gargantuan stalactites and stalagmites gave us the feeling that we were