June 11, 2006
I can't believe that my time in this part of the world is coming to a close. In some ways, it doesn't seem like it's been very
long since I left home. On the other hand, it seems like forever ago that I showed up on Cindy's doorstep in London before
we left for Turkey. In any case, I've decided to compile a list of thoughts about the middle East (considering people have so
many different assumptions when it comes to this area).
First of all, there was never a time in my month and a half here that I felt unsafe. Even as a solo female traveler. The
people have been very warm, friendly and inviting. I have been rewarded with seeing some amazing sights and meeting
incredible, open-minded people.
Now to recap a broad range of experiences…
- Not all hummus in the Middle East is created equal. While this is obvious, you wouldn’t really think ‘bad’ hummus exists in
this part of the world. But I’m here to say that it does. I had some that had the consistency of paste. But I also had literally
the best hummus of my life out here in Beirut and Tel Aviv. How does a hummus get to a state of being ‘the best’, you ask?
They made a pool in the middle of the hummus with the heated whole chickpeas and olive oil.
- Men hug and kiss each other when they greet one another and say good-bye to one another. They also hold hands while
walking down the street. No, they aren’t gay. Yes, this is part of their culture. On that note, it is forbidden to be gay in the
Muslim culture. It’s a 180 degree difference in Tel Aviv where there seems to be a very large gay community.
- Bedouins in Petra: shady people. Women really need to be careful when going to Petra. The Bedouins try to lure them into
seeing their traditional way of life and inviting them up to an evening barbeque in their village. When there, they will serve
you a lot of alcohol until other ‘activities’ arise. The guy at my hotel told me about two girls that stayed there a while ago
that this happened to. They asked him to warn females about this going forward. Another guy on my felucca trip told me he
was talking to a Bedouin in Petra who showed a list of the countries that women who he had bedded were from. The only
country he was having a problem adding to the list was Japan – no matter what, he couldn’t convince the Japanese women
to come to the village. Smart women.
- Mottos in Egypt: “American Number One” before they try to extort money out of you. They want you to think that they love
your country when it’s really just your country’s money that they are loving. Another motto is “You Walk Like Egyptian”.
They expect you to be really flattered. Instead, you’re just really annoyed.
- Egyptians will touch/grab your arms to try to get you into their stores. I literally had to push them off of me and tell them to
get their hands off me.
- I have never seen chain smoking (with the exception of Israel) like I have seen out here. Even as they hack up their phlegm,
their cigarette is still dangling from their mouth while sitting out in 110 degree heat.
- Amman- I didn’t really say too much about it. There’s a reason for that. There wasn’t much to tell. It’s a spread out city with
not a ton to see. There are a couple of nicer areas and I went to an area known for its cafes but there really wasn’t too much
that was special about this sprawled out city.
- I don’t regret not seeing more ruins. To each their own on these types of trips. There’s only so much Roman history I can
take in. I’m sure Palmyra in Syria is amazing. I will just have to hear about these sites from other people.
- Many people know this, but you can't enter certain countries (Syria, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, etc.) if you have an
Israel stamp in your passport. I had no problem asking them to stamp another piece of paper. Now I will be able to go back
to Beirut and Dubai.
- I have lost all vanity. I have gone days without looking at a mirror (in Dahab, the mirror in my bathroom was a foot higher
than I could see). I felt like I could’ve done an Oprah special where she makes people live for a week without looking in a
mirror. Because I just take a shower and throw on some clothes, it doesn’t even phase me in this part of the world.
- I was happy to shed my shawl upon entering Israel. While it became second-nature to throw on a shawl before leaving a
hotel room – even in the scorching heat, it was nice to be able to don one less piece of attire.
- I had a cabbie in Cairo who could speak barely any English. When finding out I was from America, his vocabulary consisted
only of the words ‘Eminem’ and names of Eminem’s songs (one of the titles I will not repeat as even my mouth dropped a
bit when he said it).
- Eilat was such a contrast from the rest of the Middle East. I felt overdressed in a tank top and capris as people wear virtually
nothing out there.
- The people in Israel can tend to come across as being a bit abrasive and aggressive. I know many travelers that I met along
the way that were turned off by this.
- Call me ignorant, but I thought many more Israelis would speak English. This isn't the case.
- Security is pretty tight in Israel. Every restaurant, cafe, bar, etc. you enter, they check your bags. Kind of a false sense of
security as any radical could just run up and do something. At least you feel a bit safe getting on buses knowing that
everybody is being checked.
- Israel is also different from the rest of the Middle East with regards to the warm beverages they drink. Israelis definitely
drink more coffee while the rest of the region incorporates tea into their lifestyle.
- Cairo felt extremely safe. I had no problem walking thirty minutes to get back to my hotel at midnight by myself. The Nile
was surprisingly much cleaner than I had originally imagined it to be.
- A solo female traveler will never get hit on more in her life.
- The Lebanon/Syria/Jordan/Israel/Palestinian Territories part of the Middle East is known as the 'Levant' region.
- Israel and Jordan are the two countries that I visited where they adhere to the driving rules. Especially Israel. Having come
to Israel from Cairo, I was used to crossing the street whenever I saw three inches of space. But jaywalking in Israel can
produce a lot of glares from people. Believe me...I know. I quickly changed my ways and waited patiently until my light
changed to green.
- You would be surprised to know that many people outside of America are very pro-Palestine. I have learned so much from
others while being out here. Sadly, some people's anti-Israel sentiment was only increased when meeting certain obnoxious
Israeli travelers on the road. While it's not really fair, there is something to be said about representing where you are from
when being in other parts of the world (Americans: take note!).
- It is interesting how hearing different news can definitely give people an all-around different take on a situation. The power
of media is pretty incredible. I know we already know this but I have now seen it first-hand of how biased it can make
people when you have no knowledge of what's going on with the other side.
- The tricky thing with being within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem is that it's complicated to know whether to speak
Hebrew or Arabic to certain people. I felt I would offend somebody if I picked the wrong language.
- Israeli guys are hoooooot!
- In Turkey, alcohol can't be served within 100 meters of a mosque.
- Who knew that seventeen years later, Hebrew could come back to a person? I can't remember the cursive Hebrew alphabet
but by the time I left Israel, I could read and write words using the normal Hebrew characters. Any word that came to
mind, I would write down in Hebrew. This was a fun form of entertainment that made me more impressed with myself.
ADon't get me wrong--I don't know how to speak Hebrew. All I can do is write words and read words (mostly food items at
a restaurant). Nevertheless, I'm still impressed with myself.
Compilation of my favorite food finds from the Middle East...
- Fresh mango juice in Egypt
- Rugelagh and other pastries in Israel
- Hummus in Beirut and Israel
- Falafel in Tel Aviv
- Fuul (from Felfela) in Cairo
- Gozlemeci in Istanbul
- Roasted corn on the cob (from the street vendors)
- A honeycomb-flavored gelato from Papa Aldo's Gelateria in Tel Aviv
- Albino-looking blackberries in Istanbul
- Durum in Istanbul
- Manaeesh in Lebanon