A week in the Middle East: Coming home


The long trip home

Traveling home is a seemingly infinite process. I leave for the Allenby/Hussein bridge to Jordan at around 11 a.m. today. I don't get home to Boston for another 33 hours.

Once on the Jordanian side, I have to wait until 4:25 a.m. flight to Milan, Italy. So I check into the airport hotel and watch Colin Powell's speech at the UN. BBC World picks up the event in full, and I find that Powell's multimedia presentation nicely complements my room service plate of delicious little filo-dough and meat pastries.

The hotel waiter (bringing me my second plate of crunchy delicacies) spots me watching the speech and asks "How did it go?" I do my best to summarize, and imply that diplomacy seems to be triumphing over the push for war, at least for now. But shaking with emotion, he says "We cannot have a war. It will be terrible for Jordan!"

He storms out, and I feel self-consciously American.

Hours tick by after the Powell speech, and I can't wait to get home. There are souvenirs to be distributed. Stories to be told. Fat, comfortable blocks of sleep to be enjoyed.

But I can already tell that I'm going to miss being in the Middle East.

Conversations seem twice as vivid, and the terraced rolling land is steeped in Biblical beauty and ancient nuance. Everyone I meets seems to have a story and be willing to share it.

And the food!

Then again, I'm looking forward to returning to a place without checkpoints.

Arriving in Boston after 19 hours of flying and laying over, I'm absolutely drained, and relieved to be home. No more Mideast intrigues for a little while; no more suicide bombers, no more Sharon, or Arafat or ancient hatreds. Just the calm of sleepy Boston.

I hop into a cab, heave my luggage into the trunk, and begin the final leg of my trip home. The driver and I chat for a little while, and he's excited to hear that I've been in the Middle East.

"Where are you from?" I ask the cabbie.

"Lebanon," he says. Within minutes, he reveals that he's a Maronite Christian, and has been personally involved in street fighting in Beirut. He has sized up the prospects of Hizbullah should there be a war in Iraq. We talk about Syria's involvement with Lebanon's government. Grudgingly, fighting through the cobwebs of sleep but nevertheless fully engaged, I sound the guy out on Mideast politics.

It has been a good trip.

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