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The following is a guest blog from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Morgan Faulkner who volunteered with the Middle East Fellowship organization in the West Bank. To find an opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations©.
You know that feeling when you wake up from a really amazing dream, it’s Monday morning in your regular life, and you would give almost anything if you could just go back to sleep for a few more minutes? That feeling is the true danger of travel, especially somewhere as different and amazing as the Middle East. You get home and can’t quite figure out why the greeters at Wal-Mart didn’t offer you a cup of coffee or tea, where the fruit and vegetable sellers on the side of the road have gone, and why on earth it’s been raining for a week straight when you had virtually forgotten what a cloud looked like. In short, why is a life that used to seem perfectly lovely suddenly coming up short? As usual, the answers would be extremely complicated, but in my case it probably has to do with those pesky little pieces of myself that I forgot to pack when I came home.
One piece I think is probably still sitting somewhere between the lunch table and my desk at work where I took it out to develop relationships with my co-workers and the clients we worked with. I meant to grab it on my way out before we left for Ramadan, but I’ve been feeling around and it seems that didn’t happen. Another piece seems to have been left on the street corner where my new friends and I bought our last pieces of knaffe (a most delicious and amazing sweet that has absolutely no equivalent in this country) and were given little pieces of other pastries and candies to try as the people who worked there tried to make us feel welcome, even after two months in country. I didn’t even notice that little bit was gone until I went to the grocery store alone and found out that boxed Danishes don’t really cut it for me anymore. Then there’s the bit stayed at my usual afternoon and evening hangouts. Being an American made me far more interesting than I would be anywhere else in the world and made it unavoidable to strike up friendships with people that I saw several times a week. They were kind enough to decipher my desperate mixture of English and Arabic without laughing too hard and made sure that my trip was going smoothly and happily.
As for the largest part, I don’t have to guess – I know where that one is. I left it voluntarily, gave it away, and have no desire to get it back any time soon. My host family got the rights to a huge chunk of my heart with the pieces of their own that they willingly shared. For two months I became a de facto member of their close knit family. Despite advancing age, busy lives, and declining health, my host parents cared for me as painstakingly and carefully as though I were one of their own grandchildren. Walking in the house was grounds for force feeding and being ten minutes later than you anticipated in coming home was cause for great concern. As I was told over and over, my parents had trusted them to take care of me and make sure I was happy. Being the amazing grandparents they were, this was not a charge that either of them took lightly. Many evenings my host father and I would sit and watch the news together in English, even though I’m fairly certain he didn’t understand half of what they were saying. His commentary, though, seemed much more intelligent than what I usually get on the news: “Syria… very bad now. Egypt no good. Tsk… Libya.” And the famine? “Merciful God…” That pretty much cleared everything up for me. When I went into Jerusalem, my host mom would pack me food. The end of our discussions seemed to always be that she was concerned whether or not I would be able to find anything to eat in Israel. Since she hadn’t been there in decades, I suppose it was a legitimate assumption.
Leaving part of my heart there was easy, since it broke a little when I had to announce I would be leaving within a couple of days. My family tried very hard to try and convince me to stay – as though I needed convincing! My real family was on the phone insisting that I get on the plane to come back and not refuse to return to the US! What I know for sure is that as soon as I can manage it, I’m getting back on a plane to the place that my heart seems to have decided will be its other home. There’s something about the people that gets in your blood. You start to question the things that you value in your own life and whether or not there might be something out there more important than whatever trivial matter you’re letting consume you. The most important truths are the ones you learn for yourself the long way, and you have to be prepared to have them change your life. There’s a popular Broadway musical “Wicked” based on Gregory Maguire’s telling of the Wizard of Oz. At its core, it’s a story about self-discovery and life changing truths. Among it’s many amazing songs is one called “For Good” that I think sums up the promise and danger of making a journey like mine. “Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes a sun, like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood, who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better – and, because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”