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10 Things I Did Not Think I Would Experience During “Middle East: Behind the Headlines”

Written by Elyse Abma, 2017 Middle East: Behind the Headlines

For me, this excursion to the Middle East was a bit of an impulse decision. Granted that I may not have given much thought to the variety of strange things I might end up doing on a “backpacktivism” trip in the Middle East, I don’t think that even my wildest imagination would have thought I’d end up doing any of these things…

1. Searching the Market for Beans: Imagine it’s 10 am, but you’re jet lagged because it’s some ungodly hour back home, and the smiley program leader has just picked you up from the airport and brought you to the hostel. She says, “Hey guys! We need some groceries! Let’s go to the market!” And before you know it, you and another participant who you’ve just met have been given a grocery list and dropped in the middle of a crazy market. The last thing on the list are beans, and the pair of you have been circling the market trying to both keep your eyes open and make small talk to get to know each other… there are simply no beans to be found. About to give up and sleep in the middle of the market, the beans finally appear. I have never had such a wildly confusing introduction to a place.

2. Getting Tattooed: When the tour guide to the Old City of Jerusalem’s cousin owns a place that has been tattooing for over 700 years, you go and get one (even if you’ve only been in Jerusalem for all of three days and the PLs think you’ve lost your mind).

3. Moving SO MANY Rocks: Little did I know before this trip that the pick-ax was a tool I would become very familiar with, nor did I think that I would begin to get competitive with my past self over the size of rock I could move. It just goes to show that there’s always room for improvement and muscle building through moving rocks and dirt from one location to another repeatedly.

4. Holding a Level for Hours:
Exciting stuff, trust me. When the team is building an archway for grape vines to climb, and the one job that you were assigned is to make sure the poles stay level while they make sure it stays in place, there’s definitely only time to mess up once (preferably don’t mess up, but I’m only human and frequently distracted when holding a level). The trick is to keep moving the level to different sides of the pole, both for accuracy and to not get distracted.

5. Moving a Desk Across a Vineyard: While you would think that the previous task we’d had of pulling cacti from the grape vineyard with pick-axes would make the list, it was actually the task of moving a full size desk from the vineyard cave all the way to the main house that takes the cake. It was mid-afternoon when a couple of us were asked to move this desk, and through sweat, tears, and laughter, we managed to complete the task in 30 second increments (with pep talks in between) that added up to about 45 minutes.

6. Fleas: Mosquitoes, ticks, even bedbugs I had considered as a possibility, and even when a couple of people started to have bites all over themselves I thought I’d avoided it all. Never once did I think my backpack would become a flea home, or that I too would be covered in bites.

7. Hummus, Pita, Falafel, Repeat: Every day, all day, and I’m not even upset about it.

8. Choreographed Dance Routines: You wouldn’t think that a group of twenty-somethings who have been moving plywood and rocks all day would somehow come to the conclusion that a great midday activity would be to create a choreographed dance routine and videotape it. “Stayin’ Alive” has been stuck in my head ever since, and I will always associate that song with buckets and ‘dance mom Morgan’.

9. Killing Time at a Bus Stop: For whatever reason, the stop where we were supposed to catch a bus back from Hebron kept moving/was unclear/the six buses that went by just didn’t stop for us. Naturally, we created two teams to sit at the two most likely bus stop locations. Had it not been for the a game called ‘Find the Thimble’, I’m not sure how we ever would have passed all of those hours.

10. People: As much as I planned for this trip, repacked my backpack what seemed like a hundred times, worried about how many shirts to bring, and dreamed about all of the stories I would return home with, I did not once consider that the people I would share this with would be so amazing and have such a huge impact on my life. It’s amazing how being stuck with the same people for a month makes them family. Although you all smell because you haven’t showered in days, are sweaty and covered in dirt, always have your hair up, and never wear make up, you all love each other. And even if I had considered that this group of crazies would become my friends, I still don’t think I would have been able to imagine how close I would become to each one of them, and all of the laughter and chaos that would ensue.

what are you waiting for?