SYNOPSIS:  Looking back at a 10-year mission.  Accomplished?

Melancholy is taking over as there are no two ways about it any longer — this trip is over.  This time I can’t say goodbye to Israel and go to another country; this time it’s for real:  I have to go back home.

Not that I don’t like home.  Not that I don’t like my job.  Not that I have not missed my son or partner in life, the lake, or my cats.  But traveling is something that simply takes me over.  I don’t want it to end.  The Germans have a great word for it:  WanderlustWandern is actually hiking or trekking and Lust is the fun of it and the joy; not quite what ‘lust’ is in English.   But I like that the English word of wandering implies a bit of aimlessness.  As structured as traveling has to be if you want to accomplish anything, traveling is so full of unexpected twists and turns and encounters that just can’t be planned; all of which ultimately become part of the path leading to the goal.

But what was that goal?  I wanted to accomplish something even though I did not quite know what.  In general terms, I wanted to gain more understanding of the Middle East since my schooling was in Western and in Asian cultures with a blank spot right where I needed some background.  It has been almost ten years since I started this mission: Trying to understand the Middle East, its art, architecture, culture, and to gain an insight into the conflict between the Middle East and the West, which for better or worse seems to become the central issue of this century.  I knew I could gain this insight from books and the news.  But I wanted to gain it through contacts and first hand experiences.

In 2002 I went to Jordan, in 2007 to Pakistan, in 2010 to Lebanon, Syria, and Iran, and in 2011 to Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Israel.  I never made it to Afghanistan, but have not given up on it.  I have not yet gotten to the “Stan” countries of the former Soviet Union, but that also may come about in good time.  But with the countries I did reach, I got a good sampling of the variety of the Middle East or the so-called Muslim world.  I was glad that I was able to see some of the non-Arab countries of that Muslim world:  Turkey and Iran.  I did get a good sense of the differences between these countries which from our perspective are often lumped together as if they are a uniform block.

I made friends from all strata of society; I heard stories, and I saw historical sites.  I talked to people and saw the discrepancies between political or religious theory and the reality on the street.  I have food for thought more than I have time to process!  And I know that now an intense time of book learning and research has to follow.  Did I accomplish my mission?  Yes and no.  I made a significant start but I realize how hopelessly huge this topic is.  And I have a new goal:  Get a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies.  Perhaps, when I am 60 I will graduate?!

I am eternally grateful to my son Martin and my partner David for letting me go without worries.   I am grateful to work at an institution, Washtenaw Community College that allowed the switch of terms last year and granted a sabbatical leave for this mission this year.  I am grateful to Capital One for extending my credit limit so I could pay all my bills along the way.  And I am looking forward to share my experiences through a talk and an exhibition at WCC in November.  Stay tuned for dates and times!

Last, but not least, a big THANKS goes to all of you wonderful readers, friends, family, colleagues, and students, known and unknown, who have kept me on my toes writing and posting.  I could not have done this without you!  Thank you all.

And until I travel again, I once again will end this blog with a prayer of gratitude the same way I have ended every night on this 121 day long journey:

Thanks, Ganesh, for removing all obstacles today.

Thanks, St. Christopher, for holding your hand over me.

Thanks, Baishayaguru, for keeping me well.

Thanks, Mary Magdalene, for keeping me company. *


* In Egypt that would have been Maat, in Turkey that was Mary Nisbet, and in Iraq, I had more company than I knew what to do with. 🙂