I really have no idea what to expect on this trip. In a weird way, I’m hoping to have my heart broken. Not because I really want to have my heart broken, but because I’m hoping to, at least in some small way, step in to the suffering that people are experiencing here. Even if just for a moment, I hope to step in to solidarity with people who are hurting, with people who have had their hearts broken, and I hope that by doing so, my heart will also be broken for them. Often people sing and say to God, “Break my heart for what breaks yours.” That’s my prayer as I prepare to go on this trip.
They are probably mostly unfounded, but I’m recognizing that I do have some concerns for my safety on this trip. Three years ago when I traveled to Israel, there was only one time that I felt unsafe (outside of the airport in New York, but that’s another story!), and that’s when a friend and I ended up missing our cab in Jerusalem and walking a couple miles back to the hotel by ourselves at night. No incident happened then that made me feel unsafe, I think it was just the uneasiness of it all, being in a different place, not understanding the language, feeling helpless if I needed to be able to explain myself to someone.
I guess I have some similar concerns about this trip. Different place. Completely foreign to me. There are language, cultural, and religious barriers. And then if I’m perfectly honest, there’s the added complexity that I feel of being an American right now in the Middle East. It’s a complete question mark to me: What’s the attitude of people in the Arab world, the Muslim world, toward Americans right now? What’s the coverage of our politics been like here? What’s the perception the people here have of “regular” Americans? Are we seen as a threat? Are we seen as intolerant and oppressive? Are we seen as the enemy as much as many Americans see Muslims and Middle Easterners as the enemy right now? Will all of that play into our safety and how we’re treated here?
Maybe this is my first heartbreaking insight, this fear that I’m facing – I guess what I’m really asking and what I’m really fearing is “Will I be treated here the way that many Middle Easterners and Muslims are treated in our country right now?” For just a few days, I guess I’m experiencing this from the other side, what so many people face as they make the trip from here in the Middle East to there at home. I don’t know the language. I don’t know the culture. I don’t know what I don’t know. I fear the perception that other people have of me for things that are not of my own doing.
I’m facing that for less than a week this week, what’s it like to face that for the foreseeable future? What must that feel like? What does it feel like to flee from your home for fear of your safety and the lives of your children and to go to a completely new and foreign place where you have no idea how you’ll be welcomed and who will greet you when you arrive?